Why Feudal Government Should be a Model for New Nations

Patrick Kissel, Reporter

In the United States, the federal government’s powers in regard to domestic legislation has long been a question that has still yet to be solved. Ever since the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the issue of just what the federal government can do, and just how far states can go has been a matter brought up time and again, and brought before the supreme court time and again to establish a visible line outlining those powers.

This debate has been around for centuries, and caused conflicts and divides in this country that have still not yet healed, but this conflict between a central power and constituent assemblies over power goes back far longer than 1787, or 1781 with the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the true root of this debate goes back to the times of feudal governments in Europe, and the heyday of constituent governments all ultimately governed by one power; the middle ages.

Feudal forms of government have been used all over the world, with Europe and Japan being the most prominent places to find it. In this form of government, the central government is led by the monarch, or king. This person rules with absolute autonomy, and is primarily focused on foreign affairs or nationwide issues.

Under the king is the duke, or some type of similar title. The dukes are given land by the king, and the ability to rule with almost absolute autonomy over that land in exchange for providing military support to the king in times of war, and for some sort of tax.

The dukes also can have their own vassals called counts, earls, or other titles depending on where you are. These nobles were appointed by the duke, and this system continues down until it is no longer feasible ot grant land as the plots get too small.

This system survived and thrived in Europe and Japan for over a thousand years, and led to the iconic castle as wars were not only between individual nations, but also nobles within those countries as they too had land disputes resolved by conflict. Some of the most popular of these castles is Tintagel in England and Matsue in Japan.

This system also resulted in conflicts between dukes, or counts against their king on a scale previously unseen. In England, the Magna Carta, which put limits on the power of the king and gave some definitive power to their dukes, was signed after the First Barons’ War. Conflicts and compromises just like these were common in most feudal societies.

After the end of the middle ages, the principle of divided rule, splitting the country into small sections to make more local issues be more easily addressed, carried on into our Constitution. We see this today in the states, who are then subdivided into counties (a word rooted in feudal society as land governed by counts), who are then further subdivided into townships.

This structure, which has generally the same amount of subdivisions as a fully established feudal system would have, has inherited the conflicts that came with such a subdivided system. Here in the United States, conflict between the federal government and a state, a state and a county or a county and a township are common. This is because the structure is inherently going to generate this conflict as new problems arise that have not yet been placed into any one jurisdiction.

The conflict of feudal societies and the conflict between subdivisions of government today are similar, and the feudal system can be used as a model to decipher the upsides and downsides of using such a system instead of just one central government. This is especially important as conflicts between regions in a country today are common, and new nations are very possible going to start popping up in the near future like Catalonia or Flanders, and in the need to form a new government looking at the feudal past is key to determining the just right way to implement such a system.