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‘Golden Circle’ Weaknesses

Thursday, November 19, 2015 9:28
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By Hunter Wallace

Here are some more thoughts on the ‘Golden Circle’ which I wanted to address separately from the book review:

1.) First, while the book is an introduction to the ‘Golden Circle’ concept of a slave-based, classical-oriented plantation civilization, there are some very significant differences within the zone. The most important difference is that all the other plantation societies were located in the tropics whereas the American South has a sub-tropical climate. We’re in the temperate zone and have four seasons.

This is very important because European settlement failed in the Caribbean – except in Cuba and Puerto Rico, which developed plantation economies very late in the game – because of diseases like malaria and yellow fever. The South was also affected by these diseases, but unlike in the Caribbean, both blacks and Whites demographically thrived here. Thus, the slave trade wasn’t necessary to sustain our economy.

2.) Second, the crops grown here were different: outside of south Louisiana, the major Southern plantation crops were cotton, tobacco, and rice. The intensity of work and the number of laborers required on your typical Caribbean sugar plantation was much greater than on Southern cotton or tobacco plantations.

Compared to the Caribbean sugar planters, the Southern cotton planter was really little more than a jumped up farmer and the tobacco farmer was just a farmer with a few laborers. Fortunately, the Southern cotton planters and tobacco farmers didn’t have the wealth to reside in Britain like the absentee Caribbean sugar barons.

3.) Third, American slavery because of the climate and the crops grown here was much more bourgeois than in the Caribbean. In the United States, a planter owned 20 slaves. The majority of slaves were owned by the planter class, but the vast majority of slaveholders were not planters. Instead, slavery was much more of a middle class institution with some families owning maybe 1 or 2 slaves as an investment.

4.) Fourth, the Old South was a slave society and a settler society. The Confederacy was majority White. Aside from Cuba, this generally wasn’t true of the Caribbean plantation societies.

So anyway, the point I am driving at here is that because of the sub-tropical climate, the crops grown, the size of plantations, relative lack of disease, the distribution of slaves and the demographics that the ‘the South’ is best understood as a hybrid which had one foot in the Caribbean and the other in North America. This is not what made ‘the South’ distinct relative to ‘the North’, which is why we are addressing this separately, but ‘the South’ as a transition zone is closer to the truth.

Now, a few observations:

1.) First, as everyone including mainstream historians now acknowledge, the division of the Caribbean between rival European metropoles – starting with France, Britain, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands, but later including the US and USSR – has been one of the leading causes of its regional underdevelopment.

2.) Second, as Cushman points out, this was also true of the American South and Brazil. The destruction of one plantation society by radical republican revolution – at different times, Haiti, ‘the South’, Cuba and Brazil – had a ripple effect across all the others.

3.) The ‘Golden Circle’ had one major inherent flaw: all of these countries had a colonial economy, which made them rich but weak. The slave-based, plantation agriculture model was export-oriented and totally dependent on European trade and security.

That’s why Cuba and Puerto Rico, unlike Mexico, remained loyal to Spain until it was too late. It is why Saint-Domingue fell during the Haitian Revolution. It is why the British Caribbean, which was cut off from North America by the Royal Navy, remained loyal and doomed itself to abolition and social revolution. The Empire of Brazil held out the longest because it was independent, but like the Confederacy, it too was still too dependent on international trade and eventually succumbed to its isolation and international pressure.

4.) As we saw in all cases, but most famously in Haiti, the racial demographics of the ‘Golden Circle’ proved to be a major liability and long term security threat.

5.) The ‘Golden Circle’ slave-based, plantation model with its overwhelmingly black workforce and monoculture in one or two agricultural commodities was doomed in the long run. It generated enormous wealth in the 17th and 18th centuries, but in the 19th century it was eclipsed by industrization. As long as the colonies were tied to their metropole, they were doomed to a long term slide in power and influence due to new wealth generating industries.

6.) In most cases, these extractive economies had a single play – sugar or coffee or cotton – and that was pretty much it.

Let’s take a closer look at the South:

1.) As I have pointed out in recent weeks, the unbalanced economy of the South was the major factor that doomed the Confederacy. Southerners followed the ‘law of comparative advantage’ to the point where they spent most of their time starving and burning their cotton in the war.

2.) Lincoln played the Negro Revolt card. See all the radical republican revolutions for parallels.

3.) The plantation economy discouraged industrialization and urbanization. The lack of internal markets and dependence on international trade made the South rich but weak. Again, it was a play that couldn’t last in the long term.

4.) The infrastructure that was built was oriented around the plantation: factories which processed cotton, railroads which carried the cotton to the largest cities, which naturally were ports where the cotton and tobacco was exported abroad. The colonial nature of the economy is reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa.

5.) The plantation complex only dominated South Carolina. In every other Southern state, there were sectional rifts due to areas which were not fully integrated into the slave-based, plantation economy. In time, this would have changed, but 1860 was too early.

6.) Among other things, the planter class didn’t need public schools or universities to serve an overwhelmingly rural society. In the long run, this made ‘the South’ into a cultural satellite of ‘the North’.

7.) Unlike in the Caribbean, ‘the South’ had the resources, demographics, and potential to launch a slave-based or free labor-based industrialization program. Slaves were used to build railroads in Cuba and ‘the South’. In Cuba, slaves worked in sugar mills which were essentially factories, and in Appalachia they worked in salt mines. There is no reason why slaves or free laborers or both couldn’t have been used in textile and steel mills. Blacks later worked in both industries after the war.

All of this is very interesting. We can only speculate about alternate history. Neither the South or the Caribbean has an economy that is based any longer on slave-based plantation agriculture. Both sugar and cotton are now fully mechanized and the production of these commodities has largely migrated to other regions.

A final thought: the thrust of Cushman’s book is that the classical values of the ‘Golden Circle’ still have applications today, but he is not proposing to bring back slavery. Indeed, slavery and plantations aren’t really necessary to have a seigneurial society. How does that apply in a world where almost no one works in agriculture?

So, here is a clear direction for the next book: coming to grips with the modern South and Caribbean, or the “Southern Future,” and articulating a path forward based on classical values which are now untethered to a world of slavery and plantations.


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