Corporate Feudalism

I finally have a "bumper sticker" that offers a better description for the corporate "new world order".

Perhaps it is unfortunate, but the reality is that political agendas must frequently be expressed in slogans. The truth is that the left’s positions are more complex, because reality is more complex than the neat slogans and rhetoric of the right. We are not very good at "PR", because we mostly detest the deliberate manipulation of corporate huxters – including the huxters that have crafted the Republican "message". So we are rightly distrustful of the politics of image and oversimplfication. Which makes it a challenge to come up with a slogan that is accurate, meaningful and short. Nevertheless, I believe I have discovered one.

The central slogan of the right is "less government". The right has literally built an entire political movement out of these two words. Every thing you read from right wing activists is an interpretation of reality through the "lens" of these two words. In fact, this slogan is contradictory, as used by conservatives. Conservatives are the "punishers". They are the believers in military action abroad, and retributive justice at home. They want to increase of the power of the police, not reduce it. "Less government" really means less government for the corporate interests they represent. It means a world where you are controlled, while your corporate boss runs wild.

Those two words – "less government" – accomplish what any really effective communication accomplishes. The phrase has levels of sophistication. The least sophisticated conservative activist understands it, and the think-tank academic likewise understands it. The only difference is the level of understanding. It is a phrase that actually has intellectual content, and you can probe its meaning as deeply as you like. In fact, this is the strength of the phrase. It is accessible to abolutely everyone. It is a theme that furnishes the basis for every sort of particular application imaginable. You can literally find "yet another example" to give you something rant about in five minutes.

We on the left have a similarly simple formulation. It is instantly recognizable to anyone who hears it. And the level of understanding of its meaning is as deep as you care to probe. You can delve into the very bowels of historical, economic or socialogical scholarship and see its continued relevance. It doesn’t, like so many other slogans, dissolve into meaninglessness upon closer scrutiny. It has power, because while simple it identifies something both complex and real. What is the simple phrase that sums up our opponent, and unites every progressive in common cause against the right?

Corporate feudalism. Variants include industrial feudalism or "neo-feudalism". In fact, it is a new name – a more accurate name – for "less government". It enables you to re-define conservatives – virtually anywhere you go. Whenever you hear the words "less government", it is a simple matter to correct the speaker. "Oh, you mean ‘corporate feudalism’".

Because that is exactly what the conservative is talking about. Feudalism – the original version – divided control of the land of a nation among a noble elite. A handful of such elites governed as landlords over a peasantry who owned nothing "but their bellies", but worked in service to the lord of the manor. Feudal serfs were "bound to the land" and considered an "appurtenance" to the land, like its streams, timber and minerals. Not unlike today’s industrial workforce, they were nothing more than assets to be exploited. "Freedom" was for "freed men" or "gentlemen" as they came to be known. It wasn’t – and isn’t – for serfs.

Today’s conservative sees things much the same way. His corporate neo-feudalism is about a new world of "privitized tyranny". He is talking about a world where the government is the agent for private corporate power. The "public good"or "public interest" have no place in this new world of "corporate feudalism". Private ambition, private profit, private fortunes, and of course "pivate property" are the only legitimate concerns of government. Even the uses of the US military have been subverted to the uses of "corporate feudalism". What else is the coming "oil war" but a war to allow the US to distribute the oil wealth of Iraq to private oil companies to exploit for profit? Do you really believe that the US government is going to establish any sort of democracy that doesn’t "know its place"? In fact, you can look around the third world and see a consistent pattern. American foreign policy makers talk about "democracy" but what they set up are corporate client states.

Corporate feudalism isn’t new at all. Capitalism – especially before the emergence of soical democracies – has always had a feudal character. In foreign affairs, we’ve been propping up governments who see their job as making the world safe for corporations since at least the end of World War II. What are the World Bank and International Monetary Fund but tools of transnational corporations to force sovereign nations to serve the interests of the corporate lords?

Everyone on the left understands these realities. The people in the middle – those who concern themselves with their own business, and don’t pay much attention to the larger political and economic world – do not. Oh, they have heard complaints of "US imperialism" from time to time, but that phrase creates no understanding, and in fact alienates the American moderate. He hears in that phrase an attack on "America", which he translates into an attack on himself. He accepts the "heroic" view of America in the world, and disbelieves the stories he hears of "American imperialism", because to believe them is to denigrate, in his mind, the character and virtues of the America he was taught to revere.

The phrase "corporate feudalism" solves his problem of understanding. It is a phrase he can understand. It is as simple to comprehend as the old "company store". Many middle Americans who work for corporations are well aware of the feudal hierarchy in place where he works. Many more have the nagging sense that they are little better than serfs. It is also a more substantive description of "American imperialism". "Imperialism" suggests military conquest, but "corporate feudalism" doesn’t quite fit that model. "Economic conquest" is more accurate, and its subjugation and oppression is much more subtle.

Not only that, while it was done by "Americans" – such as they are – it does not reflect American values, American institutions or American freedom. Corporate feudalism is decidedly "unAmerican", and is a gross departure from American values. It represents the seizure of American government to serve a new purpose – the promotion of corporate wealth and power. Opposing this corrosive new form of "privitized tyranny" is not "unAmerican". Neither is publicizing the abuses of the corporate lords around the world in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Iran or Vietnam. America didn’t do those things. You didn’t do those things. An American government subverted by corporate oligarchs did those things, and lied to you about their true purpose.

The "traitors" are the corporate "feudal lords" who stole our government and committed oppression and exploitation in our name. The ‘traitors" are the one’s who now seek to use debt and "free trade" to do to the US, what they have already done to Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. The traitors are the one’s – in the name of "liberty" no less – who seek a government they say can do nothing for the people who live under it, but can only serve the interests of corporate fiefdoms. Patriots expose these corporate potentates. Patriots seek to restore democracy, subverted by corporate feudalism.

Just as it did for the conservatives, two simple words define this reality. Two simple words explain to the average American the forces at work against him. Two words explain the subversion of American democracy by a new power never before seen, namely the power of the transnational corporation – a force grown so large that only a democratic govenrment can possibly control such potential monsters. Two words sum up the gradual growth of the "global economy". Two words explain the gradual corruption of American institutions. Two words explain the subverion of the press and media – once the sentinels of democracy, now the mouthpieces for corporate PR.

Those two simple words are "corporate feudalism". People need to hear those words, You, as a progressive activist, need to use those words. You need to listen to conservative propaganda, listen to the media’s corporate propaganda, and learn to translate their euphemisms for the reality of "corporate feudalism". You need to become the spokesmen for this new interpretation, and use these two simple words, until the last person in America understands how his government has been stolen from him by people who do not believe in American democracy, but who worship before a very different altar, the alter of corporate power.

Now you can see the opposition between left and right in stark relief. While the left believes in equality, democracy, social justice and genuine liberty, the right believes in the wealth, power and privilege of a corporate neo-feudal elite. And now you have a simple way to illustrate that fundamental difference.