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Difference Between Feudalism and Democracy

Introduction

Prior to the emergence of state based political system, there existed Greek styled city states and big geographical areas dominated by culturally integrated communities like Persian, Roman, Mayan, Mongolian, etc. Catholic churches and the Pope enjoyed tremendous power to influence political relationship between the rulers and those ruled in the Christianity dominated regions. The process of build-up of modern world political order began around 15th century. In between different loosely held political orders defining the relationship between members of the society existed. Feudalism and representative democracy are different political orders in the history of world political system.

Differences between Feudalism & Democracy

1. Conception: Feudalism is an economic, social, legal, and political relationship that prevailed in medieval Europe. As such feudalism is synonymous with the social structure that existed in medieval Europe. Feudalism is also considered as the first step towards establishment of monarchies. A feudal society was a military hierarchy where lords, who owned huge tracts of land offered fiefs or units of land to the mounted fighters, who were termed as vassals, in exchange of military service. Various factors like financial worth of the lord, quality of land, ability of the vassals influenced the terms of agreement between the lord and the vassals. In the later part of the medieval history the vassals were allowed to pay cash in lieu of military service. The agreement between the lord and the vassals would terminate with the demise of the concerned lord, but rights and duties of vassals would bestow upon their successors.

The root of democracy could be found in the 6th century Athens, although it was very naive. However democracy may be defined as a political system where every member of the society has equal right to share political power. In representative democracy this equality of power is reflected in the voting right of members of the society. Historians differ as to the origin of democracy. According to historian Jacobsen primitive democracy existed in Mesopotamia, where as Greek historian Diodorus opines that independent democratic states existed in India in the 4th century B.C. Transition from feudalism and monarchies to representative democracy happened in Canada, US, England, and in most of the Europe during 18th to 20th century. The concept of representative democracy was first used by French nobleman (1694 –1757). However the first blueprint of representative democracy is the US constitution adopted in 1788.

2. Citizenship: The concept of citizenship did not exist in feudal societies as concept of state was absent. In democracy every member of the society is considered as citizen of the state.

3. Individual freedom: There was no individual freedom in feudalist societies. Only the lords with huge land properties enjoyed freedom. On the other hand, individual freedom is the hallmark of democracy.

4. Basis of structure: Feudalism was based on ownership of land and other assets. Democracy is based on human values.

5. Economic development: There was no industry, trade, or economic development. Economic activities were limited to agriculture. All the infrastructure like road, bridge, etc. and food grain grinding mills were owned by lords, and fees were charged for using them. Democracy on the other hand promotes industrialisation and economic growth.

6. Loyalty: In feudal societies loyalty of the members of society was towards individuals, like knights were loyal to the lords, and lords were loyal to the crown. But in democracy loyalty of every member of the society is directed towards the state, and no individual no matter how powerful s/he is, can come in between the state and its citizens.

7. Influence of religion: Religion, especially Christianity played important role in the sustenance of medieval feudal societies. Role of religion is neutralised with the advent of democracy.

Summary:

1. Feudalism was a military hierarchy, while democracy is equality based political structure.
2. Concept of citizenship and individual freedom were absent in feudalism, these concepts are the basis of democracy.
3. Feudalism discouraged economic development, democracy promotes economic development.
4. In feudalism loyalty of members of the society was towards individuals, in democracy loyalty of citizens is toward the state.
5. Religion had a dominant role in feudalism, but in democracy religion has no role.
6. Feudalism was not a result of revolution, where as democracy is born out of revolution.

References:

1. History of Democracy, available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/democracy
2. The Evolution of the World Politics to the 20th century, available at hhh.gavilan.edu


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3 Comments

  1. 1. it is still the same in democracy as you pay taxes to the “state” for the land.
    2. well in some states it did exist. what you must understand is that if you are not a woman the concept of citizenship was and is in most countries strictly connected with military service. i say if you are not a woman because women are not forced to enlist under penalty of death or prison. They get this right for free.
    3. Again untrue. You could be free in feudal societies if you found a way to make a living without entering wage slavery , wage slavery being predominant in most “democracies” today
    4. no, democracy is still based on ownership of property. To be able to campaign you still need funds and still need to be able to take a huge hiatus from work which an average joe cannot. So in the end the same people get to power.
    5. again false. Feudalism is not in any way related to the industrial age except for the fact that historically it happened before it.
    6. now you must be loyal to your employer, the state… The employer is the feudal lord and the state is the monarchy. Just the names changed.
    7. well nice of you bashing christianity but democracy just promoted a new religion based on materialism and hedonism. It is called darwinism.

  2. I hope this message doesn’t bother you, but i was wondering what the author’s name was… thanks for reading this!!

  3. dear anynomus,
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