As part of our examination of the origins of Southern culture and identity we recently looked at the perspective of military historian Raimondo Luraghi as expressed in his book The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South. Luraghi argues that the Old South was part of what he calls a ‘seigneurial’ civilisation. This concept is a bit more sweeping than the Golden Circle concept we have developed over the last year. Luraghi asserted that New England and the Mid-Atlantic States were the exception to the rule in the New World and that Brazil, the Caribbean, the Spanish Main, New France and the Old South could all be seen as sharing a common civilisation. This would seem to be a stretch, although Luraghi is correct that these societies did have certain important traits in common.
In the short excerpt below Luraghi contrasts his seigneurial civilisation to the ‘tropical’ or ‘plantation’ civilisation concepts proposed by other historians. The latter concepts are precisely what we have described as the Golden Circle, reviving the term used by many nineteenth century Southerners. Luraghi writes on page 45:
Virginia, like Canada part of seigneurial America, was a member of a more specific kind of seigneurial civilisation that extended from Chesapeake to Brazil, including the Caribbean and, in part, the Spanish Main. This civilization was adroitly called by Gilberto Freye “tropical”; and the distinguished Brazilian writer is certainly right, as its extension covers a tropical and two subtropical areas, reaching as far as the temperate zones. However, it seems more appropriate to use Jay R. Mandle’s definition of “plantation civilizations” so that Canada and the Hacienda civilization of the Mexican high plateaus and Argentina’s large land properties, which presented very similar dimensions, can also be included. Mandle correctly underlines the fact that everywhere the end of slavery “…did severely shake the hegemony of the plantocracy, but its survival under formally changed circumstances of labor control, in several different countries, indicates that judicial ownership of people could be eliminated and yet the essential attributes of the plantation society could be retained.”
Certainly what Mandle calls “plantation civilization,” and what I propose to call seigneurial civilisztion, far exceeded the slave era both in space and time; and slave societies appear to be only the tropical species of such civilization.
It is interesting to note that these historians see the distinct civilisation of the Golden Circle area as surviving (to at least some degree) the fall of slavery. Of course, this was not true for all of the plantation societies. In Haiti, for example, the French population and civilisation itself were destroyed in a slave revolution. However, in Dixie, Brazil and elsewhere, the founding peoples of these societies did manage to survive the destruction of the social and economic system which had made these places among the wealthiest societies on Earth.