Historians of colonial Brazil and early modern Portugal need no introduction to the work of Kenneth Maxwell, senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, and founder and director of the Camões Center for the Study of the Portuguese-Speaking World at Columbia University. Maxwell established himself as a specialist in eighteenth-century Brazil and Portugal and a scholar of Pombal with the publication of Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808 (1973), still required reading for those interested in Brazil’s late colonial period.
In Pombal: Paradox of the Enlightenment, the reader reaps the benefit of Maxwell’s long interest in the towering figure of the eighteenth-century Portuguese world: Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), better known by his title of Marquês de Pombal. Pombal was a man of action, intense action, throughout his career as prime minister under King José I (reigned 1750-1777). Although best known to Latin Americanists for his expulsion of the Jesuits and his colonial trading companies (for example, the Company of Pernambuco and Paraiba), Pombal reformed the education system in Portugal (including the University of Coimbra), founded a series of royal factories (rope, hats, silk, china), and also established a number of companies in the European homeland, the most famous of which demarcated and regulated the Porto wine industry. Few commentators lack a strong opinion of the man, even today in Portugal, and the interpretations of his numerous and far-reaching policies have presented him as either a visionary or a despot. There is ample ammunition to support either view; hence Maxwell’s phrase Paradox of the Enlightenment.
In eight chapters, Maxwell presents more than 20 years of his research and interest in this fascinating political figure. The work is particularly strong in its presentation of images to support the written word. Pombal contains 11 color plates and 47 other illustrations — not only those of Pombal and people associated with him, but of the places, buildings, and events that shaped his life. To give but one of several possible examples, this reviewer was particularly impressed with the wealth of visual and documentary data on the numerous, interrelated aspects of the rebuilding of the city of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.
Pombal concludes with a broad bibliographic essay which orients the reader toward further possibilities on eighteenth-century themes. Although the empire is not really the focus of the work, Maxwell discusses Brazil at some length. This reviewer would have liked to see more on Portuguese Asia and Africa, as well. Another aspect that Maxwell himself, in his conclusion, suggests merits further consideration (perhaps best done in another work) is the mysterious relationship between Pombal and his king. Nevertheless, Pombal is beautifully presented, both in terms of the illustrations and the highly polished prose. It is a well-documented work, written by an articulate and critical scholar of Pombal. It will be the English-language standard on the subject for many years to come.
In the second work, The Making of Portuguese Democracy, Maxwell focuses on the tempestuous two years immediately following the 1974 revolution in Portugal. Given the gravity of the events that followed the end of the fascist Estado Novo in Portugal and the subsequent independence of the five former African colonies, it may appear odd that this period has been so quickly forgotten by many in Portugal and beyond. The period following the revolution, even until the early 1980s, was one of great economic hardship, with severe social implications for the vast majority of the Portuguese. The early years were a time of national chaos; the hotels filled with thousands of unemployed Portuguese returning from the African colonies, while the infrastructure (for example, the supply of basic foodstuffs) was stretched well beyond national capabilities. At the same time, the tourist industry (one of the few possible bright spots in a very troubled economy) was frozen, not only for lack of hotel space but because of the political instability that Maxwell so thoroughly discusses.
To a certain extent, it is understandable that the nation would choose to turn the spotlight of inquiry away from those difficult years and allow it to shine on other periods of the recent past, such as the First Republic (1910-1930) or even Salazar’s Estado Novo. (Two recent examples of the growing literature in these two areas are João Medina, “Oh! a República!" Estudos sobre o republicanismo e a primeira república portuguesa, 1990; and António Costa Pinto, Salazar’s Dictatorship and European Fascism, 1995.) It is precisely this national and even international “selective memory” or “self-imposed amnesia” (p. 1) that compelled Maxwell to write this study of the transition period from dictatorship to democracy. Before this work by Maxwell was published, one of the single best volumes in English on the early phases of the revolution was done by the Insight Team of the London Sunday Times, Insight on Portugal: The Year of the Captains (1975). That book captures the flavor, breakneck pace, and real sense of change that shook Portugal in the months following April 1974.
The process was remarkable for its series of apparent contradictions. A European fascist government survived intact into the 1970s, first trying to “reform” itself and later being overthrown by its own military, which was disenchanted with a national philosophy of “One Portugal on Many Continents.” Initially, this leftist revolution was headed by General António de Spínola, who was both a former observer with the Germans on the eastern front in World War II and the author of the book that led to the events of April 1974. His Portugal and the Future (1974) was a realistic appraisal that Portugal’s colonial position in Africa was not sustainable. After Spínola’s eventual departure from office, the armed forces themselves, in the form of a committee of the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), would guide the Portuguese transition to democracy—a political system with which neither they nor the Portuguese public were familiar.
Maxwell’s work carefully outlines this intricate and convoluted process, which would end with a recognizable European-style political system in the late 1970s. This process would lead Portugal to complete political and social integration with the rest of Europe when it joined the Common Market (EEC) in January 1986, only 12 years after the “Revolution of the Carnations.” Political scientists and historians who want to understand the first, critical phase of the process (1974-76) will find Maxwell’s work to be an invaluable study of a murky and confusing chapter in recent Portuguese history.