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Neofeudalism literally means "new feudalism" and implies a contemporary rebirth of policies of governance and economy reminiscent of those present in many pre-industrial feudal societies. The concept is one in which government policies are instituted with the effect (deliberate or otherwise) of systematically increasing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor while increasing the power of the rich and decreasing the power of the poor (also see wealth condensation). This effect is considered to be similar to the effects of traditional feudalism. The definition of the term is disputed and can be loosely employed as a pejorative term to attack political opponents.



Feudalism is a political system of power dispersed and balanced between king and nobles. This system refers to a general set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility of Europe during the Middle Ages, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs.

Among the issues claimed to be associated with the idea of neofeudalism in contemporary society are class stratification, globalization, mass immigration/illegal immigration, open borders policies, multinational corporations, and "neo-corporatism."[1]

Neofeudalism is part of the controversy over income redistribution born out of massive societal shifts during the industrial revolution. At the time the issue was wealth disparity between classes, landholders, entrepreneurs, peasants, workers, and other economic and social groups. Neofeudalism encompasses the current debate over globalization to include entire societies, countries, regions ("North" versus "South," "Western" versus "non-Western"), and supra-national non-state actors. Unlike other geopolitical issues such as environmentalism and security, the concept of "neofeudalism" largely focuses on economics.

In a proposed party-neutral definition of the term, the traits ascribed to a theoretical emerging neofeudalism would not belong to one political party alone but would be emergent throughout the whole political system in all or at least several major parties. This definition describes a version of neofeudalism with its origin squarely in the realm of business interests and the interests of business owners actively advancing agendas that benefit them personally through political action committees and lobbying efforts directed at politicians not in one, but in every political party. This is a version of the "accidental" or unintentional definition of neofeudalism and describes it as the projected result of rich individuals using their wealth and connections in legal ways to influence politics strongly to their personal advantage over a period of time. In this party-neutral definition there is no cabal or secret society deliberately guiding national politics, but rather the sum effect of the pressures put on politics by the wealthy and elite can be described as moving towards a sort of "new feudalism."

Feudal systems in antique societies usually had the common feature of being ruled by an extremely wealthy and powerful upper class (nobles and aristocrats) with nearly complete legal power over the lives and well-being of the impoverished lower classes of laborers, craftsmen, service professionals, farmer workers, and bond-servants (individuals with debts so excessive that their only legal options were debtor's prison, life as homeless "outlaws," or service to the upper class as serfs or houseservants). The feudal upper classes were not subject to the same set of laws as the lower classes. Thus one of the basic criteria for categorizing a society feudalistic or neofeudalistic might be simply that its laws and customs are designed to best serve the landed and wealthy while offering substantially lesser legal protections to the landless and working classes and those in debt. Such a system need not evolve out of any deliberate desire to oppress the working classes but rather may arise simply through a process of gradually changing the legal systems of a country to best serve the common interests of the upper classes (i.e. less taxation on unearned incomes and interest, more privileges for the wealthy than for the working class or landless, lighter penalties for committing "white collar" crimes, right to purchase expensive exemptions from wartime drafts, etc.). Recognition of similarities between such ancient social systems and a given current society is the condition most likely to lead to accusations of neofeudalism, regardless of the ongoing controversy over what actually constitutes neofeudalism.

One rebuff to application of the term neofeudalism in the contemporary political setting is that such historical feudalism maintained caste without consideration of capital, where commoners who accumulated capital could at best elevate their rank to that of merchants, and class gaps of aristocracy were unbreachable even by private wealth until the late stages and breakdown of feudalism. To that extent, the labeling of monopoly capitalism as neofeudalism can be seen as a misnomer. Others would argue, however, that the prefix "neo" is meant to distinguish modern feudalism from the old kind and that use of the term only means that it mimics many of the effects of the old feudalism: an entrenched, fabulously wealthy elite, held in place by low taxes on capital and no taxes on estates; and a large and growing class of uneducated, unskilled labor brought in by unchecked immigration (both legal and illegal), and kept in check by high levels of personal debt, and high taxes on earned income (payroll, income, sales, property, etc.)

Another specific and alternative application of the term neofeudalism alleges that corporate and government policies make workers dependent on the corporations, as well as making the economic power of the corporations greater than the power of national governments. This, detractors say, leads to a situation where workers are dependent on private interests that are more powerful than government, resembling the situation that prevailed during historic feudalism. Although it should be noted that in feudal law localized prerogatives were considered government.

Use and Etymology

There is controversy over the correct application of neofeudalism as a term, and its political usage is often highly charged with partisan prejudice. Neofeudalism is often used by critics to describe political policies of opponents, and in extreme cases there may be asserted to be a deliberate drive towards a re-imagination of feudal systems of governance for implementation within the context of an information age society.

The term seems to have been originated as a criticism of the paternalistic left; an early example being the essay Galbraith's Neo-Feudalism[2] published in 1961. The term is still used by some on the right in that sense in the twenty-first century:

Although he would later become a naturalized American citizen, Soros remains in social outlook very much a European and believer in the paternalistic neo-feudalism euphemistically called "democratic socialism" or "social democracy." [3]

One of its applications to current politicians is that it explains the support of some for both high levels of nearly uncontrolled immigration and of reduced taxation on the rich. Politicians thus targeted by the term are also frequently opposed to minimum wage laws, claiming they would reduce job opportunities for the poor and the young, even though their support for open borders is based on the claim that the economy is already producing too many jobs. These policies, traditionalists say, would continue to devalue the labor of the working class while creating a wealthy elite that is permanently entrenched in the style of a feudal state. Other applications might include pointing to an individual politician's family history of holding high elected office as possible evidence supporting accusations of an emerging hereditary aristocracy (another common characteristic of feudal societies).

In his 2003 book Hegemony or Survival, American intellectual and political dissident Noam Chomsky writes:

Eliminating social programs has goals that go well beyond concentration of wealth and power. Social Security, public schools, and other such deviations from the “right way” that US military power is to impose on the world, as frankly declared, are based on evil doctrines, among them the pernicious belief that we should care, as a community, whether the disabled widow on the other side of town can make it through the day, or the child next door should have a chance for a decent future. These evil doctrines derive from the principle of sympathy that was taken to be the core of human nature by Adam Smith and David Hume, a principle that must be driven from the mind. Privatization has other benefits. If working people depend on the stock market for their pensions, health care, and other means of survival, they have a stake in undermining their own interests: opposing wage increases, health and safety regulations, and other measures that might cut into profits that flow to the benefactors on whom they must rely, in a manner reminiscent of feudalism...[4]

Neofeudalism in popular culture

  • Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels is set in the distant future with a neofeudalistic galactic empire known as the Imperium after the Butlerian Jihad which prohibits all kinds of thinking machine technology, even its simpler forms.


  1. ^ Thom Hartmann, "Time to Remove the Bananas...and Return Our Republic to Democracy",, 6 November 2002 [1]
  2. ^ George Reisman Human Events, February 1961 [2]
  3. ^ Lowell Ponte "George Soros: Billionaire for the Left" Front Page Magazine, November 13, 2003
  4. ^ Chomsky, Noam. "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance". 2003.

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