There are certain words and phrases that have no fixed definition, so the use of them usually says more about the person using them, than the object they are being used to describe. Like “fascism” in modern times, the term “feudalism” was mostly a term of disparagement in the 18th and 19th century. According to scholars of the subject, the word “feudal” was first used in the 17th century, as in feudal order. It later came into more common usage in Marxist political propaganda in the 18th and 19th century.
Just because feudalism was largely used as a meaningless epithet, it does not mean it did not exist. Scholars generally agree that feudalism was “a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.” The lord owned the land, the vassal was granted use of it by the lord. The land was the fief. In exchange for legal and physical protection, the lord expected service, usually military service, but also food rents and labor from the peasants.
Marxists later pointed out that the codes and customs that we associate with this period relied on the lord owning the one thing of value, the land. The person at the top of the feudal order had a monopoly on the one store of value and that gave him a monopoly on the law. The old saying about the golden rule is true. The man with the gold makes the rules. This is why as coinage made a comeback in the medieval period, kings took control of the mints. It was both a source a wealth, seigniorage, and a source of power.
A useful example of this is the decision by Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries of the Catholic Church. By seizing church lands, which constituted about a quarter of the national wealth, and redistributing them to favored aristocrats, Henry fundamentally altered English society. He weakened the power of the old nobles, by filling their ranks with new members loyal to Henry. He also eliminated an alternative source of economic power in English society. Henry was supreme power because he controlled the land.
Feudalism only works when a small elite controls the source of wealth. Then they can control the exploitation of it. In Europe, as Christianity spread, the Church required lands, becoming one of the most powerful forces in society. The warrior elite was exclusively Catholic, thus they had a loyalty to the Pope, as God’s representative on earth. Therefore, the system of controlling wealth not only had a direct financial benefit to the people at the top, it had the blessing of God’s representative, who sat atop the whole system.
That’s something to keep in mind as we see technology evolve into a feudal system, where a small elite controls the resources and grants permission to users. The software oligopolies are now shifting all of their licencing to a subscription model. It’s not just the mobile platforms. Developers of enterprise software for business are adopting the same model. The users have no ownership rights. Instead they are renters, subject to terms and conditions imposed by the developer or platform holder. The users is literally a tenant.
The main reason developers are shifting to this model is that they cannot charge high fees for their software, due to the mass of software on the market. Competition has to drive down prices. Further, customers are not inclined to pay high maintenance fees, when they can buy new systems at competitive rates. The solution is stop selling the stuff and start renting it. This fits the oligopoly scheme as it ultimately puts them in control of the developers. Apple and Google are now running protection rackets for developers.
It also means the end of any useful development. Take a look at the situation Stefan Molyneux faces. A band of religious fanatics has declared him a heretic and wants him burned. The Great Church of Technology is now in the process of having him expelled from the internet. As he wrote in a post, he invests 12 years building his business on-line, only to find out he owns none of it. He was always just a tenant farmer, who foolishly invested millions in YouTube. Like a peasant, he is now about to be evicted.
How long before someone like this monster discovers that Google and Apple will no longer allow him to use any apps on his phone? Or maybe he is denied access to his accounting system? How long before his insurer cuts off his business insurance, claiming the threat from homosexual terrorists poses too high of a risk? Federal law prevents the electric company from shutting off his power due to politics, but Federal law used to prevent secret courts and secret warrants. Things change as the people in charge change.
The power of the church in medieval Europe was not just spiritual. They owned vast amounts of land and could marshal tremendous resources in support of or in defiance of the secular rulers. In fact, the reason the Church acquired lands was for exactly that reason. What drives the tech overlords of today is exactly the same thing. Their desire to impose their moral order on the rest of us is driving them to monopolize the source of power in the information age. They are imposing a new form of feudalism on us.
The difference today is that this new religion is ill-defined and lacking in the outward symbols to distinguish it from the rest of society. The rules of the new religion are always changing, making it impossible to predict. No one in the 12th century was unclear about who set the moral order. The local bishop may have been nuts, but he was predictably nuts. The new religion is formless, with moral codes springing from the mob, as the mood of the mob changes. It’s an anarcho-tyranny, because it is an anarcho-religion.
The solution to this will not be the same as last time. There is no secular authority willing to challenge the power of the new theogarchs. Mark Zuckerberg went to Congress and lied his face off, knowing they were afraid to lay a hand on him. By the 2020 election, social media will have banned Trump and all Trump supporters. The solution, in time, is the people in these oligopolies will have to fear the peasantry in real space. The same civil authorities that are too weak to oppose the theogarchs will be too weak to protect them.