Tag Archives: feudalism

The New Feudalism

Yesterday, my son observed that the continued confusion of corporations with actual people in order to grant them human rights was part of a broader move back to a feudal social structure.

I thought about his analogy, and after I wrote the post about Hobby Lobby-– the latest manifestation of this phenomenon, after Citizens United and its progeny–I googled feudalism and found the following definition:“Classical feudalism” (before the rise of strong feudal monarchies in which kings claimed the role of liege lords) is characterized by the fragmentation of political authority and the passage of public power into many different private hands.

The Supreme Court’s corporatism is anything but market friendly capitalism; it’s all about privatizing power and eviscerating government’s authority to create a level playing field. It’s about making government (the monarch) more responsive to the oligarchs and less attentive to the polity. It’s about undercutting democratic decision-making and further empowering the wealthy and well-connected.

And then I found a visual…. 

http://i0.wp.com/www.amendmentgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/feudalism_then_now.jpg

The Real Problem with the Hobby Lobby Decision

There are lots of things one might say about the Supreme Court’s immensely wrongheaded decision allowing closely-held corporations  to deny birth control coverage to female employees in contravention of the corporation’s “sincere religious convictions.”

We could point to the hypocrisy of an owner who buys lots of merchandise from China, with its mandatory abortion/one child policy, but whose religious sensibilities recoil from offering birth control to female employees who want it.

We could note that, thanks to the Administration’s willingness to accommodate religious paternalism, the costs of coverage didn’t even come out of the corporate pocket–the insurers paid it. How does that “burden” the corporation?

We could certainly consider how this decision fits into the broader backlash against equal rights for women that has characterized American politics for the past decade. Reliable birth control gives women control of their lives, and it’s clear that a significant number of men resent anything that promises women personal autonomy.

We could observe, as one of my sons did, that America is devolving into feudalism–that this case is just one in a series of recent policies and judicial decisions favoring the rights of the powerful over the rights of their serfs. And we could couple that observation with growing dismay over the attribution of “personhood” to entirely fictional beings called corporations. Legal constructs created to facilitate economic activity have now been invested with freedom of speech and religion. (Ironically, this case confers religious rights on legal fictions while taking them away from real, human women.)

And we could–and should–point out that the Supreme Court doesn’t really have the final word: we serfs–i.e. consumers– do. Any woman who shops at Hobby Lobby after this is a traitor to her gender. There may not be legal recourse from a Supreme Court decision–at least, not until or unless we get better Justices and this decision is revisited–but we can certainly encourage fair-minded folks to boycott the theocratic corporate “person” called Hobby Lobby.

All of these thoughts–and some not fit to transmit–went through my head when I learned of the decision. But what really struck me was a warning from a 1992 book by Jane Jacobs. The book was Systems of SurvivalA Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. It’s a slim volume, and an easy–and fascinating–read. I recommend it. The basic premise was that once we recognize the universal rules of moral conduct (“don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.) there are two very different moral “systems,” a commercial system and a “guardian” or governmental system, with rules that make sense only within the imperatives of that system.

When you apply the moral rules developed for one system to activities properly within the jurisdiction of the other, you really screw things up.

Corporations are not inherently good or evil; they are simply a useful fiction. A line of cases that invests them with human attributes is worse than perverse; it’s dangerous.

Feudalism was bad enough when the Lord of the Manor was human, and would die.