Thursday, February 24, 2011

Neo-feudalism, as I understand it

Beggin' yer lordship's pardon...
Feudalism is a term used to describe the political and governing systems that arose across post-Empire Europe (from around 800 to 1500 anno domini).  These systems relied on a relationship involving a lord, his vassals, and his fief.  Very briefly, the lord is the landowner, the vassals are the people who work the land, the land itself is the fief.  The vassals pay tribute to the lord and there exists a sort of mutual responsibility between vassals and lords for military protection.  Wealth and power flow upward, from fief to vassal to lord.

Neo-feudalism is the modern-day incarnation of the same basic system of relationships.  We have our lords, nowadays:  the mega-rich who control vast financial, media, or resource extraction empires.  We have our vassals:  the people who perform the work of these empires and rely on them for income and health care.  And, under the authority of the insane sanctity that we afford the concept of "capitalism," the fief, the land, the authority of power, is hoarded in the completely ethereal abstraction of numbers that portend the future.

Lords these days are people like Rupert Murdoch, George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Junior Bush.  They are not necessarily malevolent.  Some are philanthropists and humanitarians.  Some are self-made while others inherit their fortunes.

Lords are afforded greater rights and privileges than are their vassals.  Lords are generally exempted from contributing to the "common good."  Lords are not subject to the same laws that apply to vassals.  

For these people, these lords, money is something other than a means of living from day to day.  It is their birthright awarded by destiny.  It is the irrefutable source of their authority. 

There is a great scene in the old Roman Polanski flick, Chinatown, wherein Jack Nicholson's character, Jake Gittes, confronts John Huston's Noah Cross, the powerful water baron in Depression-era Los Angeles County who builds an empire with murder and corruption: 

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

And what a future it is!

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