Submitted By mandatalick
Feudalism means many things to many people. One camp limits the concept to
“the hierarchical relationship between a lord and his vassals” (Lefebvre, 1976, p.
122). In this tradition, “history was not just written from the perspective of the top but was also limited to studies of the top” (Kaye, 1984, p. 73; e.g., Ganshoff, 1964).
The critique of this narrow conception of feudalism was spearheaded by, among others, Rodney Hilton (1949, 1973, 1985) and Marc Bloch (1961). Although recognizingthat
“feudal Europe was not all feudalized in the same degree or accordingto the same rhythm and, above all, that it was nowhere feudalized completely” (Bloch,
1961, Vol. 2, p. 445), these historians deployed a broader conception that sought “to describe a whole social order whose principal feature was the domination of the rest of society, mainly peasants, by a military landowningaristocracy” (Hilton, 1976c,
This broader conception of feudalism has strongly influenced the worldhistorical perspective since the 1970s (see esp. Wallerstein, 1974). One major exception to this generalization is Giovanni Arrighi (1994, 1998), who in key respects has returned to the earlier, narrower conception of feudalism. In Arrighi’s scheme of things, feudalism is limited to rural social relations in medieval Europe.
Although feudal relations are no doubt very relevant to an understandingof English, French, Polish, Swedish and many other “national” histories of the European world[,] they nonetheless are largely if not entirely irrelevant to an understanding of the origins of world capitalism for the simple reason that world capitalism did not originate within the economic activities and social relations [of territorial Europe]. Rather, [capitalism] originated in the interstices [the city-states] that connected those territorial organizations to one another. (Arrighi,…...