Between the 9th and 15th Centuries in Europe Feudalism was the societal norm. Merriam-Webster defines Feudalism as “the system of political organization prevailing in Europe from the 9th to about the 15th centuries having as its basis the relation of lord to vassal with all land held in fee and as chief characteristics homage, the service of tenants under arms and in court, wardship and forfeiture.”
The Feudal lords and monarchs were the wealthy landowners of the time. All the wealth of Europe were in their families’ hands and were passed down from generation to generation for centuries. The Monarchs controlled the Church who controlled the people by claiming they spoke for God himself and it was heresy to deny their authority. The Monarchs in turn permitted the noble families, the land owners status and power in exchange for their allegiance to the crown and military assistance when demanded. The Feudal lords had control of the population living on their lands. They were known as villeins or Serfs. They were permitted to live on the Feudal lords’ family land in exchange for their homage to the Lords, labor, a share of what they produced and military service when called upon. Serfs had no rights, were not allowed to organize, and were required to pay homage and a share of their wealth to the Lords as well as risk their lives in the Lord’s defense. They weren’t slaves in the traditional sense, but if they were to live on the land owned by the Feudal Lords, they had to work the land and give the Lords a share of what they produced. They were totally beholden to the Lords for their lives.
Feudalism effectively ended around 1500 due to numerous causes such as the Black Death which curtailed the nobilities control of the serfs due to the numerous deaths, the creation of professional armies for the Crown as opposed to armies of the Nobles and their serfs, and the banding together of the serfs in various regions of Europe over the next 300 years. They organized, demanded rights and forced the Monarchy and Feudal Lords to abide. It wasn’t abolished in France until the French Revolution in 1789. The last remnants of Feudalism ended in Russia in 1861 when the Tsar officially ended Serfdom. When Serfdom ended, the people were able to own their land, if they could. Former Serfs were able to work for their own identity and existence. Most couldn’t, but a growing number of the people did over the Centuries when they weren’t totally beholden as a matter of law to the wealthy landowners and Church.
In the years following the collapse of Feudalism and Serfdom, the power of the Monarchs and wealthy elite began to give way to the power of the people. Those with the initiative, drive and luck were able to progress up the ladder to wealth and power themselves. A middle class came into being. Many don’t realize that although some of the founders were wealthy men in the colonies, most were actually what was considered the middle-class of the time. Our founding was among many things creating a government free from influence of the wealthiest people and church. Although it was true that you had to be a male property owner to be part of the political process during this time, becoming a property owner was achievable for many of the colonists.
By the latter part of the 19th century in America, the families of those who made fortunes began to secure power and began to flex it. Although called the Gilded Age, it was essentially a revival of a mine feudalistic society where the working class worked for slave wages, in company owned housing, shopping at company owned stores and were in reality the new Serfs. Although the wealthy class fought it with armed thugs, the union movement began in America and by demanding and getting rights for labor, along with the help of some States like Wisconsin, the lives and rights of labor improved and they became a powerful political force. After World War II, following imposition of a progressive tax code to pay for the war, pay for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and the power of the unions, the size, wealth and political strength of the American middle-class became the envy of the world. Europe began to adopt the same institutions and policies as we had here. With the exception of minorities due to continued racism, the lives of all Americans improved immensely.
By the 1960’s the civil rights movement began. It wasn’t the wealthy elite who pushed this through, it was the growing middle-class using their political power to push those in the various States and Washington DC to provide for the workers. Not all labor groups were pro-civil rights, but enough were to make a difference. After imposition of the civil and voting rights acts of the 1960’s, the Democratic Southern base peeled away from Democratic Leadership. Wealthy Republicans fearful of losing power and influence in the nation saw this opportunity to win over Southern Democrats to their side. The infamous Southern Strategy was formed. In the 50 plus years that have followed, the Dixiecrats became the Tea Party and the Tea Party recently became the MAGAts (Make American Great Again trolls). It’s easy to say that this is at its heart a racism issue for political power, but it’s not that simple.
Since Reagan, the Republican Party under the financial support of the billionaires in this country, those whose families made it rich in fossil fuels, the military industrial complex, casino gambling and real estate used their money to guide Republican henchmen like Newt Gingrich and Lee Atwater to get GOP party leaders to push agendas that weakened the labor movement. Since Americans had become complacent due to how well they were living, few saw the problem over the many years this was underway. By a combination of the wealthy taking over media, using religion to bring God back into the equation as it was during the feudal years, weakening the labor movement, the wealthy elite in this nation have successfully created a narrative that God has blessed these wealthy family, they deserve the power over the working class and the working class is dependent upon the continued growing wealth of the top 1% and corporations for their own person success. Government is now in debt thanks to what the wealthy elite have pushed through government and as a result, they’re justifying to the people that those programs that helped create and sustained the middle and working class since FDR, through Ike and later LBJ (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Education, Social Safety Net) are too expensive and must be cut or eliminated so the wealthy can get richer and that wealth will “trickle-down.
Where has that left us? Donald Trump, a man who owes his wealth to his real estate father is now President working to help his kind get richer with the financial assistance of other Billionaires like the Mercers, Prince, DeVos, Wynn, Adelson, and the most notorious and successful Neo-Feudal Lords, Charles and David Koch, who also owe their wealth to their father. When I say Neo Feudal I’m referring to families who have handed down wealth and influence to their children for multiple generations, control the workings of government, insert religion to justify their actions and in effect control the lives of millions of Americans who are now dependent upon them. We are become a new Serfdom if this is allowed to continue.
The only antidote to prevent this disaster is to regain what the wealthy have paid the Republicans to take away. Labor rights, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Healthcare Rights and the only way to do this is to be as active as the Labor movement was before and after the Great Depression. We must take control of government away from the wealthy elite few and give it back to the majority. There are three possible outcomes to our current political state, re-imposition of a feudal state after it ended hundreds of years ago, a fascist state ala what Hitler, Mussolini and Franco imposed in Europe (many believe we’re already there) or re-imposition of government of the people, by the people and for the people that Lincoln spoke of where government works for us and provides for us because we the people control it, not the Neo-Feudal Lords.
It’s only our Democratic Republic that’s at stake.