Progressive Feudalism

The changes wrought on the American political economy by progressives have taken us in the unmistakable direction of feudalism. The morphological resemblance between the progressive version of America and the historic feudal regimes of Western Europe and Japan is obvious if one takes a few moments to consider the changes in the proper context.

Legal Equality

Feudalism assigned people to different classes based on birth and assigned different privileges and obligations to the classes. The noble classes were considered a different order of humanity from the commoners, and the two groups led separate lifestyles. In addition to huge economic disparities, the two groups had very different rights. If one was of noble birth in Japan, for instance, he could carry a sword. For commoners, unlawful possession of a sword was a capital crime.

In progressive America, two groups today have a parallel distinction. Birth, and birth alone,* determines whether one is a member of a designated victim class, entitled to preferences in college admissions, scholarships, and employment, factors which have a major formative influence on life prospects. Moreover, the ability to litigate as the victim of discrimination with the possibility of massive financial returns is enhanced. According to the testimony of two Department of Justice lawyers, membership in a designated victim class brings with it immunity from prosecution under Civil Rights statutes.

Personal Autonomy

Under feudalism, the ruling class had few limits on its power and regarded the commoner classes as under their tutelage, hopelessly incompetent to make important decisions on their own. Many spheres of life were devoid of personal autonomy. What one wore and where one worked was closely regulated, and in feudal England or France, one could discern whether a person was a peasant, a blacksmith, a merchant, or a noble instantaneously, merely by dress.

In contrast, the bourgeois revolution, which overthrew the European feudal order, gave birth to the radical Enlightenment notion that each person should be the master of his or her own destiny, fit to make the important decisions in life autonomously. What one wore or ate was up to the individual.

In progressive America, personal decisions such as what to eat are now regarded as the proper concern of our government masters. Foie gras was forbidden by the city of Chicago for two years, and if you want to have your restaurant food cooked in trans fats like butter, you ought to know that New York City has a say in the matter.

Common to the feudal and progressive regimes is a deep and abiding disdain for the classes needing regulation and guidance. It is not so much that they hate or despise the lesser beings over which they rule, as it is a sense of obligation to make the right decisions for them.

Sumptuary Laws

Feudal rulers reserved for themselves certain luxuries. In feudal Japan, silk was an extravagance reserved exclusively for the noble classes. Wealthy merchants sometimes purchased garments with silk linings but with humble cotton, wool, or linen outer surfaces, so as to enjoy the warmth and softness of silk while preserving their lives.

In progressive America, Nancy Pelosi regularly jets from Washington, D.C. to her home in  San Francisco on a luxury Gulfstream private jet belonging to the Air Force when she isn't  commandeering  a larger C-32 executive transport, the military version of the Boeing 757. Meanwhile, corporate executives were forced to cancel orders for and sell executive jets during the financial crisis of 2008-9. While President Obama told corporations to not hold meetings in Las Vegas, federal agencies are free to have meetings there.


Under feudalism, officially recognized guilds enjoyed monopolies and special privileges, and in return, they offered financial and other support to the ruling class. In progressive America, powerful labor unions are allowed to force people to pay them dues in order to work in certain companies and public organizations. In return, these unions channel vast amounts of money in campaign donations to ruling class politicians at election time.

Moreover, unions can be insulated from the market consequences of their actions, as in the UAW members whose health care pension costs drove GM and Chrysler bankrupt but whose lavish benefits were preserved at taxpayer expense. Money spent under the stimulus bill has been channeled mostly to union members.


In European feudalism, clergy enjoyed special status as both advisers to rulers and justifiers of ruling class power. They were even called the First Estate, for they interpreted God's law, usually in a manner which maintained that the kings ruled by divine right.

In progressive America, a comparable role is played by lawyers and the courts, which enjoy vast powers and can command wealth that would be the envy of any bishop or cardinal in feudal France. Many of our most important decisions in progressive America are now taken away from the people's representatives in legislative bodies and decided by courts, themselves comprising members of the legal class.


Under feudal regimes, the rulers took as much as they could in taxes, up to the point where peasants began starving and tax revenues decreased. In progressive America, taxes have also trended in that direction.  

The Bourgeoisie

Under feudalism, the bourgeois class were regarded as upstarts and a threat to the legitimate ruling class. They were despised, ridiculed, and regulated. In progressive America, President Obama sees profit as an optional feature of corporations, and the disdain, regulation, taxation, and liability which business owners must endure have never been worse. As with feudal rulers, the progressive ruling classes see the bourgeoisie as vulgar pretenders to their own exalted status and a threat to their own power.

Back to the Future?

If progressivism has its way, more and more of our lives will be regulated by government bureaucrats setting rules and regulations and licensing people to engage in even the most mundane tasks. It is quite accurate to say that the reforms won by the rising bourgeois class from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, limiting and then ending feudalism, are in full retreat in progressive America.

It is time to rename progressives "regressives," a change I first proposed several years ago.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.

*Some might point out that homosexuality, a behavior, qualifies one as a member of a victim class. However, progressive dogma insists that homosexuality is ingrained at birth.
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