Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism?

politics philosophy cities economics


A third feature of neofeudalism is the spatiality associated with feudalism, one of protected, often lively centers surrounded by agricultural and desolate hinterlands. We might also characterize this as a split between town and country, municipal and rural areas, urban communes and the surrounding countryside, or, more abstractly between an inside walled off from an outside, a division between what is secure and what is at risk, who is prosperous and who is desperate. Wood says that medieval cities were essentially oligarchies, “with dominant classes enriched by commerce and financial services for kings, emperors and popes. Collectively, they dominated the surrounding countryside … extracting wealth from it in one way or another.” Outside the cities were the nomads and migrants who, facing unbearable conditions, sought new places to live and work yet all too often came up against the walls.

US hinterlands are sites of loss and dismantlement, places with fantasies of a flourishing capitalist past that for a while might have let some linger in the hope that their lives and their children’s lives might actually get better. Remnants of an industrial capitalism that’s left them behind for cheaper labor, the hinterlands are ripe for the new intensified exploitation of neofeudalism. No longer making things, people in the hinterlands persist through warehouses, call centers, Dollar Stores, and fast food. Phil A. Neel’s recent book, Hinterland, notes patterns between China, Egypt, Ukraine, and the United States. They are all places with desolate abandoned wastelands and cities on the brink of overload.

Politically, the desperation of the hinterlands manifests in the movements of those outside the cities, movements that are sometimes around environmental issues (fracking and pipeline struggles), sometimes around land (privatization and expropriation), sometimes around the reduction of services (hospital and school closings). In the United States, the politics of guns positions the hinterlands against the urban. We might also note the way the division between hinterlands and municipality gets reinscribed within cities themselves. This manifests in both the abandonment of poor areas and their eradication in capitalist gentrification land grabs. A city gets richer and more people become homeless think San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles.

The increased attention to social reproduction responds to hinterlandization, that is, to the loss of a general capacity to reproduce the basic conditions of livable life. This appears in rising suicide rates, increase in anxiety and drug addiction, declining birth rates, lower rates of life expectancy, and in the United States, the psychotic societal self-destruction of mass shootings. It appears in the collapsed infrastructures, undrinkable water, and unbreathable air. The hinterlands are written on people’s bodies and on the land. With closures of hospitals and schools, and the diminution of basic services, life becomes more desperate and uncertain.

Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism? - Los Angeles Review of Books, Jodi Dean in Los Angeles Review of Books