Modern Feudalism

A reader labeled Tenkev writes:

I agree with much of this essay; but, I would like to point out an area where I disagree; or, rather, which you left out of you analysis.

As you pointed out, two of the main causes of poverty are unchastity and gluttony. Surely you are correct in this. There are also laziness, excessive risk-taking, lack of foresight, gullibility and foolishness. But it is not enough to say that most poverty is caused by sin and character flaws. We are responsible for our brothers in all their imperfection.

I think the problem is not that men are not capable of providing labor equal to the wage necessary to raise a family; as you say, most able-bodied men are; but, rather, that they are incapable of managing the rest of their lives. As the proverb says, a fool and his money are quickly departed. This is especially true today with the failure of modern culture to guide our lives reasonably.

The problem I see with our modern economic/political structure is the assumed absolute sovereignty for every-non criminal person. With maximum liberty comes maximum responsibility, and there is a great mass of people who cannot handle this level of responsibility. Not every man is noble. There is nothing shameful in admitting this. It is a fact of life. Now it is extremely important not to take this fact too far; but, it is also important to recognize it and plan for it. This means developing a hierarchical structure of power similar to a feudal power architecture; where those prone to foolish decision making have a loving, paternal, individual authority to guide their decisions (in a limited scope) and with this authority comes a responsibility for care in tough times and a claim to a small share of the labor in normal times.

My comment: It has been a long time since I have heard anyone make an argument in favor of hierarchical feudalism. I salute you for your boldness.

I am a Virginian, and so find myself in deep mistrust to any man who would place one class of man above another for any reason. Sic semper tyrannis, and all that, ya’ll. The only king to which we gentlemen of Virginia will ever bow is one that walks on water. Be damned to any man who says he is born my better, and be me damned if I say any man is born my lesser.

And yet…

And yet I am haunted by the thought that in a Democracy, where all men are allegedly equal, it is merely Caesar, the state, the government, who ends up in the position of the feudal lord or the antebellum slaveowner, that is, the public welfare bureaucracy ends up running the lives of the poor, paying for their daily bread, taking their children away when need or whim arises, and (in the modern day) milking them for votes.

The modern poor man is in a much more favorable legal situation, but not a more favorable real-life situation as the serf or slave. Perhaps his situation is worse, because he lacks a personal relationship with his lord or owner: the modern welfare-serf must beg of the anonymous, cold-faced and impersonal institutions what he once sat before the gates of the rich man to beg of him.


  1. Comment by Bob Wallace:

    The poor are always with us, and nothing can be done about that.

    Sounds like what poster is referring to is the Four Cardinal Virtues, the Seven Deadly Sins and their opposites.

    None of those are taught anymore.

    As for the economy, wages have not gone up since January of 1973, courtesy of our evil government and its lust for power, its greed, and its hubris.

    Aristotle defined happiness as prosperity and virtue. Prosperity is hard to find this days, which is one of the reasons marriage rates and collapsing, as reproducing ourselves.

  2. Comment by John Hutchins:

    I think both have left out of your analysis the middle class, which lives pay check to pay check paying all that they have to service student loans and house payments. Who can be evicted from their house largely at the whim of the bank who via CDO and government assistance gets more money evicting them than restructuring the debt. Who can not get rid of the student loans. Who send their children to government run schools to be taught that they too must enter into this contract. Who are taught that retirement is this peculiar thing devoid of family support where one is fully dependent on government.

    The majority of serfs actually owned more land and their own homes in a more real sense than the majority of the middle class own their homes.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      The majority of serfs actually owned more land and their own homes

      Indeed, there is the case of Auberede and Roumelde, two women serfs who owned a townhouse on the market square in Beauvais and who sold the said house in order to buy themselves free of their feudal obligations. Or Constant LeRoux, the serf who died a wealthy man by picking up little fiefs here and there: receiving the care of some grapevines here, of a warehouse there, etc. Technically, he did not die wealthy: as he approached his end of days, he gave all his money to the poor and entered a monastery.

      There was the technical factor that it was the land that was deemed “free” or “servile.” The same man (or woman!) who owned a free manse might also hold a servile manse (and thus be a “virgater” in English feudal terms). For the servile manse, he would owe feudal duties to the lord of the manor, over and above the normal duties of the peasants to supply rent-in-kind, or harvest and planting labor.

      • Comment by Nate Winchester:

        Sarah Hoyt said something once that continues to stick in my mind and I think the truth of will take years to fully grasp.


        Each society has the governance its TECH deserves.

        If I understand it right, then the idea that the serfs & peasants of old were more free is true not because the kings of old were more moral or more limited by the Church or the Lords or the System or whatever, but limited by the technology. Or to use our favorite fictional parallels: Big Brother cannot live without the ability to survey his people. A Brave New World cannot be built without drugs to subdue the people.

        Hmm… we might all be mistaking the diagnosis. It’s not the level of governance we should return to, but the level of technology. We don’t need monarchs, we need to be amish.

        I don’t know for sure yet, but given the tools at their disposal nowadays, I have no hope that any monarch put on a throne would be able to refrain from becoming another North Korea or African state.

        • Comment by Gigalith:

          I’m skeptical.

          If technology determines government, then why did the Roman Republic exist? Did advances in technology make republican government possible, and then later advances yank the possibility away?

          My personal belief is that there are three to five actual systems of government, all of which are generally possible at any given time, but the local circumstances push the people to one or another. That said, I believe free will has a greater part, and that it is not Nature but Man that decides how he will rule himself.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            Regarding the Roman republic: the technology did change. At the start it was possible for the citizens to each pretty much have the best weaponry available but as Rome grew there came a standardization and an increase in cost such that an average citizen was not able to afford the needed equipment by themselves. Leading to a mismatch between the power held by the citizens and the power held by the military and by the wealthy, at the start of the republic the citizens were the military and had the same military tech, by the end the citizens could only serve in the military and were not capable of themselves fighting the military.

            Also the wealthy were able to buy the support of the poor and kill (or otherwise stop) all politicians that attempted to reform the land situation or the slave situation in order to allow for the average citizen to serve in the military and keep their land, or to have land in the first place, or to have work, or to afford the military equipment.

            • Comment by Malcolm Smith:

              I remember reading H. G. Wells’ An Outline of History and, although a lot of what he said was nonsense, he did make one valid point: the Greco-Roman world had no method of mass communication. Printing had not been invented. Information could pass only by word of mouth or hand-written billboards stuck up in a public place. For that reason, all the democracies of the time ie in Rome and Athens, were local. It is impossible to organize democracy in a large nation state, let alone an empire, without at least printed books and newspapers.

        • Comment by Christopher:

          That society has a government based upon it’s technology is rather erroneous, given that forms of governance is immaterial. Technology thus would have to be an implementation of that immaterial governance, or in effect be of a policy, or to benefit the government, but would not necessitate it. Big Brother for example could function without technology that allows constant surveillance, given that constant surveillance can still be achieved without technology.

          ‘We don’t need monarchs, we need to be amish.’

          No, just a Good leader will do.

          ‘ I have no hope that any monarch put on a throne would be able to refrain from becoming another North Korea or African state.’

          That’s rather odd, given that North Korea is the ‘Democratic Republic of North Korea’, Democracy will just easily go the route of Dictatorship, just as it did in Weimar Germany.

          • Comment by Nate Winchester:

            I was about to respond until I saw…

            That’s rather odd, given that North Korea is the ‘Democratic Republic of North Korea’, Democracy will just easily go the route of Dictatorship, just as it did in Weimar Germany.

            That you believe there is any truth in labeling as far as North Korea is concerned… well, further discussion would be a waste of time.

            • Comment by Christopher:

              Please do reply, because it is interestingly socialist constructs that seem to focus upon Republics such as the French Revolutionaries, the U.S.S.R., the D.P.R.N.K. or the P.R.C. Whether they are true Democracies or not is not the purpose of the question, but rather the immediate assumption that monarchs lead to the D.P.R.N.K.

            • Comment by Christopher:

              Previous comment I don’t think went through.

              Please do respond.

              I do not think there is any truth in the labelling as far as North Korea is concerned, it is just a given example on nations that seem to emphasise that they are democratic. But the fact remains, ironically in their own name, that Democracies can become like North Korea or like Nazi Germany, no different from Monarchs. It’s not exclusively democracies that push away from Dictatorship.

              • Comment by Nate Winchester:

                lol I’m waiting for the proof that NK was ever democratic to begin with.

                I mean you can call yourself a duck, but if you don’t look, sound or walk like a duck – or ever have – then you’re not proof ducks can become men.

                • Comment by Christopher:

                  I did not say North Korea was Democratic, I stated it’s full name in rebuttal to the notion that Monarchs somehow cannot refrain from becoming a Dictatorship. Whether or not it was a Democracy to begin with is irrelevant, it’s the irony of the name that is being stressed. It’s the same with the People’s Republic of China, or the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic.

                  I challenge you on your notion of Monarchs somehow being closer to Dictatorships while somehow Democracies do not/can not/ or is less favourable. I already cited Weimar Germany as an example. Look at the rise of Italian Fascism within the Italy. Or look at the Constitutional Monarchy of Great Britain.

  3. Comment by Christopher:

    “And yet I am haunted by the thought that in a Democracy, where all men are allegedly equal, it is merely Caesar, the state, the government, who ends up in the position of the feudal lord or the antebellum slaveowner'”

    The problem in a Democracy is that equal men voted for Caesar who publicly proclaims State Control, even though a large portion of equal men voted against.

    • Comment by sparrow:

      Democracy is better than Kings only because it diversifies risk just like you do in a mutual fund. Any one stock (King) may fail but the sector (all power seekers) must fail together for democracy to be corrupt. It still happens of course.

  4. Comment by sparrow:

    All systems are flawed because human beings are flawed. There is no political construct that can bring about a utopia , but there are degrees of disaster. Our Republic, such as it is, functions due to the division and dispersion of power. However it’s fatal flaw is that it authentically represent us. Yes there are other flaws (imperious judges for example) but fundamentally our Congress actually does represent us. Please appreciate that I do not intend that observation to be insulting, although it can be taken that way. Congress does in fact represent us in our flawed nature. Our system can only be improved if we are morally better ourselves. Thus we are doomed on this earth unless we repent en mass. So while you and I can think of various structural changes we might make to our current system; there is no substitute for moral actors in charge. Any state run by saints will be wonderful and any state run by the rest of us (sinners) will reflect our sorry condition, no matter how perfectly devised. God gave us ten rules to follow – do you imagine we can improve on that?

  5. Comment by Mary:

    The problem does not lie in finding people who manifestly need guardians. The problem lies in finding suitable guardians.

    • Comment by The_Shadow:

      Or as C. S. Lewis said of Aristotle’s ‘natural slaves’: “We can all recognize the natural slaves (I am perhaps one myself) but where are the natural masters?”

      • Comment by Mary:

        Since Aristotle describes a natural slave as someone lacking the deliberative faculty — and specifically points out that children don’t lack it — I suspect that most of us are natural masters, and the natural slaves are the mentally deficient who acquire guardians even in this day and age.

  6. Comment by Brian Niemeier:

    Recalling Mr. Wright’s ethical model wherein the Church holds the center and all other philosophies occupy concentric rings spanning outward from it, it bears mentioning that the Church doesn’t endorse any particular form of government.

    I think I echo many other commenters here when I say that utopia is impossible by human effort alone. I have this knowledge from the Church herself, who condemns communism and predatory capitalism alike while allowing that the proper form of government may vary according to peculiarities of time and place.

    The evils of big government are widely expounded upon these days, and deservedly so, for our leaders no longer bother to conceal their abuses of power. At other times, as in the aftermath of Rome’s collapse and in the face of mass invasion, concentrating political authority in a monarch proved wise and effective.

    I find current calls for a new monarchy/feudal state dubious. Every such system from ancient Egypt to Tudor England relied on the aristocracy and the people sharing a common faith (interesting how America’s founders tacitly retained this precedent).

    It seems to me that those calling for a restored aristocracy correctly observe the greater piety and fraternity of nations so governed and credit the people’s behavior to the form of rule. I rather suspect that they have it the wrong way around, and that a people as impious and selfish as the postmoderns would turn the best-planned monarchy into a tyranny before lunchtime on the first day.

  7. Comment by sator:

    I don’t post much because this blog, our Host and the most affectionate guests all write in such a way as to make me feel very dumb and ignorant, so i usually just lurk and shut up. That said i can’t help but chime in this topic to write a couple of things.
    First of all since i don’t believe we’ll ever have another opportunity to have a laugh with this i’d like to introduce you gentlemen to this mock-political party that has all italy laughing: Feudalism and Freedom enjoy the official himn! Its in ye olde italian and calls for the Holy Roman Emperor to reestabilish his righteous throne in my country.
    The lyrics then go on about how if you’re eating turkish kebab you’re financing saladin’s army and assorted foolishness. Enjoy some metal.
    THAT SAID. While our Host has a point when he says that when there’s no feudal lord above the masses; then the hated lord of this world takes his place, the institution of ereditary feudalism presents many of the same problems that eugenetics present.
    Even discard img moral ambiguity of the act itself if one is to organize a legislation comprising eugenetic laws he faces some pratical problems: who is to say wich inherited traits are superior to wich? Does this stand for all circumstances? What happens if a trait previously universally considered damaging and inferior, reveals itself important in helping us resist some yet undiscovered disease, for instance? Who is to say that our human definition of an “ideal”, superior genome will stand the test of reality? Ideal societies never do after all. In the same way it might often happen that a person regarded as noble and worthy to protect his fellow humans and receive in exchange their feudal fealty might reveal himself as weak or vile of character. And who’ll strip him of his title then? If democracy as we know it falls like all human things, i’ll stand by Heinlein’s republic as long as either only soldiers, mothers and unpaid volontary civil servants get to vote, or they get more votes than those that won’t feed the hungry, defend the motherland or nurture its future.

    Joy and Love.

  8. Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

    “Perhaps his situation is worse, because he lacks a personal relationship with his lord or owner: the modern welfare-serf must beg of the anonymous, cold-faced and impersonal institutions what he once sat before the gates of the rich man to beg of him.”

    I think the personal touch of the medieval situation could be either better or worse than the impersonal modern one. If serf and lord have a good relationship, the serf will do better than the modern client of a bureaucracy. But if serf and lord have a bad relationship, the serf will fare worse. The bureaucracy famously doesn’t care.

    It’s similar to the contrast between living in a small town and living in a city. It’s hard to form relationships in a big city. It’s easy to form relationships and hard to avoid them in a small town. People run from the cold indifference of the big city to look for solidarity and intimacy in the country. Other people run from the cliques and nosiness and social pressure of the country to the freedom and privacy available in the indifferent city.

    According to Aristotle, if I remember rightly, monarchy is the best form of government, but the worst is the corruption of the best and so tyranny is the worst form. Similarly, democracy is the least good form of government, but when it is corrupted, it is the least bad.

    And, since no man is all good or all bad, no king is purely benevolent monarchy or purely foul tyrant, and every democracy is likewise a mixed state, made by and of mixed men.

    We turned to democracy out of anger at bad kings, not from trying to improve on good ones.

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      “I think the personal touch of the medieval situation could be either better or worse than the impersonal modern one. If serf and lord have a good relationship, the serf will do better than the modern client of a bureaucracy. But if serf and lord have a bad relationship, the serf will fare worse. The bureaucracy famously doesn’t care.”

      And the interesting thing is that this is often touted as a selling point for “bureaucracy” in general: its ostensible indifference (in the original sense of that word) to anything but the rules. Which is why modern socialist states are always constituted to rely heavily on such bureaucracies. The difficulty, of course, is that the people behind the bureaucracies’ desks are people, and as prone to favouritism, corruption and power abuse as any aristocrat ever was… though in some ways worse, because they get to operate behind a pose of neutrality and disinterested procedure that denies any recourse while simultaneously disdaining any responsibility. At least the bad aristos of the ancient regime openly admitted to their actions, though of course they saw them as mere exercises of legal prerogative.

      Which is an interesting question in turn. Is the moral (as opposed to legal) abuse of power more dangerous, or more correctible, if it comes through a system that explicitly permits it, or if it comes through a corrupted system which pretends it doesn’t exist?

  9. Comment by Iapetus:

    This means developing a hierarchical structure of power similar to a feudal power architecture; where those prone to foolish decision making have a loving, paternal, individual authority to guide their decisions (in a limited scope) and with this authority comes a responsibility for care in tough times and a claim to a small share of the labor in normal times.

    I think Tenkev has solved his own problem. If men need to be looked after by others, let them be looked after by their parents, grandparents, and elders. If family were held in high regard (as it ought to be), I imagine this set-up would arise naturally–especially if family members live close together. There’s no need to turn to feudalism.

    If family is not an option, the Catholics among us still have Holy Obedience to keep us on the straight and narrow. If we teach our children to desire the council of priests and wise men then, even if they grow up to be fools in other regards, they will be safeguarded against self-destructive decisions.

  10. Comment by tenkev:

    Mr Wright, thank you for replying to my post and taking the idea seriously.

    I assume there is much of you in your character Menelaus Montrose, so it is not surprising that you would have such an initial reaction.

    I think you stated the problem well when you said, “The modern poor man is in a much more favorable legal situation, but not a more favorable real-life situation as the serf or slave.”

    I am not saying that there were no problems with feudalism as it was or that we should desire a return to the same Ancient Regime. Just as there were real problems in the Church during the time of the Reformation there were also real problems in the political structures of the Ancient Regime during the time of the Enlightenment. That does not mean that denying the authority of the Church was a good idea in the case of the Reformation; nor was it a good idea to deny the authority of the Nobility in the Enlightenment. These overreactions come from the same source: Pride.

    P.S. I recently posted a similar reply to a post at the Orthosphere under the name of Kevin Nowell. So if anyone saw both I did not intentionally post the same thing under two different names.

    • Comment by Ron Robertson:

      Thank you Tenkev, you have us thinking.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Many of the comments I’ve seen, pro and con, about feudalism were interesting. But, no one seems to have thought of one very important aspect of feudalism without which it would not BE feudalism: it was a very DECENTRALIZED political system. That is, power was not concentrated in the hands of the king; rather it was DISPERSED among many local rulers, large and small.

        Feudalism, as we’ve seen it in the West, arose after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire when it was broken up into three large but weak states: France, Lorraine/Northern Italy, and Germany. The kings of these states were unable to prevent the rise of many largely independent local rulers. A process which was hastened and deepened by the Viking wars and invasions ravaging France forcing these local rulers to take over military defense when the king was unable to do so.

        Moreover, the old Frankish custom of electing the king also played a role in the rise of feudalism. By forcing the king to grant powers and concessions to the magnates who elected him. In France, it wasn’t until the Capetian dynasty came to the throne that the Crown began slowly to regain power. The early Capetians were careful to have their eldest son elected co king while his father yet lived–which gradually eliminated the dangers of an elective monarchy by replacing it with a hereditary succesion. Also, shrewd use of the powers and rights they did have enabled the Capetians to reverse the decline in the real power of the Crown.

        And roughly similar processes happened in England, Castile, Aragon, Germany (which became the core of the Holy Roman Empire). The last example needs a bit of qualifying, since the election of the Emperor, at least technically and nominally, was never abolished till that Empire came to its end in 1806.

        Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by sator:

          True. Decentralization is indeed a powerfull tool against tyranny, but it has its downsides. First of all some potentates eventually become so influent and indipendent that they can defy central autority, and become tyrannical central authorities themselves (one main example would be Burgundy). Also competing interests between the nobles inevitably breed civil wars and leave society impotent against external threats and actual tyranny. The HRE and the Italian city states had an huge advantage over the rest of Christedom untill the Black Death, but lagged behind when france, spain, england and aragon centralized. Good indeed came from it: the conflict between the italian potentates and the Pope for the soul of italy and its unification (desired since Dante’s times) gave us the cultural cold War that was the Renaissance (everyone was hiring artists to show off their wealth and their royal right to the iron crown!). But one can speculate that if italy had reached its political unity back then, things wouldn’t be so bad now.

          • Comment by Sean Michael:

            Hi, sator!

            Thanks, you’ve brought up points I should have included. Yes, I agree that decentralization of power is a real and necessary check on despotism or tyranny, whether in republics or monarchies. I also agree that decentralization can go too far and end up with the nation falling into chaos and anarchy. That, in fact, was a reason why many of the French supported the Crown’s curbing of the feudal magnates.

            The Holy Roman Empire MIGHT have worked out a stable and fruitful balance of power between the central power represented by the Emperor on the one hand and the powers held by the autonomous city states and principalities on the other, except for two things. These were the so called Reformation and the Thirty Years War. Together they effectively destroyed the Empire, leaving it nothing but a shadow of what it once was by the time peace was made in 1648.

            Your comments about Italy were interesting by reminding me of how Cesare Borgia, of ALL people, apparently aspired to unify Italy under one ruler. With the support of his father Pope Alexander VI he began the process of eliminating many of the local Italian rulers and building up his own state. Alexander VI’s death before Cesare had built up a sufficiently strong base independently of needing his father’s support aborted this nascent unification of Italy. Would it have been good or bad? We don’t know!

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

            • Comment by sator:

              The borgias wanted to unify italy more for personal ambition than for the nation’s sake. This in the end proved to be their undoing as far as i understand the period… Their personal short comings polarized opinion (you were either pro Borgia or anti Borgia rather than pro or anti unified italy, and that’s a shame because few people would have opposed them if the dilemma was put in these terms…) and this jeopardized the whole process for about 300 years. It took napoleon and his short living kingdom of italy to get the idea back on the table and by then a lot of things had happened. So in the end italy got unified by piemontese freemasons with the results we all see.
              On the HRE, i don’t know… On one hand it could have resisted but on the other it really was a unruly Mess by then. You’d have to get back to Charlemagne and to a HRE that still included the “frankenreich” and italy by more than name to get a shot.

              • Comment by Sean Michael:

                Hi, sator!

                Oh, of course Cesare Borgia was motivated at least in part by self aggrandizing ambition during the time he was trying to found his own state in Italy. That does not surprise or shock me. Ambition is simply a part of human nature.

                But, I still wonder, even if Alexander VI had lived long enough to enable Cesare to build up a power base inde pendent of needing his father’s support, woud he have been able to unify Italy? The Italian states were still too strongly jealous of their own autonomy and suspicious of one another to make it likely one of them would have unified Italy. Which of course gave outside powers like France and Spain the chance to attempt dominating the peninsula. The wars between France and Spain for control of Italy ended with the triumph of Spain.

                As for the Holy Roman Empire, I still think it MIGHT have had a chance of working out an answer to the question of how much power the Emperor and the local states could have, if not for the Thirty Years War. That conflict effectively destroyed it.

                One problem was the determination of France to keep the HRE weak and divided against itself from Francis I’s time onwards. Because a strongly unified Empire would have immediately become the natural rival of France.

                Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                • Comment by sator:

                  You’re right; ambition is part of human nature but its untamed expression is the vice of Pride, of wich the Borgia family was arguably guilty and this proved its undoing when they Made too many enemies. You’re completelly spot on on your analysis of the contemporary italian states: in short one of my teacher used to said “they were in theory all favourable with the unification of italy, provided THEY got on top”.
                  Yeah you’re also right on France’s role in keeping the HRE too divided and ineffective; its one of the reasons for i think an alternate history timeline with a more succesfull HRE should start with Ermengarde giving a Son to Charlemagne…
                  That’s an alternate history scenario i allways wanted to develop.

                  • Comment by Sean Michael:

                    Hi, sator!

                    Exactly! And it was Savoy/Sardinia which eventually got on top of the other Italian states by forcibly annexing them during the Risorgimento. And this was strongly resented by at least the people of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

                    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

                    • Comment by sator:

                      More people than the southeners hate them (and there’s a lot of southerners! Ahah!)… I believe i called them “incestuous piedmontese freemasons” just upthread. Granted as a proud tuscan with a gun cabinet, boar heads over the fireplace and an unhealthy Wine habit i’m in the minority because most of my category ended up in the snares of so called “cattocomunism” when the Resistance fought the once “allied” nazis masters… Just yesterday there was the day of memory for all who died in the foibe killings ( and some lefty Moron with whom i hunt had to sing the Praises of Tito just after mass. I swear this country is driving me Mad.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Odd that you should mention Menelaus Montrose, because his arch rival Ximen del Azarchel, who is a genetically superior superman, believes in a patronizing monarchy ruled through a noble class that actually behaves nobly to be the only form of government the human nature can abide.

  11. Comment by Christopher:

    Are there any Science Fiction stories in which man creates an Artificial Intelligence and then promotes it as the leader of the country?

    • Comment by Nate Winchester:

      Philip K Dick: Last of the Masters off the top of my head. (I think he also did more but those I’d have to dig around for.)

    • Comment by jollyroger:

      Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. (kind of, the AI was the leader of the rebellion but not the subsequent government).

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      Osamu Tezuka had an Astro Boy story featuring a robot running for president, but I don’t think it quite fits the bill, since all of the robots in Astro Boy are pretty much oppressed and exploited peoples in scifi costumes (which makes it really funny but sad when people accuse Tezuka of racism). The robot “gods” in Tezuka’s The Phoenix on the other hand, are a straight example of men willingly enslaving themselves to an AI.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Tricentennial Man by Isaac Asimov.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:


        I propose Poul Anderson’s four HARVEST OF STARS book as exemplifying the idea of society and the state being ruled by sentient, self aware computers. And I would include the same author’s GENESIS as well.

        Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by LugoTeehalt:

      Don’t forget Colossus: The Forbin Project – although in that case the AI promoted itself. =)

      JCW — typo alert — feudalism not fuedalism in the title of the post.

    • Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

      Asimov’s I, Robot, in a covert way. By the end of the book, the Earth is being effectively ruled by the Machines, huge positronic brains motivated by the Three Laws and charged with running most of the bureaucracy. Even when they have to thwart people and movements, they manipulate events so that the thwarted have a fairly easy come-down.

      And the viewpoint character for that story is the first World President, Steven Byerly, widely suspected of being a robot in human disguise. The book’s viewpoint character, Susan Calvin, rather hopes he is, since, in her opinion, robots are “a cleaner, better breed than we are.”

      Granted, this is all covert, not “Let’s build ourselves an AI emperor.”

      There was the Planning Machine from the Starchild Trilogy by Frederick Pohl and Jack Williamson, totalitarian ruler of the Solar System. I don’t recall if we are told how it came to power, but I bet it wasn’t by popular vote. However, some human agency probably put it in power.

      • Comment by Sean Michael:

        Dear Mr. Wajenberg:

        I forgot about Isaac Asimov’s “positronic brain” robots and the implications and consequences of them being used. Largely because Asimov is not one of my favorite SF writers.

        If I am recalling correctly, Stephen Byerly’s title was “World Coordinator,” not “president.” And “world coordinator” has faint but chilling Orwellian overtones to me!

        Sean M. Brooks

        • Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

          ‘If I am recalling correctly, Stephen Byerly’s title was “World Coordinator,” not “president.” And “world coordinator” has faint but chilling Orwellian overtones to me!’

          I think you are right. In which case, it would probably be all the better if he were actuated by the Three Laws…

          • Comment by Sean Michael:

            Dear Mr. Wajenberg:

            Certainnly! You can work out a very respectable code of ethics using the Asimovian Three Laws of Robotics. I think Suscan Calvin herself noted that.

            Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

    • Comment by Cambias:

      That’s depicted as a big feature of the “Culture” universe by Iain Banks — all important decisions are made by superintelligent AI “Minds.” Humans are, for all intents and purposes, beloved pets, allowed to live lives of pure hedonism.

      This is presented as a good thing.

  12. Comment by gbaker:

    Something Mr. Wright and Mr. Tenkev both ignore or underplay in their analysis is the power of covetousness. It seems to me that as of late this has been at least as destructive as any of the sins mentioned, and more than most. It also gives great power to the politicians who willingly use it to divide the populace against each other to maintain power. By first stirring up resentment among poor voters against those better off, they gain justification to pass laws to seize money and property, which they do. The irony of course is that after the politicians do this, the economy, and therefore the poor, are worse off than before, but the poor still seem pleased despite the fact that they are worse off than before.

    With regards to Mr. Wallace’s comments above, real wages have in fact gone up substantially in the past decade, despite our government’s best efforts. And it’s not only our government that has been exerting pressure to keep wages down. When women started entering the workforce in mass, the increase in labor supply forced prices down, as it always does. That is not to say that women should not have entered the labor force, simply that wages had to drop as they did. Rampant illegal immigration exerts large pressure on low-skill labor costs. But it takes a concerted effort between the government and the people to move toward a feudal system, and we seem to be heading there.

    With recent Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare, it seems that the government can now tax us for doing anything or nothing, thereby seizing all of our assets. And as was demonstrated by court decisions in Connecticut, they can seize property for the purpose of gaining more revenue meaning that no private property is safe. The book of Exodus tells about how when the people of Egypt became hungry enough they basically begged to become serfs to Pharoah. Right now, thanks to our current brilliant leadership, we have more people on food stamps and disability than ever before. A lot of people are very accepting of the idea of the government taking care of them. I wouldn’t necessarily object if they weren’t so insistent about taking the rest of us with them.

  13. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    1. While it is true that there is a universal call to holiness, and that rulers and bureaucrats are called to holiness no less than those in positions of little power, I do not think that one can promise that every government run by saints will be better than those run by prudent sinners. If the saints in question do not possess the virtues of wisdom, prudence, and cleverness among their saintly virtues, saints can and will run things right into the ground. Suffering is good for the soul, so God does not usually act to prevent this, except by sending the nearest persons with more administrative skills (even if less saintliness).

    Sadly, these rescuers usually carry a heavy burden of personality clash, and are tempted to carry out Iago-level coups or get rid of the people who annoy them. (This can happen before or after the saints who started things are dead.) The saints are often more understanding and sympathetic about this turn of events than their followers!

    2. Those saints who are good administrators and rulers are usually the kind of saints who are not afraid to deploy the steely eye. People often complain that they are not nice, or that they are high-handed, or that they are ignoring the rules and social graces. Saints can be a ruthless and disconcerting bunch.

    (And I really can’t emphasize the personality clash problem enough. Many people, especially pretty-good people, are deeply threatened by the presence of intense holiness. Someone more powerful than you is not as threatening to your self-image as someone _better_ than you. Even charismatic saints often have better results when less holy people interact with some people they need help or non-opposition from.)

    3. If you’re known to be a saint whom God favors, people are always dogging you for prayers and advice and miraculous healing requests. This is not a peril for average rulers, who just get dogged for favors.

    4. There is nothing that produces personality clash worse than saintly holiness joined with frequent miracles and a humble holy-fool personality. These people would do anything to avoid running things, they are obedient to a fault, and yet their superiors and neighbors inevitably find them operating totally outside the Way Things Are Done. They mess things up without meaning to (often without actually messing anything up, but not for any detectable reason why not). No normal plan survives contact with them while remaining normal. Most people love casual contact with this kind of holiness, but many have trouble interacting with it on a daily basis. “Don’t worry, God told me we’ll get the check just as the groceries run out” is a little too suspenseful for most people not in religious begging orders.

    5. Bishops, abbots, abbesses, etc. have often been thrown into the position of blending temporal and political power. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and often it keeps the person from getting his/her actual work done for one of those forms of power. It usually works best in emergency situations, when it’s clear that this isn’t normal.

    6. In general, everybody would rather have a boss who isn’t a jerk, who possesses admirable qualities, and who makes actions and decisions one can trust.

    • Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

      “If the saints in question do not possess the virtues of wisdom, prudence, and cleverness among their saintly virtues, saints can and will run things right into the ground. ”

      Cf. Christ’s remarks about the children of this world being wiser in their generation than the children of light. (Luke 16:1-13)

      In her radio play version of the life of Christ, The Man Born to Be King, Dorothy L. Sayers has Christ tell the parable to the disciples on the occasion of Philip or John getting cheated by a local merchant when sent to buy food for the group. Christ tells it as a joke, with the punchline (from the steward’s cheated master) “Friend, you’re a thorough scoundrel — but I do admire your thoroughness!”

      The dig against the children of light (in that scene, at least) is that people don’t seem to be as practical about doing good as about being selfish. Matthew, the former tax collector, is the only one who laughs. (“An unregenerate chuckle,” I think the stage directions said.)

      I gather she got some rather angry mail about that, especially for daring to suggest that Jesus ever told jokes.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I do not think that one can promise that every government run by saints will be better than those run by prudent sinners. If the saints in question do not possess the virtues of wisdom, prudence, and cleverness among their saintly virtues, saints can and will run things right into the ground.

      You must be using the word “saints” in some nonstandard way. Our leaders do not need any more wisdom, prudence, or cleverness than the average man, since leadership is not a math puzzle.

      All they need is basic honesty and at least a schoolboy’s sense of justice, so as to not do damage while in office. Everything else the people can do for themselves. Any saint from Francis to Louis could fill that position.

      Julius Caesar had cleverness. Calvin Coolidge had a basic sense of fair play. Napoleon had cleverness. John Adams had a basic sense of honesty.

      • Comment by Jay Santos:

        All they need is basic honesty and at least a schoolboy’s sense of justice

        When a sufficiently large portion of the electorate desires to be told soothing lies – “we owe the debt to ourselves!” “Obamacare will put people to work!” – it becomes increasingly difficult for the honest to be elected.

        The object therefore should be a governing system that can endure periods of liars in power and yet be successful at damage control.

        • Comment by Patrick:

          Any system that can tolerate liars will discourage truth-tellers. There’s no way around this. Anyone who is lied to, and does nothing – either because they cannot resist or because they don’t care to – has, on balance, avoided a conflict, and taken a benefit from abetting a liar. By accepting lies, we disenfranchise the truth.

          • Comment by Jay Santos:

            Any system that can tolerate liars

            It’s human beings that tolerate liars. Always have, always will. Only a system that can survive a liar at the levers of power will in the long run succeed.

  14. Ping from DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Modern Feudalism:

    […] John C. Wright questions whether we’ve really made any progress under ‘progressive’ government. […]

  15. Comment by gryansmith:

    On the topic of distributed power and the supposed advantages of feudalism, perhaps it is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, first with the Articles, then with the Constitution. That is, a set of smaller democracies, each run by elected men who, if corrupted, can be removed by the rules. And should one man or more gain enough power to corrupt the entire system, it’s citizens could fight or flee to another nearby democracy. And given that this corruption and concentration of power would be almost bound to happen, those that fight or flee would certainly hold their liberty even more precious due to the sacrifices made. This would create a reinforcing cycle, where the virtues of democracy are reinforced with the fleeing from or defeat of each corruption.

    Unfortunately, when the federal level was created to help States resolve their differences and to maintain a shared military for mutual defense, those at the top gradually, then with great acceleration, have removed the States’ ability to decide for themselves what bureaucratic rules most benefit their citizens and how best to administer services for their betterment. This has moved us from what might be called “Feudal Democracies” to a simple “Socialist Republic”, where the only true opportunities available joining Ceaser (for those willing to lord power over their fellow man) or rendering unto Ceaser everything he will take.

    But as was said earlier in this thread of thought, “Congress does in fact represent us in our flawed nature”, so as a nation, we are slowly (or quickly) becoming prisoners of our own devices.

    At least there is hope in that history is “one long defeat”, until that final day of Victory.

    • Comment by sator:

      Indeed. Your awesome constitution and its checks and balances slowed down the process, but in the end it was the southern democrats (Crony capitalists and the facto fascists controlled by plantation owners) that allegedly found themselves fighting for “states rights” (for those rights that benefitted the plantations that is!). Now i only have a cursory knowledge of your country’s history but i’d guess the whole civil War affair was a bad PR hit for those that wanted a decentralized USA and that found themselves associated with slave holders…

    • Comment by Sean Michael:

      Hi, gryansmith:

      You have touched on a point I’ve already thought of: that the early US’ federal system was a kind of disguished feudalism. Before the US Civil War, the central gov’t was very weak in many ways, at least when compared to the bloated behemoth we have today.

      Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  16. Ping from Lightning Round – 2014/02/12 | Free Northerner:

    […] Hierarchy is kinder to the poor than equality. Related: Thinking people are equal will create more inequality. Related: Wright questioning modern feudalism. […]

  17. Comment by KFJ:

    It seems to me that the only solution that can reconcile humanitarian considerations with a permanent solution to the problem of welfare-dependency is, in a word: eugenics.

    Unwed mothers should be sterilized, as a condition of receiving public benefits. Violent criminals (particularly rapists) should be castrated.

    Think about it. In a generation or two, these undesirables could be culled from the breeding population. In the meantime, the public would be saved vast amounts of funds currently spent subsidizing dysgenic procreation.

    Of course, such a simple, rational solution is bound to run up against emotional, knee-jerk reactions from both the thug-hugging Left and the “pro-life” Right.

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