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Modern Day Feudalism

April 14, 2011

Yesterday in lecture, we talked about the concept of feudalism as it relates to our current study of concepts such as Marxism and capitalism. The slide below from lecture highlights the concept of feudalism in context:

After I saw this slide, I immediately began thinking about what exactly I remembered about feudalism from my history classes. I couldn’t remember many details, but if we were to play a game of word association with the word feudalism, I’m pretty sure people would respond by saying things like: mediaeval times, rich people, serfs etc…or at least, that’s what I would say! Well, our best friend Wikipedia defines feudalism as: “a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.” Feudalism also has 3 main components: the lord (owner of the land), the vassal or noble (person who fights for the lord/does labor for the lord in exchange for land) and the fief (the land itself).

Feudalism for Dummies

As lecture taught us yesterday, capitalism is certainly a type of modern-day feudalism, where a few powerful and rich individuals reap most of the benefits of society. We see celebrities, executives and sports stars making millions and millions of dollars and essentially control what our society thinks about. Consider this: when you read the paper or magazines, they are always chock full of stories surrounding “who scored the highest in last night’s basketball game” or “who was the best dressed at the Oscar’s”. So, in this sense, these rich and famous people are modern day’s lords. They have control. The rest of us in society allow them to have this control, by continually talking about these current events and happenings which only perpetuates the cycle. Thus, it can be observed that the working class can then be considered the modern day vassals. They do not receive as much publicity, we do not know everyone’s name, stories of their lives are not constantly being plastered all over the news. Yet, the working class provides extremely important labor needed for a functioning society.

Let’s consider this modern day feudal structure. There are a few common arguments that come out of viewing society in such a way:

1. The working class (vassals) work much harder than the rich (lords), with little benefit or recognition.

2. If the workers feel that they deserve more money or desire to move up the societal ladder, than they should stop being lazy and do something to change their position.

3. Society does not allow for anyone to change their place, even if they want to and work hard to do so, because of long-standing corruption and structure.

Can we break this modern day feudal structure? Or are we forever bound to our role? Only time will tell…

One Comment
  1. Kernelp Jie Wen permalink
    April 16, 2011 10:15 AM

    Thank you for your interesting post, shelbycashman! I agree with you that capitalism was a type of institution that a few powerful and rich individuals reaped most of the benefits of society in the Marx’s era. However, I am wondering whether the nature or the definition of capitalism has been changed in the modern world. One could easily notice from the history of the U.S. and that of other countries that the major flaws of the capitalism, such as child labor and over-exploitation of labor, have been outlawed or altered into a more acceptable way for workers. In addition, the intense relation between capitalists and workers seems to have vanished, at least could be resolved by some types of negotiations. Therefore, it is not safe for me to side with you, although I would like to, in the argument that capitalism is certainly a type of modern-day feudalism.
    In addition, you mentioned that “when you read the paper or magazines, they are always chock full of stories surrounding ‘who scored the highest in last night’s basketball game’ or ‘who was the best dressed at the Oscar’s’.” I also have some confusion here. Those superstars may have reaped profits from general people at the willingness of the latter, but they do provide the labor to entertain the public. It is perhaps their only means of subsistence to make a living, maybe with considerable return values. They may also be exploited, if not precise enough, by the institutions, for instance, high taxation, that aid the exploitation of them by capitalists, probably the highest class in the social hierarchy, from Marx’s perspective. Therefore, superstars may also belong to those exploited, but the problem may exist that we can hardly find out the surplus values of their jobs and who have really exploited these superstars, especially under the modern interpretation of professionism.

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