Medievally Speaking reviews: Kotkin, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism


Joel Kotkin. The Coming of Neo-Feudalism:  A Warning to the Global Middle Class. New York: Encounter Books, 2020. 274 pp.


David A. Kopp (davekopp@dakopp.com)


In today’s parlance, Feudal is the pejorative term of choice when deprecating a modern economic or political situation by analogizing it with an oppressive and stratified society of the medieval past.   In his recent book, The Coming of Neo Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, Joel Kotkin adopts the term to describe what he sees as a disturbing concentration of wealth in the high-tech economy that has created a modern serfdom “with decreasing chances of upward mobility for most of the population.”   If left unchecked, argues Kotkin, this new feudalism threatens Democracy and Liberal Capitalism.   


Kotkin defines medieval feudal structure using Marc Bloch as his guide: “a strongly hierarchical ordering of society, a web of personal obligations tying subordinates to superiors, the persistence of closed classes or ‘castes,’ and a permanent serflike status for the vast majority of the population.”   Kotkin’s new feudalism looks different (“no knights in shining armor, or vassals doing homage to their lords”) but has produced the same economic result.   Today’s nobility are the tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft which control more and more of the job opportunities in the modern technology and “data landscape” much as the nobility of the medieval past controlled the agricultural means and land of the enfeoffed peasant laborers.  Collectively, these tech companies represent our modern First Estate, and like their medieval parallels, they work to control cultural messaging to their advantage through their manipulation of media content.   In this effort, they are aided by the new Second Estate – the modern clerical class.  READ FULL REVIEW HERE

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