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Joel Kotkin’s NEO-FEUDALISM: Just "Bravery Signalling"?
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Joel Kotkin is a funny fellow. His review of Editor Peter Brimelow’s 1995 immigration book Alien Nation was a vicious smear, even echoing the common paranoid complaint that Brimelow “repeatedly” referred to his blue-eyed blond baby boy (there was actually only one reference, in the unimpeachable context of the destructive effect of the interaction between non-white immigration and Affirmative Action quotas upon those native-born Americans who are not members of the so-called protected classes.) But, as subsequent typically fair-minded references to Kotkin’s work show, it turns out that he shares many of the same concerns. That’s true for his well-received recent book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Global Warning to the Middle Class, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact he continues to pull his punches.

Kotkin makes the case that our society is reverting to a feudal state, in which there is a small number of “big winners” who control everything and in which there is no longer an influential middle class. Propertyless “serfs” are also growing as a percentage of the population and there is no longer much social mobility. In other words, society is divided into feudal castes, with the aristocracy in complete power.

The book has been greeted enthusiastically. The magazine Quillette called it “persuasive” [The Coming of Neo-Feudalism—A Review, , by Adam Wakeling, June 11, 2020] while UnHerd’s Ed West claimed to be annoyed that Kotkin had beaten him to writing the book he’d long wanted to write himself [2020 and the coming of neo-feudalism, June 17, 2020].

My view: it’s an example of what has been termed “bravery signalling.” The book is a kind of Academic Establishment safety-valve. It admits what is happening—so that people don’t feel completely lied to—and it asserts that what is happening is bad and should be overturned. But it morally condemns anything which might actually overturn the system, and, in explaining what is taking place, it doesn’t invoke parsimonious explanations if these question the current Woke dogmas. In effect, it very subtly upholds the system, while seeming to oppose it.

Most of the time, there is much to commend in Kotkin’s book . He sets out how, especially over the last fifty years, how the West has moved away from a liberal democracy, with a powerful middle class, back to a form of Feudalism, where society is enormously dominated by a small elite at the very top and in which most of the wealth is concentrated. These people include the technicians who work for the Tech Oligarchs.

This dominance is backed up by what Kotkin calls the “clerisy.” They operate in the same way as the Medieval clergy: they provide ways of legitimating the system.

Kotkin notes, rightly, that this is what Academia has now become. The new feudal overlords are biased towards Leftist crypto-religious ideas—such as obtaining “indulgences” by virtue-signalling about the environment—and their clergy have increasingly taken over universities, motivated by Leftist crypto-religious dogmas rather than by the pursuit of truth.

This clerisy has inculcated the growing graduate class—the “yeomen” of the new feudal system—with the idea that diversity of opinion is bad because it is “repression” in disguise. And they have driven alternative opinions out of the Church.

As in Medieval England, university attendance is now about the credentials to enter a religious system, not about learning and thinking as a good thing in themselves.

Kotkin explains how this change—with every aspect of life concentrated into the hands of a few Tech Oligarchs—has allowed increasing censorship and conformity, so that the new feudal system can be upheld. It has been paralleled by decreasing social mobility, just as he claims there was little social mobility under feudalism.

What has happened is clearly a bad thing, Kotkin argues. But just as there were occasional revolts against feudalism by the serfs—who parallel the working class—there are revolts by the modern serfs against immigration, as this reduces their wages and creates a cheap workforce for the elite. This takes the form of populism in Europe, Brexit, and of course Trump.

However, Kotkin condemns these revolts as “racist” and “odious.” He insists ethno-nationalism as inconsistent with democracy and a large middle class—despite evidence that democracy is based around trust, which is higher between co-ethnics, and that democracies collapse in multi-ethnic societies, in part due to low trust, as highlighted by Tatu Vanhanen in his 2012 book Ethnic Conflicts.

Indeed, Kotkin seems systematically to overlook crucial counterarguments to his thesis. Thus he suggests that, if we adopt the values of the Open Society, such as liberal “Open Citizenship”—which were supposedly behind our huge rise in living standards in the first place—then we can return to a middle-class democracy. But this completely ignores the evidence that a society that is too “open” will tend to Balkanize, lose its sense of social trust, and so lose its democracy and sense of social cohesion, leading to distinct castes, as Vanhanen showed. has previously reported Kotkin’s peculiar desire for a high immigration society, and his assumption that if the immigrants are of high intellectual quality or hardworking, then everything will work fine. But this disregards evidence that, at the heights of American middle-class influence and democracy in the 1960s, people may have been “open”—but there were limits.

As Charles Murray noted in Coming Apart, they held to certain eternal, religious values. This imbued them with a sense of their own superiority as a Godly people…

  • meaning they opposed alien immigration.
  • meaning there couldn’t be an excess of labor.
  • meaning power couldn’t be so easily focused towards the elite.
  • meaning there couldn’t be lots of unemployed or semi-employed people reliant on the elite.
  • meaning there couldn’t so easily be Neo-Feudalism.

In fact, Medieval Feudalism broke down due to a massive labor shortage caused by the Black Death. [How the ‘Black Death’ Pandemic Reshaped Europe’s Feudal Economy, by Joe Weisenthal, Bloomberg, January 9, 2021]But Kotkin completely passes over the significance of this for reversing modern feudalism.

And, speaking of Charles Murray, Kotkin takes no notice of his research suggesting that a meritocratic society means that people would reach the place they deserved based on their cognitive ability, but that the very high heritability of intelligence would then mean relative social stagnation—a “cognitive elite.”

This cognitive stratification would lead to intelligence being concentrated right at the top, weakening the influence of lower classes.

However, some intelligent people within the cognitive elite might play for status by mobilising the lower classes against those in power, appealing to the “traditional” democratic system (and perhaps to shared ethnic or cultural interests).

But Kotkin dismisses these movements as “odious.”

Likewise, in talking of the political Left’s no longer being working class, Kotkin pays no attention to the evidence that all those with genetic intelligence will now have moved out of that class. In discussing why civilizations rise and fall, and even why people seem to read less now, he shows no awareness of fluctuations in intelligence as the central factor, as explained by Edward Dutton and Michael Woodley of Menie in their 2018 book At Our Wits’ End.

Kotkin also exaggerates the coherence of his central metaphor. There is evidence, for example from economist Gregory Clark in his 2014 book The Son Also Rises, that there was as much social movement under feudalism as there was in the 1950s, despite Kotkin’s assumption.

And John Derbyshire has pointed out that those at the top of the feudal system were mounted warriors who would wage war on behalf of their society, frequently dying in the process.

One can hardly imagine the men in charge of Tech giants doing this.

Finishing Kotkin’s book, my feeling was that the central idea was

  • for a loyal member of the “clerisy” to help sustain the current “Neo-Feudal” system by admitting to existence of that system through an easy-to-understand though slightly flawed metaphor;
  • Outlining how it had come into existence by implicitly espousing that clerisy’s environmental determinism and ignoring the gaping holes this explanation leaves;
  • Substantially glossing over the centrality of an excess of workers by throwing lots of statistics and authoritative quotes around to seem profound;
  • Giving the reader the feeling that he has some “gnosis” about the system, and might be able to overturn it and create a better world if only he would, in effect, more fervently follow the ways of thinking that have led to the system in the first place, and condemn those who would actually reverse it.

Still, maybe Kotkin will continue evolving—witness his recent, very frank America’s elites want a racial apocalypse [Spiked, April 8, 2021].


Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Academia, Political Correctness 
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  1. Excellent analysis.

  2. El Dato says:

    The hope at the top will surely be that the surveillance society and the political police can nip a good fat Jacquerie in the bud.

    The peasants involved in the rebellion seem to have lacked any real organization, instead rising up locally as an unstructured mass. Jean le Bel speculated that governors and tax collectors spread the word of rebellion from village to village to inspire the peasants to rebel against the nobility. When asked as to the cause of their discontent they apparently replied that they were just doing what they had witnessed others doing. Additionally it seems that the rebellion contained some idea that it was possible to rid the world of nobles. Froissart’s account portrays the rebels as mindless savages bent on destruction, which they wrought on over 150 noble houses and castles, murdering the families in horrific ways. Outbreaks occurred in Rouen and Rheims, while Senlis and Montdidier were sacked by the peasant army. The bourgeoisie of Beauvais, Senlis, Paris, Amiens, and Meaux, sorely pressed by the court party, accepted the Jacquerie, and the urban underclass were sympathetic. A small number of knights and squires provided leadership for some of the peasant bands, although in letters of pardon issued after the suppression of the rising, such individuals claimed that they were forced to do so.

  3. Kotkin’s comparison of the present day with the European Middle Ages is a gross misrepresentation of the latter. Over large areas of Western and Central Europe, serfdom was unknown ( eg England ) or abolished a long time previously – it’s why Bavaria is still called Freistaat Bayern. Urban areas, as a percentage of the population, expanded throughout the period, as did the middle classes. Social mobility increased likewise. Unlike some continental universities, the main purpose of British universities was not the production of clerics. Roger Bacon pioneered the empirical theory of logic. And, of course, there was William of Occam – of butter knife fame. Both were Franciscan friars.

    Kotkin is a Zionist apologist, similar to Mark Steyn and others. It’s all about what’s good for the Jews. Firstly, he misrepresents the Christian Middle Ages, always an object of Zionist hatred. Then he misrepresents and misdirects concerning the present. He is aware of the many negative consequences of neoliberal corporatism. So he has, at least, to discuss these issues. But the conclusions he reaches are typical of his type. It is “racist” and “odious” to oppose these forces. The only way forward is more Open Borders, 3rd World immigration and the rest.

    Zionist policy is promotion of massive non-white immigration into white countries, undermining traditional culture and diluting the political power of the native population. This is held to be good for the Jews. On the other hand, Israel is an ethno-nationalist state, to which only Jews can immigrate. This is not “racist” and “odious”, however, because it’s good for the Jews.

    Mr Welton fails to discuss Kotkin’s Zionist views. In fact, he fails to mention that Kotkin is Jewish at all. Kotkin is not a funny ( ha ha or peculiar ) fellow, Mr Welton. He is all too typical of his type.

    • Replies: @sarz
  4. BuelahMan says:

    Kotkin makes the case that our society is reverting to a feudal state, in which there is a small number of “big winners” who control everything and in which there is no longer an influential middle class.

    The question is: does the author discuss the chickens being slung as this small number of ‘big winners’ (aka ‘jews’) sling them?

  5. Kotkin is just another tool, like all the rest. He is an establishmentarian until the bitter end. Who knows or cares what he believes, justly at what he does, and what he supports.

    Like the rest (even the ones I like), rope is the remedy.

  6. Chris Moore says: • Website

    The book is a kind of Academic Establishment safety-valve. It admits what is happening—so that people don’t feel completely lied to—and it asserts that what is happening is bad and should be overturned. But it morally condemns anything which might actually overturn the system, and, in explaining what is taking place, it doesn’t invoke parsimonious explanations if these question the current Woke dogmas. In effect, it very subtly upholds the system, while seeming to oppose it.

    Another way of putting what’s really going on here: The book admits what the Globalist-Zionists are up to, so people don’t feel completely lied to, but it in effect morally condemns any opposition to the Globalist-Zionists as anti-Semitic and racist even though the Globalist-Zionists aren’t really Jews but bitter, Satanic Hebrews butthurt over what Moses did to them, and waging an eternal war of revenge against civilization and humanity, and their Satanic junior partners in this war of destruction and plunder are simply riding their coattails for easy Globalist money — parasites on master Parasites.

    The reason Christianity failed to stop all of this is because it quite evolving. It quite evolving because it was infiltrated and sabotaged by Satanic Hebrews and their junior partners, and then “reimagined” as money-crazed Imperialism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism, which today are finally being exposed as under the command of Satanic international Zionism, aka Globalism.

    Kotkin is either knowingly Satanic, or more likely nothing but a boiled frog in the Satanic stew squeaking half-hearted treaties that, in effect, shill for the ((cooks)). Look at his grimaced, blank stare. There’s not much left there.

    Satan is running on the fumes of his used up crack whores.

  7. sarz says:

    Given the nature of the subject, the author strangely skates around the fact that Kotkin is very likely a Jew. But I like to be sure, so before proceeding to the second paragraph I looked him up on Wikipedia. It’s doubtless a self-description, but no “Early Life”. Now I’m wondering about “Lance Welton”—can’t sound more Waspy than that.

    If you raise serious issues about social reality and hide the Jewish Question where it is supremely relevant, then what does that mean?…and at Unz Review fer Christsake!

    • Agree: Verymuchalive
  8. Bartolo says:

    Decry the problem, condemn the solutions. SOP.

    (It admits what is happening—so that people don’t feel completely lied to—and it asserts that what is happening is bad and should be overturned. But it morally condemns anything which might actually overturn the system)

  9. Graduate students in this analogy wouldn’t be “yeomen.” They would be novices. Having the tiniest inkling of medieval history might behoove thee.

  10. Monopduly says: • Website

    If there is an applicable medieval historical metaphor, it resides in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, where the clerical class not only function as enforcers against ‘Legitimation Crisis’, but also acted as estate agents in the administration of bilateral monopolies-monopsonies. They were the sole buyers of the serf’s grain earned on leased feudal lands, and the sole sellers of goods (and alcohol) in the estate’s local townships. This type of serfdom amounts to in biological terms, ‘dulosis’ and we may model in analytic terms the bilateral economics as ‘Monopduly’. The serfs today then operate in ‘settler-colonial’ theory as the indigenous marked for replacement or amalgamation under the coercive bio-economics of Monopduly. But Kotkin’s misses a crucial point in the consideration of these arrangements. They enforce serf dysgenic ‘involuntary altruism’, in part through behavioral modification, that is ‘Phenotypic Manipulation, a major feature in the analysis of Intraspecific Social Parasitism in primates.

    Thus, Human Intraspecific Social Parasitism (HISP), under oligarchic semi-markets (Monopduly), is explanatory of mass migration-(host amalgamation into the global south labor pool), and the rapid, manipulated change in working class norms in race-community and Feminist gender-fertility(F-LGBT).And this is not a metaphor It is an scientific observation of Parasite-Host co-evolution, with the elite, the social parasite, under ‘Emery’s Rule’, an example of incipient human speciation.

  11. Thomasina says:

    Outgoing: the old way of life.

    Incoming: feudalism.

    The Great Reset.

    Deplorables with their hopes for nationalism could have thrown a wrench in their plans. No wonder they had to manufacture Russiagate, Covid, rig the election, stifle speech, surround themselves with guards, and declare “White Supremacy” as the biggest threat to the country.

    Kotkin’s book is, as the Federal Reserve likes to call it, “forward guidance”, a heads-up on what’s coming.

    Who is going to stop the elite?

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