Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview
49.
Nicolaus of Cues, De Concordantia Catholica III, 4: "tunc divina censetur, quando per concordantiam communem a subiectis exoritur."
50.
De Investigatione Antichristi 38.
51.
Nicolaus of Cues, De Concordantia Catholica II, 12; II, 13; III, 4; III, 41.

30
Feudalism in Russia

George Vernadsky


I

In spite of the fact that so much work has already been devoted to the study of feudalism in Russia, the problem as a whole needs reconsideration, especially since the definition of feudalism in Soviet historiography is too vague to be of real service to the student of the problem. A twofold approach to the problem of feudalism is possible: first, a broad sociological approach which tends to define the most essential traits of feudalism by confronting feudalizing tendencies in the history of different epochs and different countries; second, a characterization of the main features of the feudalism of the Romano‐ Germanic countries of mediaeval Europe as a standard or "ideal" type of feudalism.

Feudalizing processes have been observed by historians and sociologists throughout the ages almost the world over. We have accustomed ourselves to speak of feudalism in China and Japan; of Turco‐ Mongol feudalism; of feudalism in Moslem countries ; of feudalism in the "Middle Ages" (roughly, the fifth to the fifteenth century A.D.); or of feudalism in the Homeric epoch (roughly, the first half of the first millennium B.C.). 1

There is always a danger, by expanding the range of the term too much, to label by the same name social processes which are outwardly similar, but inwardly stand widely apart. While Japanese feudal institutions show striking similarity with those of mediaeval Europe, the feudalizing tendencies among the Turks and the Mongols, or in the Moslem countries, did not have the same effect on the building up of the whole social structure as in Europe. 2 Recently a careful attempt to construct a definition of feudal trends in different countries has been

made by Otto Hintze. 3 According to Hintze, there are three factors which in their combination produce feudalism or, in other words, there are three functions through which feudalism expresses itself. These are the following: (1) the military aspect: the establishment of a well-developed order of warriors (Kriegerstand) bound to the ruler by an oath of fealty which has the nature of a private contract (Privatvertrag); (2) the economic and social aspect: the establishment of a manor with the bound husbandry which provides the privileged warriors' order with rent income; (3) the establishment of the noble warriors as local rulers and their self-assertion with regard to the supreme state authority.

While Hintze's definition of feudalism has been cautiously couched in fairly general expressions, it still is not broad enough in the sense that, by retaining the classical definition of feudal economics based on agriculture, Hintze excludes the possibility of the development of a "nomadic feudalism" upon which some Soviet orientalists now insist. On the other hand, Hintze's definition is, in my opinion, too broad in the sense that some essential traits of European feudalism have found no place in his scheme.

For the purpose of my present article I find it more practical to dwell first on the essential characteristics of the Romano-Germanic feudalism in the Middle Ages, which still might be considered the standard type of feudalism.

The task of formulating the fundamentals of the concept of European feudalism is not so easy either. Has not Charles H. McIlwain recently made a rather melancholy statement that "the word 'feudalism' is little more than a rough generalization"? 4 Has not Alfons Dopsch succeeded in considerably shaking, if not completely destroying, some of the old opinions as to the foundations of social and economic life of mediaeval Europe, e.g., such as that of the

____________________
From George Vernadsky, "Feudalism in Russia," Speculum, XIV (1939), 303-305, 313-323. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

-231-

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