One of the US’ founding laws is a prohibition on creating a titled aristocracy. A couple centuries on, this seems quaint. But considering that our nation is violating the crap out of it in spirit, which I will illustrate below, it’s worth revisiting.
Setting aside a long list of unjust aristocratic perks and abuses, the worst thing about feudal systems was their everyday suckitude. Most people lived in hopeless misery, were held to harsh standards by authorities and had no protection from injury by their superiors in wealth or power. Following the invention of epidemiological studies, it was discovered that chronic poverty and mistreatment causes illness and shortened lifespans, to no one’s very great surprise.
While we can’t ask them, I’m pretty sure that most of the misery in feudal societies wasn’t caused by philosophical disagreements with Divine Right of Kings theory.
In the face of all that misery, the problem with the perks of the aristocrats wasn’t an issue of jealousy. It was an issue of cause and effect. The peasants were miserable because of the outsized shares of national productivity granted to the aristocratic classes, such that there wasn’t much left for everyone else. They were miserable because, after enforcing and protecting the outsized privileges of their social superiors, their governments didn’t have any left over justice.
More democratic systems, as they evolved in steps, promised a better life, more ways out of poverty and better redress for grievances. Capitalism came along and promised all that and a bag of chips. Mix the two and, bam, hard work will be rewarded, courts will put an end to the impunity of the rich, the market will punish cheats and greater economic activity will be the tide that lifts every boat. A chicken in every pot, with liberty and justice for all.
Anyway, it said so on the label. So people got over our innate distrust of change and tried these newfangled types of societal organization.
It’s 2011 now. Feudalism is supposed to be dead and the US has done away with the custom of having an aristocracy. Those rumors have been greatly exaggerated. Also, no one told this jack*ss.
Here are things our courts and police will ticket, fine, give jail or probation, or, perhaps, publicly torture (ordinary) people for:
- Getting hit by a drunk driver while jaywalking (& while black.)
- Staying in the bathroom too long.
- Having a tantrum at 10 years old and refusing bath or bed time.
- Standing in front of a government building in peaceful protest.
- Making too much noise.
- While attending elementary school, (particularly while black,) fighting with other children, talking back to teachers, having soda or running in the hall.
Here are things our courts and police have yet to take action against (rich) people for:
- Negligently causing the deaths of your workers while poisoning the entire Gulf of Mexico and lying about it.
- Negligently causing the deaths of your workers while violating federal mine safety regulations and lying about it.
- Lying to the government about the amount of resources extracted from public lands.
- Taking people’s houses when you have no proof that they belong to you.
- Fraudulently rating financial products comprised of fraudulently issued loans that were used to fuel a disastrous speculative bubble, which threw millions of people into poverty, unemployment and hunger.
To recap, a child can get a tasered for refusing to shower, but no charges will be filed if a bank steals an entire house and the land it sits on, partly because the government has gotten into the habit of covering up for finance industry crimes.
To recap, once more with feeling, an activist can go to jail for lying to prevent energy companies from participating in an illegal auction, but an energy company can get away with lying to the government about the yield from an energy lease and get the government to pay the liabilities for it.
You can call this whatever you want to, but to be shocked when the peasants revolt against the widening inequality of their society is misguided at the least. To rub salt in the wound, public institutions that formerly provided the hope of class mobility are being dismantled, one by one, across the ‘free world’, while politicians and business people climb to power by bragging about how much they can cut the stupid, inefficient wages that ordinary families have to live on.
People don’t like being hungry or poor or treated badly. They don’t need an ideology to dislike those outcomes and, eventually, they’re going to get tired of any ideology used to justify them, along with the people who wield those justifications.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call it when the rich can steal from the poor, but none dare call it theft. It also doesn’t matter if the thief is a Duke or a CEO.
It’s the theft, stupid.
2 thoughts on “Near-As-No-Matter Feudalism”
In jolly old England the nobility and royalty got rich basically by fencing in common land that the ordinary people had depended on for their living to farm, pasture their animals and gather wood from the forests. Once the people had been put off this land they became dependent on the landowners and had to turn over part of the fruits of their labor for rent, and also for taxes, fees and fines.
IN the last 200 years the common people have managed to claw back some of those land and resources to gain some prosperity and security for themselves. I think that the current drop of people who think of themselves as nobility (the “producers’ and “job creators”) have decided that the time has come to stop that progress and push it back.
They are taking back land and social resources (privatizing public land and services, eliminating public pensions and medical benefits) and taking away any source of security people may have so that they will be dependent on the gift and favor of the new nobles.
Great piece, thanks. It seems the high-and-mighty have not thought through this ‘return to feudalism’ thing — already, as the amount of disposable income available to the middle-class dries up, the purchasing power of our consumer society has dwindled, meaning capitalist dinosaurs like Walmart and various other multinationals are feeling the pinch. Walmart is actually hallucinating that they’ll be selling their crap to the Chinese and India in the near future after the US market fades — of course, they would mean they would have to increase wages in those countries. The great historian Barbara Tuchman outlined the problem with any large organization, governemntal or private, in “The March of Folly” wherein she stated that the monstrous beast first works against its own best interests and then starts believing its own lies. It’s at that final stage that the death knell is rung and where global capitalism is at the moment.
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