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Friday, April 10, 2015

Feudalism To Corporate Feudalism : A Journey from The Mid-8th Century To The 21st Century

When did the concept of feudalism evolve? Was it from the ancient ages or some time clearly recorded in history?Are we still living in a society where feudalism persists,just in a way that has camoflauged itself well enough in the century's own colours?We will try to find out these answers in this particular post.

Let us start with a particular context,say,The French Revolution.Why was the rage even initiated within people that they guillotined 'their' king and queen and stormed the Bastille?
There are perhaps a few common causes because of which a revolution takes place.Such two common causes were feudalism and economic crises,which are interrelated terms in a sense that in a feudal society,the entire load of such economic crises is imposed on the shoulders of the already terribly suffering working class.However,the middle class,including teachers,businessmen,lawyers and other professionals were also suffering from the impacts of the economic crises and were also protesting against the absolutist regime that was in power then.So,in a way,their aggression against the state authority was not just their suffering due to the economic crises but an accumulation of repressed feelings that had been stored in their subconscious for ages.After all,we can indeed imagine how much rage accumulated can force a population to break open the stone walls of a massive prison!
Feudalism,when broadly defined, was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.
Although there isn't a concrete definition of what exactly feudalism means,at least among scholars,the above definition does not really define but create an idea of how feudalism causes repression and instigates social movements subsequently.

As defined by scholars in the 17th century, the medieval “feudal system” was characterized by the absence of public authority and the exercise by local lords of administrative and judicial functions formerly (and later) performed by centralized governments; general disorder and endemic conflict; and the prevalence of bonds between lords and free dependents (vassals), which were forged by the lords’ bestowal of property called “fiefs” and by their reception of homage from the vassals. These bonds entailed the rendering of services by vassals to their lords (military obligations, counsel, financial support) and the lords’ obligation to protect and respect their vassals. These characteristics were in part deduced from medieval documents and chronicles, but they were interpreted in light of 17th-century practices and semantics. Learned legal commentaries on the laws governing the property called “fiefs” also affected interpretation of the sources. These commentaries, produced since the 13th century, focused on legal theory and on rules derived from actual disputes and hypothetical cases. 

Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789.
(Source : Wikipedia)

A Brief History of Feudalism

Feudalism, in its various forms, usually emerged as a result of the decentralization of an empire: especially in the Carolingian empires which both lacked the bureaucratic infrastructure necessary to support cavalry without the ability to allocate land to these mounted troops. Mounted soldiers began to secure a system of hereditary rule over their allocated land and their power over the territory came to encompass the social, political, judicial, and economic spheres.

These acquired powers significantly diminished unitary power in these empires. Only when the infrastructure existed to maintain unitary power—as with the European monarchies—did Feudalism begin to yield to this new power structure and eventually disappear.

Feudalism, also called feudal system or feudality, French féodalité,  historiographic construct designating the social, economic, and political conditions in western Europe during the early Middle Ages, the long stretch of time between the 5th and 12th centuries.
Feudalism and the related term feudal system are labels invented long after the period to which they were applied. They refer to what those who invented them perceived as the most significant and distinctive characteristics of the early and central Middle Ages. The expressions féodalité and feudal system were coined by the beginning of the 17th century, and the English words feudality and feudalism (as well as feudal pyramid) were in use by the end of the 18th century. They were derived from the Latin words feudum (“fief”) and feodalitas (services connected with the fief), both of which were used during the Middle Ages and later to refer to a form of property holding. Use of the terms associated with feudum to denote the essential characteristics of the early Middle Ages has invested the fief with exaggerated prominence and placed undue emphasis on the importance of a special mode of land tenure to the detriment of other, more significant aspects of social, economic, and political life.

The terms feudalism and feudal system were generally applied to the early and central Middle Ages—the period from the 5th century, when central political authority in the Western empire disappeared, to the 12th century, when kingdoms began to emerge as effective centralized units of government. For a relatively brief period, from the mid-8th to the early 9th century, the Carolingian rulers, especially Pippin (reigned 751–768) and Charlemagne
 (reigned 768/771–814), had remarkable success in creating and maintaining a relatively unified empire. Before and afterward, however, political units were fragmented and political authority diffused. The mightier of the later Carolingians attempted to regulate local magnates and enlist them in their service, but the power of local elites was never effaced. In the absence of forceful kings and emperors, local lords expanded the territory subject to them and intensified their control over the people living there. In many areas the term feudum, as well as the terms beneficium and casamentum, came to be used to describe a form of property holding. The holdings these terms denoted have often been considered essentially dependent tenures, over which their holders’ rights were notably limited. As the words were used in documents of the period, however, the characteristics of the holdings to which they were applied are difficult to distinguish from those of tenures designated by such words as allodium, which has generally been translated as “freehold property.”

Those who formulated the concept of feudalism were affected by the search for simplicity and order in the universe associated with the work of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and especially Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Historians and philosophers were persuaded that if the universe operated systematically, so too must societies. In the 16th century some students of the law and customs of the fief declared that feudal institutions were universal and maintained that feudal systems had existed in Rome, Persia, and Judaea. The philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) considered the fief one of humankind’s eternal institutions. Adopting a similar position, Voltaire (1694–1778) contested the judgment of Montesquieu (1689–1755) that the appearance of feudal laws was a unique historical event. The philosophical historians of 
18th-century Scotland searched for feudalism outside western Europe, and they expanded the construct’s field of significance to encompass peasants as well as lords. Adam Smith (1723–90) presented feudal government as a stage of social development characterized by the absence of commerce and by the use of semi-free labour to cultivate land. Smith’s student John Millar (1735–1801) found “the outlines of the feudal policy” in Asia and Africa. The association popularly made between the feudal construct and ignorance and barbarism fostered its extension to regions which Europeans scarcely knew and which they considered backward and primitive.

Following Millar’s precedent, some later historians continued to look for feudal institutions in times and places outside medieval Europe, most notably Japan. These efforts, predictably, resulted in misconceptions and misunderstanding. Historians using the feudal model for comparative purposes emphasized those characteristics which resemble or seem to resemble Western feudal practices and neglected other, dissimilar aspects, some of which were uniquely significant in shaping the evolution of the areas in question. For Westerners, the use of the feudal model necessarily created a deceptive sense of familiarity with societies that are different from their own.

Caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First Estate (clergy) and the Second Estate (nobility) on its back.
(Source : Wikipedia)

What the era of the French Revolution expresses can be used as an example to explain what more or less were the conditions of the working class in every feudal society.
The repression and the psychological impacts of being pushed to be the most economically vulnerable group in society accumulated over a long period of time can lead to what we term as a revolution. However,the French revolution was particularly led by the liberal nationalists,who belonged mainly to the middle classes and included businessmen,lawyers,doctors,professors and other professionals.
The first,second and third estates did create the famous feudal pyramid,which is very similar to the capitalist system pyramid (feudalism is a form of capitalism,in which power is in the hands of the wealthy and the producers,for more refer to vassal feudalism) in which maximum repercussions were suffered by the working class yet again.

Pyramid of Capitalist System
Photograph Credit : Wikipedia

This phenomenon at the same time being very unfortunate can be looked at from a very interesting point of view.
Firstly,the clergy and monarchy heaved the load of all sorts of taxation possible on the shoulders of the working class and secondly,the industrial revolution had by this time spread to France from England.Now that workers worked under industrialists,they too exploited them at the best they could.If we try to look into exactly how the wealth distribution (or factors supporting economic development) changed,then we can see the middle classes benefitted to some extent due to industrial revolution and the coming up of small industrialists.However,the exploitation did not reach the extent it has reached presently due to the liberalisation processes but the load of this dual exploitation did impact the working classes very negatively.
Industrialists had not become very massive,neither in wealth and nor in power but as long as employers are exploitive (which is what has been happening since the middle ages) and the uneducated,meek working class without much organisation to take keen interest on their demands in the political sphere,exploitation will exist.
The current graph of wealth distribution is even more frightening and the 'liberalisation' of labour laws is certainly not liberating them economically.Moreover,the existence of more wealth than the entire budget of a few countries with those who simply seek profit without necessarily caring about social welfare is certainly unwanted.Now that the huge amount of wealth they have can be used to do anything basically - buy up companies,liberalise labour laws,demolish the environment,curb protests and an array of such activities that will subsequently allow them to control markets of most of the countries and this will not only impact the working classes but mankind.
The difference in the then existent and currently existent feudalism is that the intensity has no doubt increased,making every other economic class except the upper middle to the billionaires and all the groups in the middle all the way up the graph within these two will somehow survive times of hyperinflation  (practically unlikely to happen) or other smaller crises but the other economic classes will suffer the entire load and the maximum sufferers are still the meek,submissive,organisation-less,staggering working class.Here lies the similarity,those who sustain society are affected the worst at times of crises,be it natural or artificial.

eo-feudalism (literally new feudalism – the terms are used interchangeably in the literature) refers to a theorized contemporary rebirth of policies of governance, economy and public life reminiscent of those present in many feudal societies, such as unequal rights and legal protections for common people and for nobility.

Concept of "neofeudalism" largely focuses on economics. Among the issues claimed to be associated with the idea of neofeudalism in contemporary society are class stratification, globalization, mass immigration/illegal immigration, open borders policies, multinational corporations, and "neo-corporatism."

The summary of what we have been talking about......

The term seems to have been originated as a criticism of the paternalistic left; an early example being the essay Galbraith's Neo-Feudalism published in 1961. The term is still used by some on the right in that sense in the twenty-first century:

Although he would later become a naturalized American citizen, Soros remains in social outlook very much a European and believer in the paternalistic neo-feudalism euphemistically called "democratic socialism" or "social democracy." 

In 1992 Immanuel Wallerstein has made his view on global development of the world, which has neofeudalism among three other variants, which meant autarky regions with local hierarchy and hi-tech goods available only for elite.

According to Les Johnston, Clifford Shearing's theoretical approach of neofeudalism has been influential. Shearing "uses this term in a limited sense to draw attention to the emergence of domains of mass private property that are ‘gated’ in a variety of ways".

Neofeudalism entails an order defined by commercial interests and administered in large areas, according to Bruce Baker, who argues that this does not fully describe the extent of cooperation between state and non-state policing.

You did what? Told us?

The significance of the comparison to feudalism, for Randy Lippert and Daniel O'Connor, is that corporations have power similar to states' governance powers.

The widening of the wealth gap, as poor and marginalized people are excluded from the state's provision of security, can result in neofeudalism, argues Marina Caparini, who says this has already happened in South Africa. Neofeudalism is made possible by the commodification of policing, and signifies the end of shared citizenship, says Ian Loader. A primary characteristic of neofeudalism is that individuals' public lives are increasingly governed by business corporations, as Martha K. Huggins finds.Seattle-based technology billionaire Nick Hanauer has stated that "our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society".

John Braithwaite notes that neofeudalism brings a different approach to governance, since business corporations in particular have this specialized need for loss reduction.

A country that exhibits true exceptionalism in all these spheres!

A failed governance!

The solution to such socio-economic problems are not utopian,yet they are not as concrete as they may seem to be sometimes.The solution,just like other solutions in democracies evolves with time and the way the people react to the particular problem.How people will particularly react with the problem again depends on their understanding skills which is interdependent with education,which we lack so much in 'third world countries' like India.With the acceptance of the idea of socialism,i.e the radical idea of sharing the profits and the losses,the good times and the times of crises,we can expect society to retain more fair in terms of economy that subsequently impacts the sharing of power and vice versa. Hopefully,we can dream about utopia and bring the best of it in whatever's possible in reality.

Information Credit 


  • Wikipedia

  • Britannica Encyclopedia 

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