Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Just When I Thought This Junk Was Beginning to Make Sense..."

Calvin in the comics said that "in the middle ages lords and vassals lived in a futile system" (the strip is here, but is it bootlegged?).

"That's 'feudal system,'" Hobbes cautions. He could have elaborated:
Montesquieu was the first writer to use the adjective féodal in the context of a social state. He used it to describe a condition where monarchy had so far degenerated as to be forced to share power with a military aristocracy whose power base was their knights, established on hereditary fiefs. He coined the term to describe the eighth-century Carolingian Francia. ... The English Whigs who read him were rather more sympathetic to the 'feudal' aristocracy (such as that which routed King John at Runnymede) which was seen on such occasions as a bulwark against overbearing monarchy. ... The next dimension added to the construct 'feudalism' came in less than a generation, with Adam Smith in 1776, He gave it an economic dimension. Like Montesquieu, Smith believed that a feudal aristocracy was antipathetic to the king and to ordered government. ... He made much of the change in his native country caused by the 1745 rebellion. To him the defeat of feudal Scotland in the wreck of the Jacobite cause led toa new nation enjoying commercial and agricultural prosperity. ... The third dimension of feudalism has less to do with society and economics than zeitgeist. ...[I]t was first articulated in England by the Georgian orientalist, jurist and radical politician, Sir William Jones (1746-94). Jones quite agreed with Adam Smith but added touches characteristic of his time; his feudal society had a Gothick, anti-papist background. ... The medievalism of the early-nineteenth-century England, the medievalism that influenced Sir Walter Scott, Pugin and the Tractrians, was just waiting for terms like ;feudalism' or 'feudal system' to give political and social shape to their various versions of medieval history. ... Marx ... did not much add to ther confusion. His 'feudalism' was at root that of Adam Smith, a primitive, socio-economic order stifling commercial development. ... Marx ... made it universal. ... Marx saw feudalism in every society where the powerful victimised the weak and imposed tribute on them.
--David Crouch, The Birth of Nobility 163-4 (2005)

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