Thursday, June 13, 2013

Foundations of Neofeudalism

One of the projects I’ve been meaning to write for a while is a study on what I call Neofeudalism. The word feudalism is tossed around an awful lot these days, because I think people instinctively see the similarities between today and the rise of feudalism in Late Antiquity, even if they can’t articulate exactly why they’re using the term. This ambiguity is somewhat confusing, though, because no one has really described exactly what they mean.

I think that we really are entering a new political arrangement as profound as the transformation from the monarchical/manorial economy into the nation state. Some of the salient points are a dissolution of money and power from centralized governments directed by the citizenry into the whims of unitary individuals who control its distribution and allocation. Another is and a loss of rights and protections traditionally guaranteed to all citizens by the nation state, to dependency on whatever one can claw from the impersonal marketplace, nothing less and nothing more. Public provisions traditionally guaranteed by the state, such as roads, universal education, police and fire protection, a social safety net, etc. are also falling apart, another similarity to the dissolution of power following the fall of the Roman Empire, heightening the similarity.

Thus, I propose to call the new political system “Neofeudalism” to recognize the similarities to the previous system. The key of course, is the “Neo” part. It is a new system, with similarities to feudalism but entirely different and unique. Don’t look for knights in armor or stone castles with moats. Do look for private security contractors, gated compounds and yachts. Don’t looks for lords and serfs, do look for oligarchs living like kings and debt serfs living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t use this term pejoratively, or as a “snarl word,” I mean to really understand what this system is and how it works, because I think it’s going to be the political system that we’re all going to end up living under as capitalism disintegrates and we enter a new Dark Age.

What I have not seen, however, is a true discussion of what Neofeudalism actually entails, beyond just the sloppy use of the term. Well, no time to write it now, but here’s a good article on the topic to think about:

We Already Tried Libertarianism - It Was Called Feudalism (Rortybomb)

The link between libertarianism and feudalism deserves examination, and this article does a good job. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a libertarian nowadays. Why has this way of thinking become so suddenly popular? Well, I don’t think it’s because the ideas got any more coherent or well thought out or inherently more appealing in the last few decades (it should actually get less appealing as income inequality increases). No, this way of thinking benefits those at the top, and they have spent billions promoting its dissemination. But I would argue that this way of thinking, this rejection of the res publica and the playing of various social groups against one another by a financial oligarchy to undermine the nation state, is dragging us into Neofeudalism.

Wikipedia has an article on Neofeudalism, but it’s a very academic and poorly written right now:

Other than that, a Google search reveals that most uses of the terms lead to the usual grousing about corporate power, but no real systemic explanation of Neofeudalism as an emerging political order. I think this is too bad.

Here are a few other notable links from the bookmark pile:

UPDATE: We may be tracking feudalism more closely than I thought, see this:
An Austrian hotel is advertising for a modern-day court fool, who is communicative, extroverted, musical, creative and imaginative.

Applicants are asked to bring — and play — their musical instrument during the job interview. Also welcome: creative costumes. The successful candidate will earn 1,400 euros — around $1,900 — a month.

Hotel director Melanie Franke says those interested should not think they’re on a fool’s errand in applying. She says the idea is to treat guests like royalty, noting that “jesters were a luxury that royal families indulged themselves in.”


  1. Your discussion of neofeudalism reminds me of the idea of the "multi" (corporation-states) in Marge Piercy's science fiction novels. The more I see nation-states' power decline and corporations' power expand, the more I find the idea of the "multi" prophetic.

  2. Corporations as the major governing force of the world seems to be a staple of Cyberpunk fiction. Too bad it's coming true.


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