Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Specter of Neofeudalism

At NRO, I explore how the concept of "neofeudalism" can provide a device for thinking about some current trends and their risks for American society:
Kotkin’s analysis focuses on the demographic structures of California, but we can explore more broadly some of the underlying tendencies of neofeudalism. It might be helpful to contrast the neofeudal state with the traditional liberal republic. The latter is composed of individuals (and organizations of individuals) coming together to form a nation governed by laws, and it aims to be in accordance with certain foundational rights. The neofeudal state, on the other hand, is anti-national. Rather than the unified body politic of the liberal republic, the neofeudal state slices and dices its residents into discrete subsets, each with its own unique rights and responsibilities. Solid economic and social divisions were a key part of feudal society, and they also play a role in present-day neofeudalism. Moreover, the institutional dysfunction characteristic of neofeudalism undermines the efficient functioning of the republic and makes the nation more vulnerable to the whims of executive diktat.
The hardening of divisions in society is the backbone of neofeudalism. Some of these divisions are economic. The breakdown of opportunity and the weakening of the middle class divide American society while also harming economic growth. But these divisions may also be social and cultural, replacing traditional American narratives of equal access to the public square with a fragmented and fractious society. The existence of divisions does not define a neofeudal society, but neofeudalism hardens differences into caste-creating walls. While a free republic certainly has divisions, those divisions are counterbalanced by an assertion of universal dignity and of rights that transcend the social hierarchy.
Read the rest here.

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