Integralists–those Christians who are calling for a revival of the integration of church and state as in the middle ages–should be happy to read Joel Kotkin’s new book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism. But somehow I don’t think this is what they have in mind.
Kotkin, known for his analysis of urbanism and local communities, has become a perceptive cultural critic, and he is worth listening to. The subtitle of his book is “A Warning to the Global Middle Class.”
If our Constitutional democracy is coming apart in favor of a “post-liberal” political order, as some on both the right and the left are calling for, it will very likely be very different from what either side is expecting. Kotkin says that “neo-feudalism” is already emerging, and that it is being accelerated with the COVID-19 epidemic.
The role of the medieval church is being taken not by anything remotely resembling Christianity. Rather, our new moral authority with inquisitorial powers is centered in the universities, which have created a “woke” cultural elite.
Our new aristocracy consists of the tech oligarchs, whose massive wealth and cultural influence, makes them our new feudal masters.
Meanwhile, the middle class is declining to the social position it held before the Renaissance. Most of us are “yeomen”–the skilled workers and craftsmen–or property-less peasants, both economically important but lacking in social power and looked down upon by their superiors.
Our society is being rapidly reduced to a feudal state, a process now being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of small businesses are near extinction, millions more losing their jobs and many others stuck into the status of a property-less serfs. The big winners have been the “expert” class of the clerisy and, most of all, the tech oligarchs, who benefit as people rely more on algorithms than human relationships.
Following a remarkable epoch of greater dispersion of wealth and opportunity, we are inexorably returning towards a more feudal era marked by greater concentration of wealth and property, reduced upward mobility, demographic stagnation, and increased dogmatism. If the last seventy years saw a massive expansion of the middle class, not only in America but in much of the developed world, today that class is declining and a new, more hierarchical society is emerging.
The new class structure resembles that of Medieval times. At the apex of the new order are two classes―a reborn clerical elite, the clerisy, which dominates the upper part of the professional ranks, universities, media and culture, and a new aristocracy led by tech oligarchs with unprecedented wealth and growing control of information. These two classes correspond to the old French First and Second Estates.
Below these two classes lies what was once called the Third Estate. This includes the yeomanry, which is made up largely of small business people, minor property owners, skilled workers and private-sector oriented professionals. Ascendant for much of modern history, this class is in decline while those below them, the new Serfs, grow in numbers―a vast, expanding property-less population.
The trends are mounting, but we can still reverse them―if people understand what is actually occurring and have the capability to oppose them.
If this is true, we stand in need of a neo-Renaissance, to restore the middle class, broad-based prosperity, and individual freedom. And we also need a neo-Reformation, to replace the new mentally-constructed, human led religion with Biblical faith and to replace the new power-hungry self-righteous legalism with the Gospel of grace and forgiveness in Christ.
Illustration: Status picture of the Middle Ages (15th century) / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons