The Coming Neo Feudalism by Joel Kotkin (2020)
“This is a book neither of the right nor of the left. It is an attempt to diagnose trends that are leading to a more hierarchical and more stagnant society. It also stands as a warning to the global middle class. Although this die may be cast, I hope the book will stir discussion and spark action to halt the current trajectory toward neo-feudalism across much of the world.
As a lifelong Democrat, now Independent, I do not see this as an ideological or partisan issue. I believe that the vast majority of people, conservative as well as progressive, do not look forward to a future defined by class immobility and immense concentration of both wealth and power. This is a global phenomenon that includes not just the United States but also the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, most of continental Europe, and the rapidly advancing countries of East Asia.
The future that appears on the horizon is not one that I desire for any country, or for my own children. This book is meant to rally those who cherish the independence, freedom, and possibilities for upward mobility that have been the hallmarks of liberal democracy over the past few centuries”.
“Feudalism is making a comeback, long after it was believed to have been deposited into the historical dustbin. Of course it will look different this time around; we won’t see knights in shining armor, or vassals doing homage to their lords, or a powerful Catholic Church enforcing the reigning orthodoxy. What we are seeing is a new form of aristocracy developing in the United States and beyond, as wealth in our postindustrial economy tends to be ever more concentrated in fewer hands. Societies are becoming more stratified, with decreasing changes of upward mobility for most of the population. A class of thought leaders and opinion makers provide intellectual support for the emerging hierarchy. As avenues for upward mobility are diminishing, the model of liberal capitalism is losing appeal around the globe, and new doctrines are arising in its place, including ones that lend support to a kind of neo-feudalism.
Historically, feudalism was hardly a monolithic system, and it lasted much longer in some places than others. But certain salient features can be seen in feudal structures across medieval Europe; a strongly hierarchical ordering of society, a web of personal obligations tying subordinates to superiors, the persistence of closed classes or ‘castes’, and a permanent serflike status for the vast majority of the population. The few dominated the many as by natural right.
The clearest parallel in our own time is the concentration of wealth in fewer hands, following upon an era of robust social mobility. In the second half of the twentieth century, growing prosperity was widely shared in the developed world, with an expanding middle class and an upward mobile working class – something seen in many developing countries as well. Today, the benefits of economic growth in most countries are going mainly to the wealthiest segment of the population. One widely cited estimate suggests that the share of global wealth held by the top 0.1 percent of the global population increased from 7 percent in 1978 to 22 percent in 2012. A recent British parliamentarian study indicates that this global trend will continue; by 2030, the top 1 percent is expected to control two-thirds of the world’s wealth.
As in the Middle-Ages, the power and privilege of this oligarchy are supported by an influential cognitive elite, or what I call ‘clerisy’. The term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who envisioned a group of secular intellectuals guiding society with their knowledge, as the cultural role of the church waned.
Today’s clerisy are the people who dominate the global web of cultural creators, academia, the media, and even much of what remains of traditional religious institutions.
They share many beliefs with the oligarchs – on globalism and the environment, for example – and spread them around to the wider population as a secular orthodoxy. But like the medieval clergy, they sometimes act as a check on power of economic elites.
The clerisy and the oligarchy correspond to the medieval clergy and nobility – or the First Estate and Second Estate, as they came to be known in France. Beneath them are the vastly larger group corresponding to the ‘commoners’ in the feudal era, or the Third Estate; those who were neither anointed nor ennobled.
Today’s Third Estate has two distinct parts. There is the property-owning middle class with the spirit of independence transported into an urban or suburban context.
Historically these people played a critical part in overturning the feudal order – but today’s counterparts are being squeezed beneath the oligarchy.
Second, there is a working class who are becoming more like medieval serfs, with diminishing chances of owning significant assets or improving their lot except with government transfers.
Even as a new feudalism appears to be setting in, it is stirring up counterforces that promise turbulent times.
History never repeats itself. Man always does. Voltaire
“We Will Not Be Silenced” by Erwin Lutzer
“You might wonder why a book that focuses on the church’s role in our culture includes a chapter on socialism. After all, Christianity has proven it can survive under any economic and political system. The church began under the rule of the Caesars and survived very well. Under decades of Communist rule in Russia, the church has persevered even though it was hampered by sever persecution. The church in China continues to survive despite widespread crackdowns and horrid persecution. The church can survive under Communism and socialism, even of the worst kind.
My concern has to do with the deception of socialism and why, although it may appear to be an attractive system, it must of necessity perpetuate poverty, restrict freedom, and otherwise demoralize those who are under it.
Socialism by its very nature encroaches on the freedom of the church and its ability to be generous with gospel ministries. The United States – for all of its faults – must be thanked for the more than $400 billion its citizens give each year to charitable causes, including missions and help for the poor. You can’t name a socialist country that comes anywhere near to America’s generosity.”
“What is socialism? In a nutshell, it is the supremacy of the state over the individual. Or if you want a one-word definition, it’s STATISM. It’s when the government takes ownership of the means of production and promises to redistribute wealth in what is claimed to be a fair-minded way. On the surface, this seems like an attractive solution to poverty and fiscal insecurity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the notion that the government CAN PAY. Trillions of dollars were approved to bail out businesses and give checks to millions of newly unemployed workers. We have to ask; Is not this an example of big government taking over the economy for the benefit of our nation?
“Why were economists, whose advice was often so useful, increasingly regarded by the general public as out of step with the times during the perilous years that had followed the last war?” Friedrich A. Hayek
To answer the question, Hayek drew upon intellectual history.
Bruce Caldwell, who edited Hayek’s book and wrote the Introduction writes:
“Hayek claimed that public opinion was unduly influenced by an earlier generation of economists who, by criticizing a theoretical approach to the social sciences, had undermined the credibility of economic reasoning in general. Once that had been accomplished, people felt free to propose all manner of utopian solutions to the problem of the depression, solutions that any serious study of economics would show were infeasible. Toward the end of his talk, Hayek cited the new enthusiasm for socialist planning in Britain as an example of such misguided ideas. The economists who had paved the way for these errors were members of the German Historical School, advisors to Bismarck in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Hayek’s choice of the German Historical School economists was significant on a number of levels. First, the German Historical School had before the war been the chief rival of the Austrian School of Economics, of which Hayek was a member. Next, though the German Historical School economists were conservative imperialists, cheerleaders for a strong German Reich and opponents of German social democracy, they also were the architect of numerous social welfare reforms.”
John Maynard Keynes
This economist published his first work in 1920
“The Treatise of Money”
A central idea of the work was that if the amount of money being saved exceeds the amount being invested – which can happen if interest rates are too high – then unemployment will rise. This is in part a result of people not wanting to spend too high a proportion of what employers pay out, making it difficult for employers to make a profit.
The Treatise of Money and the General Theory of Unemployment, Interest, and Money, revolutionized the study and practice of economics and changed monetary policy after World War II.
“The control of the production of wealth is the control of human life itself.” Hilaire Belloc
“The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich A. Hayek
“When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn – when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism – we naturally blame anything but ourselves. Have we not all striven according to our best lights, and have not many of our finest minds incessantly worked to make this a better world? Have not all our efforts and hopes been directed towards greater freedom, justice, and prosperity? If the outcome is so different from our aims -if, instead of freedom and prosperity, bondage and misery stare us in the face – is it not clear that sinister forces must have foiled our intentions, that we are the victims of some evil power which must be conquered before we can resume the road to better things?
However much we may differ when we name the culprit – whether it is the wicked capitalist or the vicious spirit of a particular nation, the stupidity of our elders, or a social system not yet, although we have struggled against it for half a century, fully overthrown – we all are, or at least were until recently, certain of one thing; that the leading ideas which during the last generation have become common to most people of good will and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one; that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.”
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’