1000 years ago, European society was structured by a political and legal system known as feudalism, whereby a local lord or baron controlled a grant of land from the king. Serfs and vassals lived on the land under obligations of service to work the land and hand over a portion of the produce as well as military service, if needed. Vassals enjoyed limited freedoms; serfs had none.
Peasants were bound to the land, either legally or economically. They could not escape the control of the local lord, who would draft them into military service as needed or direct their labor on the estate: agriculture, trades such as farrier, carpenter, and blacksmith, and whatever other pursuits the lord desired.
Times change, the Crusades introduced trade, working people organized into Guilds, merchants formed a middle class, and the resulting freedom eroded the power and structure of feudalism. The people broke free of the control of their feudal lords, who would turn to a new form of societal and economic organization, capitalism, to retain wealth and control, albeit at lower levels.
Throughout the capitalistic era, wealth and labor engaged in great battles over the condition of the working people and the rights of labor. While the 19th century was touch-and-go, in the 20th century labor won bargaining rights such that the foundation was set for the great expansion of the middle class as codified in the laws and policies of the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.
Since then, under the guise of conservatism and since the time of Ronald Reagan, libertarianism, pushback against labor unions, workers, and the middle class has taken place.
The reduction of income tax rates from 70% to today’s low levels combined with the abandonment of regulatory power that the federal government wielded, free trade agreements and blocs, and technological innovation whose key piece is the internet, resulted in globalism, in which economic power can be held outside the check of democratic government.
The uber-rich now find themselves in the position of feudal lords, whereby they can use free trade and globalism to erode the rights and threaten the existence of labor unions. If the workers get too agitated about falling wages (in real dollars) and loss of benefits such as medical insurance and pensions, they can move the production to another country where the workers won’t protest conditions.
Through the use of modern propaganda techniques, developed by the science of psychology and manipulated by politicians in the service of ideology, persons have found social media an ideal platform for exploiting the thinking of persons who are bound by tribal loyalties rather than truth.
And so, as long predicted by persons such as George Orwell (1984) or Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), the very few lucky, privileged, and wealthy have found the means of controlling the masses, the large number of persons who live each day trying to survive.
Grumpy Old Teacher thanks you for your indulgence as you wonder how this relates to education. Education is the lynch pin and the critical piece to establishing the new American feudalism, whereby the poor and working class lose their freedom as they watch the wealth their forebears left them flow into the hands of the uber-rich. Education is the threat that holds the uber-rich back, and yet, education is the means by which they can achieve their goals.
GOT will explain in his next post.
2 thoughts on “The New American Feudalism”
I explained this to my students in French class almost the exact same way. The word of the day was bourgeoisie, and I ended that part of the lesson with my offer of a cash prize for reading and discussing 1984. It has been over a decade since I had anyone take me up on the offer. I fear that no one will this year either.