Though the slave trade was officially abolished in the early 19th century, remnants of slavery can still be felt in today’s landscape. While slavery has long been critiqued, the concept of feudalism has largely been spared the same condemnation. Yet, it can be argued that the feudal system in the middle ages has similar constraints to slavery that has facilitated some of the inequalities embedded in the current economy and social landscape. Slavery is considered an abomination across the world as humans were owned and forced to do field and menial labor with little or no reward in return. While it’s largely outlawed, remnants of it can be felt in organizations that hold down Black people, paying them less than they deserve and preventing them from moving up the ladder.
Though the feudal system has long been outlawed, aspects of it are still noticeable across organizations and in politics, among other things. The international day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition takes placeon August 23rd each year. What can we learn from the slave trade in today’s economy?
What is the Simple Definition of Feudalism?
The feudalism short definition details a social system founded in medieval Europe where people worked for and fought on behalf of Nobles who offered them land use, military, and legal protection in exchange.
The feudal system in the middle ages was cited as a system that protected communities from violence after the collapse of the Roman Empire and Western Europe’s central government. Much like slavery, the objective was to use ‘lesser’ people to protect and serve their needs, sometimes against their will.
What is Feudalism and Why Was Feudalism Created?
The meaning of the feudal system comes from the middle-aged Latin terms, feudalis (fee) and feodum (fief). The fee signified the fief (land given) as payment for military service. It became popular throughout Western Europe from the 11th century onwards.
Features of feudalism included social hierarchies established based on administrative control and lands being distributed into units. Essentially, the feudal system was created to keep lords (who owned land) safe by using peasants, similar to how slaves were used to protect, work for and do favors for their masters.
The system created many localized community groups loyal to specific local lords who exercised their full authority. It created class divides between landowners and land renters, with the system usually weighted in the sovereign’s favor.
What Best Describes the Feudal System?
Feudal systems were characterized by the absence of public authority, affording local lords power over judicial and administrative functions. Its concepts are cited as complex, though its basic meaning suggests that this was another way for monarchs to control how humans acted and behaved.
The system dissipated thanks to plagues like the Black Death and peasant revolts throughout England and other countries. More coinage use and the emergence of commerce changed how the feudal system operated, allowing lords to pay their sovereigns rather than perform military service.
Does the Feudal System Have Any Remnants Today?
Feudal society has been compared to contemporary society in the United States, particularly when it comes to the immense wealth gap between the rich and poor nationwide. The rich take home 15 times more the annual wealth than the bottom 50% combined. There is a surplus, or lack of benefits depending on the social class people are in, meaning that the upper class, much like nobles, secured the greatest benefits while the lower class missed out on these benefits. Furthermore, the lack of opportunities for lower-class people forces them to endure oppression while protecting and providing for their family members.
The pandemic era has led to the emergence of neo-feudalism, aka new feudalism, noticeable in different political realms. Can you see how this still exists in your community? Do you see anything in your workplace that’s an extension of the values of a feudal system? Think about that.
Does the Feudal System Exist Today?
Income inequality in today’s society reflects feudal system ideologies that haven’t changed in modern times. The world’s richest 1% own 45% of the world’s wealth. Part of the problem is the misguided interpretation that slavery and the slave trade were one-off occurrences.
Another problem is that concepts like capitalism and communism are elite-favoring systems that restrict worker rights and still don’t significantly address the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Resources have been exploited, and Western countries have leveraged off slave labor. Companies have maximized waste in creating products rather than maximizing wages.
The feudal system and slave trade may have long been outlawed. But, their terminologies and various parameters of their concepts remain prevalent in today’s economy. Let’s have a Tough Convo about the economic inequalities that persist and see what your organization can do to help reverse them.