The Fruits of Civilization (21-5) Feudalism continued


The term feudalism arose as the societal institution itself was abating. Manorialism was one incarnation. There were others.

The societies of ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt were feudal; as was China from 1000 bce to 200 ce, from the Zhou through Han dynasties, and again during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912); India (1200–1600), prior to its conquest by the British East India Company, which introduced an altogether different economic repression; and Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868). Each had its own flavor of social and economic hierarchies.


The most significant factor in the rise of capitalism was the failure of feudalism to provide for its populations. Historians have identified 3 main reasons for the “crisis of feudalism.”

1st: the Little Ice Age. Western Europe suffered a series of prolonged severe chills beginning around 1300. This affected food production, which consequently increased hunger and epidemics throughout Europe.

2nd: the productivity of land for food production reached a point of diminishing returns given existing technology. Technological development slowed because there was no motivation for peasants to innovate. Any increase in surplus would merely be appropriated by the lords, who had no real knowledge of the land or practical experience in agriculture.

3rd: after 1,000 years of feudal domination, the peasantry could no longer afford to support an aristocracy growing in number and expenditure. The lords of the land became an increasingly crushing burden.