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History never repeats itself, but from time to time, consciously or not, some influential men attempt to force us into the monstrosity of their imaginary time machines to try to reverse decades, and in the case of feudalism, almost a millenium of social progress. The mid-20th century brought the years of collective psychosis of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand year Reich,” and more recently what can be viewed as the United States of America’s imperialist manifesto or so-called “Project for the New American Century”, concocted in 1997 but still in effect today under the current administration, with the self-proclaimed objective to “promote American global leadership” resolutely and by military force, if necessary.
Montesquieu and his colleagues of the mid-18th century, such as Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau of the Age of Enlightenment, denounced feudalism as being a system exclusively dominated by aristocrats who possess all financial, political and social power. During that time, which incubated the French Revolution and built its ideological foundations, feudalism became synonymous with the French monarchy. To the Enlightenment writers, feudalism symbolized everything that was wrong with a system based on birth privilege, inequality and brutal exploitation. In August 1789, shortly after the takeover of La Bastille on July 14, one of the first action of the Assemblee Constituante was to proclaim the official abolition of the “feudal regime.”
Ironically, feudalism is making a comeback in the latest evolution and under the impulse of predatory global capitalism. After all, Karl Marx, in the mid-19th century, considered feudalism to be a precursor of capitalism. Typically a feudal system can be defined as a society with inherited social rank. In the Middle Ages, wealth came exclusively from agriculture: the aristocracy strictly assumed ownership of the land while the serfs provided the labor.
The feudal system of the Dark Ages was the social and economic exploitation of peasants by lords. This led to an economy always marked by poverty, sometimes famine, extreme exploitation and wide gaps between rich and poor. The feudal era relation of a serf to his lord is essentially identical to the relation of a so-called WalMart associate to a heir of the Walton family. If one looks objectively at the power stratum in the US circa 2013, and the one of, let’s say, France circa 1750, it is hard to ignore the startling similarity. For example, attendance at Ivy-League schools in the US is principally an inherited privilege; the same can be said for elected positions in Congress. The concept of dynasties rules, not personal merit.
A powerful network of oligarchs worldwide seems to be pursuing the objective to set back the social clock to before the era of Enlightenment so as to return us to the Dark Ages of lords and serfs: a new era of global slavery to benefit Wall Street’s “masters of the universe.” Compared to the Middle Ages, today’s servitude is more insidious: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and many private banks operate like mega drug dealers. The IMF and World Bank do so with countries, while the banks do so with individuals. Once Greece, Detroit or John Doe is addicted to its fix — loans in this case — the trick is done. After a while, money must be borrowed even to service the debt.
In a recent cynical opinion piece titled “Detroit, the New Greece”, New York Times columnist and Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman reasoned more like a callous Wall Street operator than someone with the self-proclaimed humanist “conscience of a liberal” by casually calling Detroit a “victim of market forces.”
“Sometimes the losers from economic change are individuals whose skills have become redundant; sometimes they are companies serving a market niche that no longer exist; and sometimes they are whole cities that lose their place in the economic ecosystem,” writes Krugman, forgetting Greece in his laundry list of “innocent victim of these mysterious “market forces.” Krugman concludes his paragraph with: “Decline happens,” as if this is a physical phenomenon, like gravity or magnetism. Like most of the leading international economists, Krugman has adamantly supported the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Detroit and Greece are not some sort of collateral damage of “market forces” in Krugman’s “decline happens” scenario. Detroit was demolished wholesale by NAFTA, and Greece was enticed to borrow money to join the EURO zone.
The IMF itself recently conceded that the policies it has implemented for Greece resulted in “notable failures.” The IMF failed to push for an immediate restructuring of Greece’s debt, but didn’t prevent money owed by the country before 2010 to private-sector creditors from being fully repaid at the onset of the fiscal crisis. Greece’s overall debt level remained the same, except it was now owned to the Euro-zone taxpayers and the IMF instead of banks and hedge funds. Both Greece and Detroit were targets of a predatory capitalism that sought to downgrade and then shut down all public sectors of an economy.
The “market forces” are not physical phenomena; they are the hyenas and vultures from Wall Street who dismantle and then feed on the carcasses of a city or country. Decline does not just happen; it is engineered by the corporate entities of global capitalism to maximize profit without regard for human costs. It is ultimately up to us, for the common good of human kind, to put wrenches into the well-oiled wheels of this global corporate machine that is breaking our backs by grinding and crushing our accomplishments of more than 250 years to return us to the servitude of feudalism.
Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post, where this essay originally appeared.