Serfdom Is Better Than What the West is Heading For
One of the things that we forget about Feudalism is that serfs had rights: economic rights. They had the right to farm common land, they had the right to take wood from common forests, they had the right to live where they had lived before.
This is not to say that they were free, they certainly were not. But they were not slaves; they had access to, as it were, capital: what they needed to grow their own food, shelter themselves and clothe themselves.
We have an overly grim view of the Middle Ages, but, in various periods and various places, serfs, let alone freeholders, lived quite well. Much of what we associate as the worst of the Middle Ages actually happened either in the Dark Ages or in the Renaissance. For example, torture really takes off in the Renaissance, because as Stirling Newberry has pointed out, torture chambers and so on take a lot of iron and they didn’t have it to waste in the Middle Ages.
Late serfdom (after the Renaissance) was pleasant enough for serfs that they had to be forced off their land: The factories were worse. In factories, they lived shorter, sicker lives and worked far more. Capitalism is based on dependency—on wage laborers needing to work for someone else, or their lives are miserable or short. (Marx’s “whip of hunger”.) It is voluntary only in the sense that you can offer your labor to anyone willing to pay, not in the sense that you can opt out of the system and have anything approaching a decent life.
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Today, if you lose your job and you’re an ordinary person, you can’t support yourself. If the government, friends or family don’t give you what you need, you have to beg for it. If you don’t get it, you die. Homesteading laws and laws which allowed people to take unused or underused property and use it to support themselves have been drastically weakened.
Absent a job, or charity, you will probably wind up dead. If you don’t, you will be miserable.
Our forebears in the 19th century understood this. It’s why they called jobs “wage slavery.” You do what you’re told by your boss, where you’re told to do it, when you’re told to do it, how you’re told to do it, and if you don’t, feel free to try and find another job.
Whether you can find another job is often unrelated to your personal attributes and has little to do with anything approaching virtue (those who doubt this are invited to investigate how Wall Street and Fleet Street make their money). How well most people are paid is a market decision in the sense that it has to do with the balance between labor supply and demand, and labor power and the power of capital: For all intents and purposes labor only has pricing power if it is organized and politically powerful or if the labor market is tight.
Those who came out of the Great Depression understood this because they had seen many people, through no fault of their own, reduced to poverty, unable to find any work. Because of this they tightened labor laws, tried to make unions more powerful and taxed the heck out of rich people so they couldn’t use their money to destroy the liberal state.
What they didn’t do was overthrow capitalism; they didn’t see a better, more practical way to organize society. As a result, many men stayed in positions of vast private power and wealth (even if they personally were heavily taxed) and were eventually able to use that money to overthrow the liberal state in England and the US, and from there they have been able to undermine it virtually everywhere, including in most of the European socialist states.
What is on offer, then, is not neo-feudalism, with neo-serfs, but aristocrats and their slaves–slaves towards whom the aristocrats feel less and less an obligation to even feed (see all the cuts to food stamps). In some ways it’s superior to even slavery for the master-class: Surplus labor beyond what is needed to keep wages down is now completely disposable and doesn’t have to be paid for, after all.
So understand this: What is being offered you, increasingly, is a chance to scramble for pennies from your masters and when considered superfluous to their needs, to suffer and quite probably die before your time.
Serfdom? You should be so lucky.