Isn't Equal Opportunity a Basic Human Right? How Feudalism Hinders Community Transformation and Economic Evolution

By Hunter, Murray | Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Isn't Equal Opportunity a Basic Human Right? How Feudalism Hinders Community Transformation and Economic Evolution


Hunter, Murray, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice


ABSTRACT. This paper looks at the concept of feudalism. The historical spread of feudalism is briefly outlined, as well as the vacuum in debate about the subject by economists and other social commentators. The paper defines three levels of feudalism; institutions, social structure, and mindset, then looks at the consequences of these characteristics to the values, efficiency, innovativeness, and competitiveness of society.

Keywords: Asia, class, economics, feudalism, innovation, opportunity, social values

The Olympic Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in London last August was a spectacular extraordinaire under the direction of Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame. One of the highlights of the ceremony was a showcase of British cultural and economic evolution. Conspicuous during this part of the ceremony was the cast of white, black, Asian and other ethnic groups performing as a unified whole, showing the good, bad, and ugly of British history, in an exercise of revisionism. Britain, one of the bastions of feudalism in the past has appeared to have come to terms with her infamy, banishing the disease to the annals of history through historical amnesia.

On a national speaking tour of Malaysia, the renowned Oxford Islamic scholar Prof Tariq Ramadan visited a town in Northern Malaysia, seeing what could be described by some as a feudal backwater, as an enlightened society. Prof Ramadan wrote a blog after his trip describing a mosque built on the shore with some wind and solar power generation. ! He saw the mosque as symbolic of Malaysia's rejection of US values, and the maturing of Islamic humanism. I guess perception and meaning is in the eye of the beholder, or alternatively Tariq Ramadan had visited the town in some parallel universe. The mosque is located in one of the poorest states of Malaysia where any public discussion of Islam requires a license from the authorities. Given that there is little shortage of places of worship one could easily think that the funds used to build the mosque may have better served the cause of Islamic humanism by assisting in elevating poverty, in a society where obligations to others based upon social position and title is a strong cultural facet of society. Grand infrastructure and the grand projects to build the icons are symbolic not of Islamic humanism, but rather the gulf between the empowered and powerless in the country.

These two events caused me to reflect on a disease that still festers in many parts of the world - the curse of feudalism. Feudalism is an affliction upon humankind, akin to apartheid and slavery. The nature of feudalism inhibits people, communities, and nations from making the necessary transformation within economy and society that will ensure escape from the shackles of poverty, to survival with dignity outside the envelop of ignorance that prevents emergence into an aspired place within the world community. What is even more amazing is that authors like Messrs Beinhocker, Diamond, Friedman, Ohmae, Porter, and Sachs, have had little, if not anything to say on this matter. Feudalism has been treated like leprosy; its existence deigned.

Traditionally feudalism referred to the order of society in medieval Europe between the 9th and 16th centuries. Feudalism could be described as society governed by those eligible through birthright, relationships with the favored and landed gentry. Feudalism can be seen as a grant of land, the sharing of power and privilege in return for favor and loyalty, and a structuring of society with well defined layers where each layer forms a subculture with different sets of values, beliefs, assumptions, and aspirations. Economic organization will also follow this hierarchical order where wealth will be concentrated within the upper echelons of society. There are normally very few vertical movements of people up and down the hierarchy. The basis of power is through land, capital, military, or political control, and these arrangements are hereditary and within selected families from generation to generation. …

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