- 1. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews July 2012 vol. 41 no. 4 540-541
Feudal America Elements of the Middle Ages in Contemporary Society.htm
Feudal America: Elements of the Middle Ages in Contemporary Society
In Feudal America, Vladimir Shlapentokh and Joshua Woods analyze elements within contemporary American society that are similar to feudalism in medieval Europe, roughly from 800 AD to 1300 AD. From the beginning, the authors acknowledge that U. S. society is not completely feudal, but neither was feudal Europe. They state that no society is purely one type of political system and that all societies have elements of the liberal, authoritarian, and feudal.
The feudal system that the authors focus on is the political model based on Coulanges, Vinogradoff, Ganshof, and Bloch’s theories of feudalism. In this model of feudal society, politics—not economics—determine socioeconomic phenomena. In the Middle Ages, kings gave away pieces of their kingdom to be governed by their nobles. The governance of a holding was given to the nobles because kings did not have the resources to closely govern every aspect of their kingdoms. Additionally, since land equaled power and money, these landholdings were a way for kings to reward and control their subjects. In return, nobles were obliged to govern their landholdings and provide military service to their king. Military service usually meant defending the kingdom’s lands or expanding the kingdom. Because the central authority of the king was weak, nobles were in essence the ultimate power of the lands they held for the king. A noble would become so powerful that his governance of a certain piece of land became hereditary and families began to see it as their land, not the king’s held in governance. The king’s central authority was a weak check in order to adjudicate squabbles between nobles, and kept a noble from becoming so powerful that he might seize the throne and rule over the other nobles. As a whole, it was in the nobles’ best interest to have a weak central authority.
For each chapter, Shlapentokh and Woods describe a part of feudal society from the Middle Ages and then apply those concepts to contemporary society. Most of the elements of modern society are held in comparison to corporate America. Here, the weak central authority is the U.S. government, and the lords are corporations. The U. S. government depends upon corporations yet corporations also try to monopolize power away from the government and squabble among themselves. The authors also argue that corporations only care about their own interests and not the good of society, the main purpose of central authority. Like nobles who received tax money, corporations receive tax breaks. Nepotism is rampant in corporations. The personal relation to the corporation and its people may be more important than the relationship or legalities of the government. Private security within the United States is common as evidenced by private security firms, security guards, bouncers, bodyguards, bounty hunters, gated communities, and private prisons. Corporations maintain reciprocal relationships with the U. S. government through contracts and personal ties similar to kings and their nobles during the medieval period.
Feudal America: Elements of the Middle Ages in Contemporary Society is a good book for the general reader who has an interest in the Middle Ages and elements of the Middle Ages in contemporary corporate America.
© American Sociological Association 2012