The Persistance of Feudalism

Feudalism was a system of obligations that bound people to the land on which they lived and worked. The lords and petty princes who owned the land were supported by the labor of their peasants, or serfs. It prevailed in Europe during the 9th and 15th centuries, as well as in other parts of the world. During its time in Medieval Europe the life expectancy for both men and women remained under 50 years.

In a much longer video on the topic of the Moslem Era in history Manly P. Hall describes what conditions fed into the most prominent feature of what many consider the Dark Ages.

Feudalism continued until these various feudal princes became highly decadent…After the 12th century feudalism was stricken with a mortal blow from which it never recovered. In other words men, becoming free of Rome, becoming free period—these men began to abuse freedom. The rights that had been gained to individual people by the collapse of the Roman program, these rights began to be abused. Little by little freedom became the right of license. By degrees the individual, increasing in selfishness, lost sight of the essential value of human life. These feudal princes and lords were too ignorant even to know what was going on in the world around them, with the exception of a few outstanding examples. They lived only to exploit by degrees their tenants. Under some conditions taxation reached such point that the tenants themselves could no longer survive.

I included a link to a bit of modern propaganda. Many of you are familiar with the iconic fictional character Gordon Gekko, the film Wall Street, and the saying: “Greed is good.” In today’s America it is widely accepted that the primary occupation of the rich is to get richer.

Here we have a pattern…The coming together of these feudal lords into the formation of great families began to develop a psychology which developed as early as the 6th century, and has continued in some places even until the present time. But today we are also beginning to recognize the danger of this pattern, although we have believed it ourselves until very recently. These old ideas do not die very easily, the only one who can get over them quickly is the astute historian who’s seen what did before and hopes he’ll never live to see it again. The point that I mean is that out of this entire procedure rose the first Rugged Individualism. During the great glory of the feudal system we have no evidence whatsoever that human beings accepted any responsibility for the well-being of each other. That is an almost unbelievable condition….At that time there was no concept of mutual responsibility. There was no consciousness of the relationship of events. The middle ages were the middle ages because they were totally without historical perspective. Nobody believed that anything that happened was due to any reason, nor would any inevitable consequence result from anything that he did. One of troubles of course was that he’d gotten himself completely out of the picture. And fate, destiny, deity had taken over all the aspects of human reality…There was no concept that individuals had to work together, or that the building of a civilization depended on perspective. No one at that time thought of sacrificing his own little feudal castle to build a better world, or sacrificing any part of it. He had no sense of a different world.

In the above transcription I linked first the concept of Rugged Individualism, because it was an idea that has been strongly encouraged within modern American culture. The second link is from the phrase “he’d gotten himself completely out of the picture” to another post on this site on the topic of free-will. In the Medieval mind this was done by blaming God. In today’s culture the same feat is accomplished by appeals to determinism and market forces.

Now you might say that the feudal lord was in a pretty fortunate position at this time, but he wasn’t. Actually he had no more perspective than the people, because the only way in which you can have perspective is to be better and he was no better. He was not really a bad man, he was stupid; and so were there people. And there was no cure. There were no schools for him to go to. He lived alone and his principle sports were hunting and war. He had no reason to believe that war meant anything. He wasn’t fighting for anything except to hold on to what he had…it was simply a locked world, a world of illiterates, a world of people who had suddenly gotten into a situation much too large for them.

The video posted at the top of this post ends with the suggestion that education was the route out of serfdom specifically and feudalism generally. In modern society everybody has access to education, but if you’ve ever tried to read The Federalist Papers with your modern education you’ll quickly begin to wonder if the commoners who regularly debated writings just like it 200 years ago were better off then than we are now. In fact you might even wonder if a modern education teaches anything other than hunting–or the acquisition of money–and war.