BRAZIL differs from all the other countries of Latin America. The difference results mainly from the impact of slavery, which was conducive to the development of a patriarchal, aristocratic organization of society, marked by romantic excesses of individualism and a strong addiction to rhetoric. This force was moderated, however, by the influence of monarchy, a classic influence to which no other American nation was subjected. Let us see in detail how this combination of factors operated to form present-day Brazil.

It is now 20 years since I published in Portuguese an essay setting forth my theory that it was slavery--slavery of a patriarchal type--that more than any other social institution or social process had left a mark on Brazilian social development and on the character and culture of the Brazilian people. In 1941, a similar book appeared in the United States--W. J. Cash's "The Mind of the South."[i] This penetrating analysis of the influence of slavery on Southerners in the United States confirmed my analysis on a number of points as to the general psychological effects of an institution like slave labor upon descendants both of masters and of slaves. Though sociological effects have been somewhat different in the two areas due to a number of historical and ecological factors, the psychological effects have been almost the same. One of the factors of sociological differentiation has been the presence in Brazil of an institution that was at once complementary to patriarchal slavery and corrective of it: patriarchal monarchy of a type more classic than romantic.

Romanticism was one of the general psychological effects of the plantation and slavery system, and with it went the fondness for rhetoric already mentioned, which was common to Brazilians and to Anglo-Americans of the two areas of the New World where slavery flourished most vigorously. In the South of the United States, as Cash points out, rhetoric became "not only a passion" but "a primary standard of judgment, the sine qua non of leadership." So in Brazil. There, too, the love of oratory was associated with "the love of politics." In Brazil, the campaign for the abolition of slavery suffered particularly from an excess of rhetoric. It also was one of the causes of the fall of the Brazilian monarchy --a system of government that, being rather classic than romantic, was a strong corrective to romantic excesses associated with republicanism in South America and in the South of the United States--excesses of individualism, paternalism and familism.

The monarchy in Brazil was also a healthy influence in favor of national unity and national culture and even in favor of objectivity in international, particularly continental, relations. It was helped in this by an observance of proper diplomatic form and formal methods of diplomatic intercourse uncommon among republican Americans, both Latin and Anglo-American. Since it was a sort of super-paternalism, enjoying the prestige given to the royal family for the sake of its national rôle, the Brazilian monarchy stood above regional paternalism and above rivalries between powerful antagonistic families. It served also as the basis for an international policy in which traditional methods and styles of diplomacy gave Brazil a clear superiority over young romantic republics. The presence in Rio de Janeiro of a royal family, surrounded by statesmen and diplomats with a European training, explains why in dealing not only with caudillo republics like Paraguay but also with the United States, Brazilian diplomacy was often superior both in objectivity and classic form to excessively romantic and anarchic republican diplomacy. Professor Lawrence F. Hill[ii] gives interesting examples of the discrepancy between the two types of diplomacy; and I think he would agree with me in describing the republican one as romantic and the monarchical one as classic.

Familism, an effect of the slavery system, was common to Brazil and the South of the United States as well as other American areas like Cuba and Peru. In the isolation of plantation life, the home, the family, the small domestic world in and around the patriarchal "big house" became the "center of everything." In this atmosphere there developed what Cash calls "an unusually intense affection and respect for the women of the family-- for the wife and mother upon whose activities the comfort and well-being of everybody greatly depended." In my 1934 essay as well as subsequently I attempted to analyze this situation. I suggested that the Roman Catholic devotion for the Virgin Mary glorified as Queen--Regina--seems not to have become as intense in any other Roman Catholic area of the world as in Brazil. This was a result, it seems to me, of that extreme idealization of aristocratic women (and even of Negro women, in the shape of old mammies) as vital or basic sentimental parts of the plantation family complex developed in slavery days. In this particularly intense devotion to the Virgin Mary we detect a sublimation or idealization of the cult of women that has found other means of expression in the United States, including an identification of the cult of the purity of women with the cult of race purity. This identification is not to be found in Brazil, where the cult of women has been associated more with family pride than race pride.

In the days of slavery, patriarchal male power was not absolute in Brazil, since the prevailing intense respect for women under romantic and mystical forms was projected into practical and everyday life. Men were the real lords in the Brazilian slavery system--the white men that is, who were the owners of white women as well as of plantations and slaves. But their power was psychologically limited by the romantic or mystical respect which they had for women. This included not only their mothers, their wives and their daughters but also the Virgin Mary, who to many of them was much more of a mystical power--it should be repeated--than God or Jesus Christ; and she was not a universal goddess but a particular or domestic manifestation of the divine power that took care of a particular family or home.

In a recent book,[iii] Sheila Patterson attempts to compare the slavery complex in South Africa with that in the old South of the United States and in Brazil. And she makes a very intelligent distinction when she says that in the slavery days in Brazil there prevailed a cult of the "purity of the home" instead of a cult of the "purity of the race" as in the United States and South Africa. She goes farther and suggests that in Brazil the slavery system derived from what she calls "a Portuguese prototype," different from the Anglo-Saxon or the Dutch. I was delighted to find in this English book conclusions very similar to what I had suggested in my 1934 essay. I based my analysis of the Brazilian slavery system on the assumption that it was different from the Anglo-American, the Dutch and even the French and the Spanish systems of modern slavery. It was an extension of the Portuguese system, just as the Portuguese system in turn was an extension of the Moorish or Arab or Mohammedan system of domestic rather than industrial slavery. I have since found new and stronger evidence to support this view during a long voyage that took me first through Mohammedan countries like Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, then to India, and later to Negro Africa. I visited not only parts of Africa that are deeply affected by Mohammedan culture but also those where its impact is almost unknown.

Everywhere I was impressed by the fact that there is a sociological kinship between the Portuguese and the Mohammedan systems of slavery and it is this that seems to me to account for certain characteristics of the Brazilian system which are not found in other regions of America where slavery also prevailed. The fact that slavery was less cruel in Brazil than in English America and even in French or Spanish America seems to be a well-documented fact. Why was it so? Not, certainly, because the Portuguese are a more Christian people than the English, Dutch, French or Spanish peoples (by more Christian, meaning here ethically better in morals and behavior). The truth seems to be the reverse: the more suave form of slavery developed by the Portuguese in Brazil seems to have been a result of their contact with slave-owning Mohammedans who are known to have been particularly humane towards their slaves and to have had a domestic conception of slavery entirely different from that of industrial slavery. We know that the Portuguese, though intensely Christian and champions of Christianity against Islam, imitated the Arabs, the Moors, the Mohammedans in a number of techniques and customs and assimilated from them a number of their cultural values. The Mohammedan conception of slavery as a domestic system (linked to a form of family organization that included economic activity without being entirely dominated by an economic purpose) was one of the Moorish values that the Portuguese applied in the course of their colonization of Brazil. When in 1938 I spoke of what I had in mind to my old teacher in Columbia University, the late Professor Franz Boas, he told me that this would probably be the basis for a new and better understanding of the Brazilian situation, arguing that the Mohammedan Arabs and Moors had for centuries been superior to the European Christians in their methods of assimilating African groups and cultures to their civilization. And a British anthropologist of the same generation, Professor Fox Pitt-Rivers, says in one of his books on what he calls the clash of cultures: "Oriental slavery is something quite different, nobler and less degrading than it was in Europe and the United States."

This was the type of slavery that the Portuguese adopted in the East and in Brazil: a mild form of slavery which, as part of a social whole, included polygamy in order to increase the population. Some say that it was in order to increase the number of laborers, but one should remember that since the fifteenth century the Portuguese used slavery for the eugenic selection of good human elements. Once these had been Christianized and domesticated in the sense that they had become a part of domestic, patriarchal, family systems, they were liberated and given an opportunity to be the social equals of the white Europeans. As early as the fifteenth century, African youths were given opportunities in Portugal, through a eugenic selection that did not mean racial exclusiveness, of becoming priests, then a high position in Portuguese society. This opportunity for a rise in the social scale was increased in cases where the youths were not Africans who had been brought very young from Africa as slaves but the sons of Portuguese men by African slave girls. Here, again, the Portuguese, perhaps because of their lack of manpower for their tremendous task of expanding in the tropical regions of Asia, Africa and America, followed the Mohammedan or Arab example. According to the Mohammedans, the offspring of Arab men and slave women had only to adopt their father's faith, rituals and customs to be considered their father's equal in social status.

The Portuguese did not go as far in following Mohammedan precedent when they developed in Brazil a slave system on a larger scale than the one they had developed in India. Nevertheless, as soon as they were established in Brazil they began adding to their plantation system a disguised imitation of polygamy, allowing for the legal adoption by a Christian father (when he wrote his will) of "natural" and illegitimate sons not only from Indian girls but also from African slave girls. That is, "natural" and illegitimate children could be chosen by him to be the social equals, or almost the social equals, of his legitimate children, to be educated in his "big house" by the same priest or chaplain who educated his legitimate children. Here I should point out that legal marriages of Portuguese planters with Indian girls who had become Christian were not rare in colonial Brazil. Some of these girls were Indian princesses, like the North American Pocahontas, and being the descendant of an Indian princess and a Portuguese nobleman has remained a matter of special pride for many Brazilians. The first Cardinal, not only of Brazil but of Latin America, was a descendant of a sixteenth century Albuquerque who, besides marrying a Portuguese girl of good origin who was sent out of Brazil by the Queen of Portugal for the purpose, adopted and legalized the children he had already had by an Indian princess. I have read many wills of aristocratic planters in the colonial period, and I know from them how much suavely disguised polygamy contributed to the increase of the Brazilian population along lines that would have met with the approval of eugenic specialists; for the fathers were often first-class men, not only sociologically but also--judging by their achievements and the quality of their descendants--biologically.

Slavery of this type was not only useful in many ways to Brazilian social development: it proved valuable in an immense country like Brazil in promoting national political unity and social discipline, for it was a system common to different provinces and sub-regions. In the "big houses," children grew up surrounded by relatives--grandmother and grandfather, an unmarried aunt, perhaps, a cousin, even a close friend of the family --so that from birth they saw, as the anthropologist Margaret Mead has pointed out regarding children in the old Anglo-American patriarchal families, "many ranges of ages and human experience, right in or near their own home."

On the other hand, patriarchalism in Brazil was in some ways harmful to the national development and to the Brazilian character in general. It has made Brazilians too dependent upon paternalism and paternalistic government. It has made it difficult for manual labor to be considered a decent occupation for free men. It gave too much value to such careers as the priesthood even when one did not have the vocation for so noble a career, to the military and to academic honors, with a neglect or disdain for industrial, technical and commercial activities--a defect only today being outgrown by Brazilians. It contributed to make some Brazilians sadistic in their exercise of power. It created a tendency also, as in the South of the United States, to associate politics with rhetoric, since rhetoric is the easiest way for leaders to impress emotional people.

But some of the excesses of slavery in Brazil were corrected by another powerful institution which the Portuguese brought to Brazil and which the Brazilians were wise enough to maintain even when they separated politically from Portugal. This--the monarchical system of government--deserves as much attention as slavery from students of the Brazilian development.

The various "big houses" of sugar-cane and later of coffee autocrats had a tendency to separate Brazil into patriarchal blocs that sometimes were violently antagonistic, each protected by a particular Virgin Mary or saint, to such an extent that the field slaves of one plantation often engaged in fights when they met the slaves of another. Monarchy was by nature too national to take sides with local or provincial autocrats or to take sides with saints that protected only particular patriarchal families. It acted also in defense of law, of justice, of morality against paternalistic abuses of power. Since the autocrats of the "big houses" wanted to show their prestige by participating in political life and being recognized by the Crown with titles--barons and viscounts wanted to be marquises, and, if possible, dukes--it was in their interest to behave in such a way as to please the Emperor and his counsellors. Fortunately for Brazil, the four ruling monarchs from the time Rio became the seat, first of the Portuguese monarchy, later of a Brazilian monarchy, had a high sense of their national and royal responsibilities: King John VI, Emperor Pedro I, Pedro II, Princess Isabel. They were greatly respected by the Brazilian people, and this respect was to a large extent a result of the general Brazilian attitude towards paternalistic authority; only the King, the Emperor, the Princess were understood by all or nearly all to be more powerful than the local autocrats. On the other hand, the monarchical authority felt for a long time that it had to depend upon the loyal coöperation of these local autocrats. The interdependence between the two was complete, so much so that when the Crown favored the abolition of slavery and played an important part in the movement in that direction, the Empire immediately lost its vitality and was able to survive slavery for only one year. Slavery disappeared in Brazil in 1888, and in 1889 a republic was established.

At first it was a fraternalistic republic, but that did not last long. Soon it imitated the monarchy which it had replaced and became paternalistic. It did so by acting as if presidents were strong men who had to protect their country almost as if they were kings.

The ironical thing about the simultaneous disappearance of the two institutions of slavery and monarchy was that former slaves found themselves men and women who had neither an Emperor nor an autocrat of a "big house" to protect them, and who in consequence became the victims of a deep feeling of insecurity. Some of them became nostalgic for the Emperor and the "big house." It took years for political leaders to understand the real psychological and sociological situation of these former slaves, disguised as free laborers and deprived of the patriarchal social assistance that had been given to them in their old age or when they were sick by the "big house" or, when that failed to do them justice, by the Emperor or the Empress or the imperial Princes. The Emperor was called or considered by most of them their "big Father," the Empress their "Mother," in a sense similar to that in which the Virgin Mary as "Queen" (Regina) was also their Mother.

This explains--to come to modern Brazil--the great popularity of Getulio Vargas when as President for some time with dictatorial power he decided to enact social legislation that gave a large part of the Brazilian labor population protection against old age, disease and exploitation by commercial or industrial firms. It also explains why Vargas became known as the "Father of the Poor" and won a popularity among the common people even surpassing that gained by Emperor Pedro II in 48 years of good, honest and paternalistic government.

Perhaps one may conclude from this that, in Brazil, the monarchical tradition, correcting some of the excesses of the paternalistic tradition which had been developed by a strongly patriarchal plantation system, has expressed itself down to the present day not simply negatively but in positive values. This seems to be the conclusion of everyone who compares Brazilian administration and government with other parts of the general social organization of the country.

Years ago Woodrow Wilson wrote, in an essay which became classic, that in making administrative adjustments the United States was "at a signal disadvantage as compared with the transatlantic nations." Why so? To a certain extent because much of what was more efficient in their administrative system than in the United States had been developed by "kingly initiative." Kingly and, one might add, paternalistic, as in Prussia and to a lesser extent England, where there was a sort of foretaste of what happened in the political history of the United States: a history, as Wilson pointed out, not of administrative development but of legislative supervision, not of progress in governmental organization but of advance in law-making and political criticism.

The political history of the republican Americas--North, South and Central--has been influenced to a very great extent by the Anglo-Saxon and the revolutionary French example of democratic law-making and sometimes over-liberal political criticism. As a result, governmental organization there of the efficiently paternalistic, kingly type which has been responsible for many European advances in measures for the protection of the common people against privileged groups has been of an abnormal sort--an effort through frequent revolutions and frequent dictatorial republican governments. It is a frequency that Brazil, with her tradition of paternalism and monarchism, has not known. This seems to explain why having added to the tradition of paternalism and monarchism a slow and peaceful limitation of parliamentary lawmaking, as in Great Britain, and of legally free political criticism, as in the United States, she stands today as a very complex case. Being very American, very liberal, very democratic in some of the most expressive traits of her social and political organization, she is, on the other hand, very classically European--more than Argentina, Uruguay or Canada--in being sensitive to a paternalistic-monarchical tradition that is her peculiar inheritance in America. This tradition, instead of giving Brazilians only a predisposition to remain archaic against so-called Progress with a capital P, has acted as a constant stimulant, especially in critical days, to the legalistic, peaceful, civilian solution of problems that other Latin American republics--even Argentina and Chile--have faced only through open and sometimes brutal military dictatorships (even though republican in form and sometimes in substance).

Ever since the establishment of the republic the Brazilian Army has considered that one of its great responsibilities as a national force was to take the place of the Crown as an influence above parties in Brazilian national life. During the monarchical period, it was a corrective influence which in critical days prevented abuses of power by any individual or group--political, economic, ideological or religious. This seems to explain why military leaders as caudillos or dictators have been abnormal in Brazilian life. When Vargas became a semi-dictator (he never was an absolute dictator, but voluntarily surrounded himself with legal controls that made him a sort of active regent in a limited monarchy) it was an exception to the purely constitutional norm; and as such he was tolerated but supervised by a socially democratic though politically protective Army. The dictatorial paternalism of Vargas was not of the common Latin American republican caudillo type but represented an effort to make an administrative adjustment within the Brazilian monarchical and paternalistic tradition.

The better organization of the civil service was one of the great accomplishments of Vargas, the other being his effort to better the lot of the common people, especially the urban workman. Most of the Army leaders who supported Vargas regarded his initiative as a necessary adjustment in Brazilian life, one that the law-making elements had been unable to accomplish in almost half a century of congressional activity in a presidential republic of the United States type.

"It is harder for democracy to organize administration than for monarchy," Woodrow Wilson wrote in the essay already cited. The Brazilian case seems to favor his opinion. It is definitively a democracy, with social and ethnic manifestations that make it one of the most advanced communities of the continent and indeed of the modern world; yet in its political development it has been a special case in the American community in that it began its independent political life as a monarchy. Paradoxically, the monarchy was a liberal, democratic and national corrective to the aristocratic or autocratic regional and local excesses which were stimulated in the vast area of Portuguese America by the dominant plantation and slave-owning economic system and social organization. This is why ever since she became a republic, Brazil, instead of acting in crises as a typically Latin American republic--through revolution, caudillism and military dictatorship--has acted differently, in her own peculiar way. One has to seek the reasons for this unique behavior in her unique political-social development--a society where aristocratic excesses of private groups were moderated not by radical republicanism but by democratic monarchism, and where important initiatives in favor of the so-called underprivileged groups have been taken not so much by a congress or parliament as by creative individuals. These have acted within a monarchical tradition of executive initiative, preserved as a presidential, civilian, legalistic republic, with the Army usually playing a rôle similar to that of the Crown in the period of the monarchy.

[i] "The Mind of the South," by Wilber Joseph Cash. New York: Knopf, 1941.

[ii] "Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Brazil." Durham: Duke University Press, 1932.

[iii] "Colour and Culture in South Africa." London: Routledge and Paul, 1953.

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  • GILBERTO FREYRE, Brazilian social anthropologist; former member of the Brazilian Parliament and Brazilian delegate to U.N.; author of many works
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