Neo-feudalism or new feudalism is 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.
The concept of “neofeudalism” may focus on economics. Among the issues claimed to be associated with the idea of neofeudalism in contemporary society are class stratification, globalization, neoconservative foreign policy, mass immigration/illegal immigration, open borders policies, multinational corporations, and “neo-corporatism”.[dubious – discuss]
Use and etymology
In early use, the term was deployed as both a criticism of the political Left and of the Right.
An early example critical of the Left is the essay “Neo-Feudalism” by John Kenneth Galbraith, 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”.
On the other hand, Jürgen Habermas used the term Refeudalisierung (‘refeudalisation’) in his 1962 The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere to criticise the privatisation of the forms of communication that he believed had produced an Enlightenment-era public sphere. While not talking about ‘neo-feudalism’ as such, later commentators have noted that these ideas are similar to the idea of neo-feudalism. Correspondingly, in 1992 Immanuel Wallerstein expressed views on global development, listing neo-feudalism among three other variants. By neo-feudalism, Wallerstein referred to autarky regions with a localised hierarchy and hi-tech goods available only for the elite.
According to Les Johnston, Clifford Shearing’s theoretical approach of neofeudalism has been influential. Shearing “use[s] 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”.
Lucia Zedner responds that this use of neo-feudalism is too limited in scope; Shearing’s comparison does not draw parallels with earlier governance explicitly enough. Zedner prefers more definitive endorsements.
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. The significance of the comparison to feudalism, for Randy Lippert and Daniel O’Connor, is that corporations have power similar to states’ governance powers. Similarly, Sighard Neckel has argued that the rise of financial-market-based capitalism in the later twentieth century has represented a ‘refeudalisation’ of the economy.
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.
John Braithwaite notes that neofeudalism brings a different approach to governance, since business corporations in particular have this specialized need for loss reduction.
In popular culture
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Seattle-based technology billionaire Nick Hanauer prominently stated that “our country [i.e. the US] is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society”. His views were echoed by, amongst others, the Icelandic billionaire Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson. The idea that the early twentieth-century boom and bust in Iceland saw the country returning to feudal structures of power was also expressed by a range of Icelandic novellists, among them Sigrún Davíðsdóttir in Samhengi hlutanna, Bjarni Bjarnason in Mannorð, Bjarni Harðarson in Sigurðar saga fóts, Böðvar Guðmundsson in Töfrahöllin, and Steinar Bragi in Hálendið: Skáldsaga. Similar ideas are found in some Anglophone fiction. For example, Frank Herbert’s Dune series of novels is set in the distant future with a neofeudalistic galactic empire known as the Imperium after the Butlerian Jihad which prohibits all kinds of thinking machine technology, even its simpler forms.
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- ^Reisman, George (February 1961), “Galbraith’s Neo-Feudalism”, Human Events, retrieved 2018-12-04.
- ^Ponte, Lowell (November 13, 2003), “George Soros: Billionaire for the Left”, Front Page Magazine, archived from the original on 2013-05-06.
- ^Sighard Neckel, ‘Refeudalisierung der Ökonomie: Zum Strukturwandel kapitalistischer Wirtschaft’, MPIfG Working Paper 10/6 (Cologne: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, July 2010), pp. 11-12.
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