Communism has fallen as a competitor to counter this dynamic. That does not mean some of the economic and political theories associated with Communism are wrong. Historically, though, the most successful political competitor to feudalism was populism. Populism emerged at the end of the dark ages (which was feudal) and with it came the Modern system of democracy and human rights (think John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and the Dutch republicans). Theories undergirding human rights and popular democratic rule drove populist movements against the ruling feudal/aristocratic/monarchal class. Obviously, there were excesses such as those seen in the French revolution but overall populist movements predicated on democracy thrived.
Now, however, gaining ground as the dominant political paradigm is neo-feudalism and this is precisely where Jodi Dean shines.
She writes that: Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable”
She references that “Albert-László Barabási explained the processes underpinning such a neofeudalism in his analysis of the structure of complex networks, that is, networks characterized by free choice, growth, and preferential attachment. These are networks where people voluntarily make links or choices.”
Neo—feudalism does not emerge by design but is an organic evolutionary movement which inevitably centralizes and turns power into a hierarchy. With the popular developments of the seventeenth century came such concepts as separations of power, limited government, and free people gathering to create their own political orders but with deliberate checks on the growth of those orders. The United States was an experiment in this form of government and it worked for about sixty years in the early nineteenth century before eventually giving way to forces of centralized consolidation. Now with big media, globalized free trade, and high tech, we are seeing neo-feudalism as a form of political organization and with it a particular style of governmentality referred to by Foucault and other as bio-power. The model of governmentality in the feudal system is phrased succinctly by the French anarchist, Proudhon. Proudhon writes that to be governed means to be “noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished .... repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed ... mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured” H/T: Beyond electoralism: reflections on anarchy, populism, and the crisis of electoral politics
But knee-jerk populism from the right (e.g. Trump) is not the most effective vehicle to thwart this dynamic. A clear, more progressive, less bellicose, and more progressive philosophical development needs to be articulated and that is among my new year’s resolutions. Still, an informed citizenry and commitment to democratic and human rights principles is going to be essential. I mentioned before that in the US the deplorables are going to have to find common cause with the Bernie bros, Yang gang, and yellow vests in carving out a new populism to address the new feudalism.