The word feudalism comes from “feu”, “fend” or “feudum”, which stands for the fee or the fief. The fief is a piece of property held in return for services.
The term feudalism was first brought into general use in eighteenth century Europe. But in the history of the world, the feudal period is recognized to have itself from the fifth to the fifteenth century. According to some critics, feudalism developed between seventh and tenth centuries.
According to Schumpeter, “feudal civilization suggests the idea of a particular type of warrior society, namely, of a society dominated by a warrior stratum that was organized on the principle of vassalage, in a , hierarchy of fief-endowed lords and knights.”
Maurice Dobb has defined feudalism to be virtually identical with what we generally mean by serfdom :
“An obligation laid on the producer by force and independently of his own volition to fulfill certain economic demands of an overlord, whether these demands take the form of services to be performed or of dues to be paid in money or in kind.”
Usually, it is West European feudalism that serves as the primary example of a feudal model. But many scholars hold the view that there were different types of feudalism existing in different parts of the world. In this regard, Paul A. Baran remarks there is a “tremendous different” between the histories of the feudal systems in different parts of the world”. Daniel Thorner has correctly remarked we have numerous ‘feudalisms’, they constitute a series of systems belonging to different families. Even for the cases that are clearest—in Asia Japan, Europe from the 9th to 12th centuries, feudalism turns out to be a mixed system, a symbiosis, difficult to conceptualize and analyze.”
Features of Feudalism :
From a discussion of the features of feudalism we can have a proper idea about the various aspects of this economic system.
1. A simple mode of production :
Feudalism represents a low level of technique in which the instruments of production are simple and generally inexpensive. The act of production is largely individual in nature. It is not the result of complex division of labour
2. Production for consumption :
Production in a feudal society is organized to meet the need of the household or a village community. Production is not meant for exchange or for the market. The feudal economy is a natural economy; its main object is consumption.
3. Political decentralization :
In the feudal era the State becomes less powerful. There is usually no strong unified central government. The most significant economic and political functions are discharged by the feudal aristocracy.
4. Hierarchical organization :
According to Holesovsky, titular ownership of land is vested in members of a class of feudal lords, Church, nobles, etc. These lords form a hierarchy starting with a king above, his vassals and then his tenants of successively lower ranks.
5. Personal relationship :
According to John Critchley, feudalism—particularly of Europe was Characterized by personal relationship between the lord and the vassal, between the grantor and the grantee. Dobb mentions that, with lord possessed “some judicial or quasi-judicial functions in relation to the dependent population”. The Libri Feudorum which was the most famous collection of feudal laws contained regulations governing the behaviour required of the vassal towards his lord and more vaguely of lord towards his vassal. In Japan this relationship was so close and deep that they even spoke of the “feudal family”, consisting of the tenants and the landlords.
6. Based on custom :
It was an economic society organized by tradition. Tradition solved the economic problem. Tradition directed men to their tasks. Tradition also regulated the distribution of social rewards.
7. Changelessness :
Changelessness was another attribute of classical feudalism. As Paul Sweezy mentions, “European village society which characterized feudalism was “conservative and change resisting.”
8. Absence of molestation :
Under classic form of feudalism, transactions were mostly of a barter type. Cash payments were rare.
‘Use of money for exchange was very less. Products under feudalism did not take the form of “commodity” as they mostly had a “use value”. Market forces of demand and supply had very little relevance in this system. The feudal economy was a subsistence economy.
9. Self-sufficiency :
The insularity of economic life was an important feature of feudalism. The manor used to be self-sufficient. Each manor produced all types of crops in quantities sufficient for its population. Inter-manorial trade was very insignificant. Reduction of trade with the outside world to the minimum was considered as a sign of good management. Extreme self-reliance was the economic hallmark of feudalism.
10. Typical feudal mentality :
Feudal mentality is lazy, inexpert and un-progressive. Feudal ideology is based on non-acquisitiveness, submissiveness and respect for tradition. Motivation was non-economic. Feudal qualities were antithetic of businesslike. The emphasis is not on profit.