Feudal Socialism

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Feudal Socialism


a type of prescientific socialism, whose proponents, critical of capitalism, saw a possibility of transcending its contradictions in a return to patriarchal feudal relations. The term “feudal socialism” was first used in the Communist Manifesto by K. Marx and F. Engels, who included among its representatives some French Legitimists, such as J. Villeneuve-Bargemont and C. Montalembert, as well as the Young England party, made up of aristocratic Tories, such as J. Manners and A. Ashley, who had grouped around B. Disraeli in the 1840’s. The historical and philosophical theory of feudal socialism was worked out by T. Carlyle. Rooted in Catholicism, scholastic realism, and the mysticism of E. Swedenborg, feudal socialism also drew on the reactionary romanticism of the 18th and early 19th centuries, as exemplified by E. Burke, R. Southey, S. Coleridge, L. Bonald, and J. de Maistre, and the traditionalism of the historical school of law. Its proponents used these and other philosophical sources primarily as a teleological and providential (seePROVIDENTIALISM) justification for their sociopolitical ideas.

Feudal socialism emerged as a concept after the French July Revolution of 1830 and the English parliamentary reform of 1832, a period that nurtured the illusion that the classes opposing the bourgeoisie from the right and from the left were united by common interests and could form a unique anticapitalist front of feudal lords and working people.

Feudal socialism saw the historical process as the unfolding of a divine plan comprehended only by the elect. The task of the chosen few was to preserve the foundations of society, which had withstood the test of time, and to prevent the growth of “artificial” elements in society. According to feudal socialism, the establishment of political hegemony by the industrial bourgeoisie had resulted in the breakdown of traditional social bonds and given birth to anarchic masses egotistically pursuing individual goals. The return to an organic, cohesive society could be achieved only by ensuring that industrial civilization rested on a patriarchal and feudal social order. Such an order, deriving its authority from an eternal human nature, implied a social hierarchy, paternal and patriarchal bonds, stable traditions and rituals, and the sanctity of political institutions and the figures in whom they were embodied—monarchs, heroes, land magnates, and “captains of industry,” in Carlyle’s words.

The program of the feudal socialists reflected the interests and aspirations of the landed aristocracy that had become essentially bourgeois. By hindering the development of the political activism of the popular masses, it left the foundations of capitalism intact. Feudal socialism attracted social strata that had been uprooted from their traditional places by the advent of industrial capitalism—the urban merchant class, bureaucrats and civil servants, and a segment of the intelligentsia.

Although Marx and Engels commented favorably on the feudal socialists’ incisive critique of the antihumanist aspects of capitalism, they viewed feudal socialism as the leading tendency of reactionary socialism of the 1830’s and 1840’s. Later varieties of feudal socialism, including Christian socialism, became widespread in Spain, Austria, Hungary, and Russia (seeSLAVOPHILES).


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest Kommunisticheskoi partii. In Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Kan, S. B. Istoriia sotsialisticheskikh idei, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Premised on a retrogressive vision which harks back to the past, it is profoundly anti-modern and anti-democratic, a feudal anti-imperialism rather like Marx's feudal socialism.
Especially in the 19th-century, in the age of a pre-totalitarian and pre-politically-correct Left, there were a variety of non-Marxian socialisms (such as feudal socialism, guild socialism, and so forth), many of which were polemically condemned in The Communist Manifesto.