Tuesday, April 3, 2018

On Feudalism and Neofeudalism

I started to respond to a comment in this Neofeud let's play, and it ended up turning into an essay, lol.

JULIE FISHER: "Elections? Profit? All very Neo-capitalist, rather than NeoFeudal." 

Feudalism is fundamentally about the structure, the hierarchy. The supreme ruler, i.e. a king, gives titles, estate, powers to the lords, who in turn hold allegiance to the king and carry out the king's will. In the medieval period, this could involve managing the peasants, collecting taxes, providing military support during war, etc.  But in a modern setting, corporate structures could potentially become feudal if capital was concentrated into a small enough number of hands. The ultra-rich could effectively become "rulers" who through controlling shares determine the executive "lords" of  said corporations, who in turn manage the serfs (factory workers, waitresses, scientists, etc) to work the "land" that is their capital/assets (offices, factories, laboratories). By extension, even democratic republics, given a lack of separation between money and politics, could potentially begin to resemble feudalism, as the kings (capital owners) "appoint" their allegiant lords (representatives provided with the resources necessary to win elections) to carry out their will (cutting my taxes and shredding any regulation that stops me making money even if it hurts people would be nice, thanks!).

While not expressly spelled out, it is alluded to in the scene above that this may be the case, as the executive and politician clearly are at the whim of the Princess.

What is the same in pre-Enlightenment feudal Europe, a neofeudal corporation or neofeudal representative government is that the supreme ruler gives privileges, powers and responsibilities to subordinates, who in turn carry out that will, and who can appoint their own subordinates and manage serfs -- like Karl. You could certainly have a very nice, enlightened supreme ruler, who decides to command all of his/her lords to give healthcare, benefits, and a generous 100k salary to each of the peasants (maybe because robots do all the work now, who knows), but the structure would still be feudal. I believe it was the Greek philosopher Plato who described the "Philosopher King", who ruled the happy utopian city Kallipolis. A tyrannical king could of course make life quite horrible for you, as they could take literally anything they felt like demanding; be it your title, your money, your food, or your life, on a whim. (Or maybe he makes you work 16 hours a day, with a broken leg, with no vacation or sick leave!)

While kings are in name supreme, what determines how effectively "supreme" a ruler is, is in practice complex. Lords themselves can rebel against the king, conspire to overthrow him, and the peasants can potentially revolt if the situation becomes dire enough. In a modern setting, what determines the "supremeness" is even more complex as our world is much more complex technologically, economically and socio-politically. To be too obvious, too overt about one's actual power could actually decrease it, which is why, if one were particularly powerful, one might want to couch that power beneath a layer of democracy, law, equality, good deeds, PR, etc. etc.. (Of course, if things get too actually democratic, that could be bad for business, couldn't it!? :) )

The particular scene in the video above is an important one in Neofeud where the nature of this feudal hierarchy is revealed. These individually powerful lords (corporate executive, mayor etc) are feeling very high and mighty, until a more supreme entity (Princess Sybil) enters the room, and must immediately kneel.

In Neofeud, as various individuals and groups vie for power, the machinations, power-plays, and conspiracies at every level are rife, as they were in much of the Middle Ages, particularly the War of the Roses. This period inspired much of A Song of Ice And Fire / Game of Thrones, which in turn was a big inspiration for Neofeud. :)

The fundamental difference between the feudal era and the post-Enlightenment Era, particularly after the French Revolution (a major peasant uprising that ended in the beheading of the King, among others), is that, at least ostensibly, we have "egalite, fraternite, liberte", "equality, fraternity, liberty", and more specifically, democracy, that is, rule by the people, for the people, rather than by one absolute unelected autocrat.  The power derives from the people, who are equal in that each person has one vote, on specific issues or for representatives who carry out the will of the people in the government. One criticism of corporate capitalism, which came after the French Revolution, is basically that corporate structures equate to one dollar, one vote -- rather than one person one vote -- and so they are fundamentally non-democratic in nature. It could be argued that the error of the 19th century was to compartmentalize "politics" and "economics", and to believe that you could create democracy in one, without the other. Neofeud speculates that, unchecked, sufficient power accumulation in the economic sphere could effectively subvert the political sphere.

Incidentally, Princess Sybil's decision to call her organization, "The Egalite Cooperative", suggests a revitalization of these ideals of egalite, fraternite, and liberte behind the French Revolution, but with additional democratization of economics, as a cooperative is essentially a corporation, but democratized. (Of course, whether she actually intends to be a magninimous, good-hearted, "Philosopher Queen" and make good on her promises... well, you'll have to play and find out, won't you!? )

Of course, no system, including democracy is perfect -- mob rule can get stupid and bloody, like that episode of The Orville where a planet decides who gets the death sentence or goes scott-free based on a reality-TV text-in-your-vote "trial". A big theme in Neofeud is that humans (and potentially transhumans/sentient machines) are fundamentally imperfect, and so any political/economic/etc. system they are involved in will always be imperfect, and reality will always be far more complex and weird than we think. But, as cars have gotten safer and more efficient/less polluting, so too can we always make improvements on our institutions, if we do so while there's still time. :)

This site has a pretty good summary of what precisely feudalism is; that is, it's scope, and how it can exist in tandem with a variety of other political systems, including absolute monarchy, oligarchy, and (potentially) with a capitalistic  plutocracy.  http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/politics/difference-between-feudalism-and-monarchy/

At any rate, you should definitely check out the rest of the above let's play, which includes a lot of very insightful commentary by Dr. Brian Ballsun-Stanton.