Sunday, April 17, 2016

Daniel Little — Origins of feudalism in the West

In the grand historical march postulated by historical materialism, ancient slavery and medieval feudalism preceded capitalism as distinct systems of domination and exploitation (e.g. Perry Anderson's Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism). In each social order small elites captured great wealth from the mass of producers, whether enslaved farmers and artisans in the ancient (Roman) world or bonded serfs in the feudal world. And whether we go for "internal contradictions within the forces and relations of production" or other more contingent causes of change, the evolution of European social and economic systems from the Roman Republic through the millennium of Western European feudalism to the "breakthrough" of industrialism in Britain is one of the truly important macro-histories available for study. (China's economic history from its earliest dynasties to the last moments of the Qing is another, and India's longue durée economic history is equally important.)
But how should this story be understood -- as the necessary unfolding of some set of systemic and historical imperatives, or as a process substantially more contingent and piecemeal than that?
Patrick Geary's Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World is a fascinating study of the centuries-long transition from Romanized barbarian Europe to barbarian Roman society. The book is couched as late Roman history, and in fact the words "feudal" and "feudalism" never appear in the book. But what Geary is describing is precisely this: the emergence of a feudal society and economy out of the late Roman Empire in the West.…
Understanding Society
Origins of feudalism in the West
Daniel Little | Chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Professor of Philosophy at UM-Dearborn and Professor of Sociology at UM-Ann Arbor


Matt Franko said...

" The economic basis for his power was on the one hand the vast Roman fist and on the other the continuing mechanism of Roman taxation. "

One could write a whole book just investigating the topic of this one sentence...

Roger Erickson said...

Origins, continuance or end-game, what matters even more is what we DO about it.