Serfdom, Slavery, and the Caste System
In my history class, we recently mentioned the differences between serfdom and slavery. Serfdom is defined as “the socio-economic status of unfree peasants under feudalism, and specifically relates to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe. Serfdom was the enforced labor of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields.” An interesting point is made here; serfs were given the right to work [on their leased fields]. Basically, serfs “owned” the land that they worked on; African slaves could not own property, in fact, they were considered property. Serfdom is distinguished from slavery mainly by the rights held by serfs, which were recognized by the upper-classmen. Serfs could usually pass the right to work their land on to a son. Slaves, on the other hand, essentially had no rights at all. In American colonies race and religion played an important role in the creation of slavery.
Many other important components additionally contributed to the evolvement of forced labor. What was the same in both forms of enforced labor, however, was the fact the both were hereditary; you were born into slavery or serfdom. While these methods of labor no longer exist today (or at least in developed nations), similar social systems exist. In India, for example, there are social classes called “castes.” Just as in slavery and serfdom, people are born into castes. Outcasts, or untouchables, are members of Hindu society thought to have been removed from the Caste System, with no hope of returning to it, due to their misdeeds in previous lives. Work that is deemed unclean for all other Hindus is reserved for these Outcasts. Once you are born into a certain caste, social mobility becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. This just goes to show that social discrimination (probably not the best word to use here) will always exist. From a philosophical standpoint, would you agree that “social discrimination” will always exist? What do you think the philosophers we talked about this semester would believe? What about the idea of people being considered property?