Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

C. PATTERNS OF CENTERS IN DEVELOPED
TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES

CHAPTER VII

Patterns of Multiple Centers. Feudal
Systems: Introduction

I
Feudal regimes constitute one of the most fascinating types of social and political system in the history of mankind. 1 The term "feudalism" has been conventionally applied to the type of society and the political system originating and dominant in western and central Europe during the greater part of the Middle Ages. The term has also been applied to types of society and systems of government featuring similar characteristics in antiquity and in medieval times in other parts of the world and, by the Marxist school, to a type of society and economy characterized by serfdom, usually succeeding the economic systems based on slavery and preceding capitalism.Although a great variety of definitions of feudalism exist, some minimal common characteristics of a fully developed feudal system are accepted by most scholars. Such characteristics include lord‐ vassal relationships, a personalized government most effective on the local level and with relatively little separation of political functions, a system of landholding consisting of fiefs given in return for service and assuring future services, private armies, a code of honor in which military obligations are stressed, and specification of seignorial and manorial rights of the lord over the peasant. 2The basic features of feudalism imply traits in each of the major institutional spheres of a society: in economics, polity, law, and in social stratification and organization. It may be worth while to spell out these characteristics in each sphere in greater detail.Perhaps the fullest definition of feudalism in the political sphere is given by Weber, who characterizes it as one type of patriarchal "authority." According to this definition, political feudalism is marked by:
1. The authority of the chief which is reduced to the likelihood that the vassals will voluntarily remain faithful to their oaths of fealty.
2. The political corporate group is completely replaced by a system of relations of purely personal loyalty between the lord and his vassals and between the vassals and their own subvassals (subinfeudation) etc. Only a lord's own vassals are bound by fealty to him; whereas they in turn can claim the fealty of their own vassals, etc.
3. Only in the case of a "felony" does the lord have a right to deprive his vassal of his fief....
4. There is a hierarchy of social rank corresponding to the hierarchy of fiefs through the process of subinfeudation.... This is not, however, a hierarchy of authority in the bureaucratic sense....
5. The elements in the population who do not hold fiefs involving some element of patrimonial or other political authority are "subjects," that is they are patrimonial dependents....
6. Powers over the individual budgetary unit, including domains, slaves, and serfs, the fiscal rights of

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