I am considering a story where a group of human colonists looking to colonize an alien world come across another human society on an alien world on the other side of a wormhole. The colonists crash land on this world after an incident and discover this society. As it turns out, the humans on this world are actually descendants of many people abducted from earth by alien "overlords" over the course of several millennia seeking to use them for a social experiment.

The purpose of said experiential was to see how these people, from various regions of earth and time, would interact with each other over the course of these millennia. Fast forward in time and these humans and their descendants have populated this world, known as Rhye, and have become rather technologically advanced, say beginning of twentieth century Earth, but with some near future technology. Keep in mind this tech is at least one hundred years behind the tech the colonists have. The colonists, however, despite their shock to see this human society on this world, discover that these people basically recreated Earth. There are nations, borders, wars and even a UN often referred to as the "Planetary Council".

But what really catches their attention is the fact that these humans, given the different eras of human history they came from, have developed a medieval oligarchy type society where social class and upbringing determines your status while capitalism and democratic/representative governments still exist.

In this system, social rank is predetermined by birth. You have a role and you are to fulfill that role regardless. There are corporations and capitalism to certain extent does exist but they are tightly controlled by the Elites and influence the government. Industry and networks are controlled by them and the only way one can hope to advance is to get a better standing within a company or business. Think of the social situation in the movie Elysium.

The governments are typically run by the more wealthy and superior classes comprised of the following branches in ascending order of power: the People's Congress/Parliament, the Military (which I will go into detail about later), the Hierarchy (which deal with judiciary matters, law enforcement and government management), and finally the Head of State who is in charge of running the state. The upper class protect and help provide for the lower class in exchange for labor. These same Elites make up the Hierarchy holding various elected government offices. These Offices include: Council to the Head of State, ambassadors, attorney generals and high ranking generals, law enforcement, Homeland Security, etc. However the people do not elect the Head of State but rather the Hierarchy. Now, the Congress or Parliament, is elected by the lower class and typically is comprised of lower class politicians. Elites tend to stay away from it considering it beneath them to be a part of. However, while these congresses and Parliaments have the power to draw up legislative proposals, they lack the power to enforce them or pass them. Not even the Head of State. Only the Hierarchy does. In essence, they only exist to inform the Hierarchy of the people's wishes, wants and needs as a way to keep the population content.

The military situation is fairly unique as well. There are federalized militaries made up by the privileged upper class aka Elites that protect the states/kingdoms/republics. However, while these militaries are loyal to the states, they are not commanded by the Head of State but rather by the elected officials in the Hierarchy who either fund or otherwise influence them. Ideally, the Hierarchy answers to the Head of State but one can imagine how some corruption can come to play here. However, there are also private military organizations or "orders" that offer protective services to some republics and kingdoms in exchange for funding. And given this is a society originally built by people from the more ancient to medieval eras of human history and this world itself is advancing out of its own medieval era, the organizations tend to follow a Templar-style set up and often function like one. So one can image how complex this system is.

Now, as good on paper it sounds to me, I still am not sure how practical this is. So, is it entirely feasible for a relatively stable society to exist with this kind of "Medieval Post-Feudalism Democratic Oligarchy" system? Please let me know if I need to add anything detail wise if you need clarification.

Edit: I understand oligarchy and democracy are polar opposites in a way and that there is a bit of confusion here. But just work with me. I want to know if it is a relatively stable system that could work for some time.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 11, 2019 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Eth: Nationalization of the means of production, not check. And, as anybody who has taken Marxism-Leninism 101 should know, social existence is superstructure, reflecting and determined by the economic basis. The relationships of production are the factor which determines whether a society is feudal, capitalist, socialist etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 11, 2019 at 12:06

9 Answers 9


Define feudalism

When you say "feudal," what do you actually mean?

Feudalism is defined by Brittanica as

the social, economic, and political conditions in western Europe during the early Middle Ages, the long stretch of time between the 5th and 12th centuries.

There were basically no democratic systems that existed during that time period, and limited republican systems, so by a strict definition of feudalism, the answer is a clear "No". Since there were no democratic polities that existed in Western Europe in the 5th to 12th centuries, democratic-feudalism is an oxymoron.

Do you want "feudalism" or a class stratified society with voting?

If you want the latter, then there are plenty of examples to go around.

  • In the strict medieval period of Western Europe, though mostly later than the 12th century, the Venetian Republic operated with limited male suffrage, as did several other city-states of Italy, such as Florence.
  • A less republican Late Medieval variant was the Golden Liberty of Poland, where only the nobles got to vote. This process proceeded somewhat slowly, but a landmark was the 1505 Nihil Novi an act forbidding the King from passing laws without the consent of the Sejm.
  • The paragon of a democratic yet class-based society would be England. Democracy developed slowly from the Magna Carta. By the time of the English Civil War (1640s) and Glorious Revolution (1688), the authority of Parliament, even over the King, was well established. The English Bill of Rights of 1689 established free elections to the House of Commons. The electorate was reasonably open for most of the later Middle Ages. But, an 1432 law established eligibility as landowners who held more property worth 40 shillings of rent. While this did not de jure restrict women from voting, in practice custom forbade it.

But, note, universal male suffrage did not appear until the French revolution in 1792. The first country with permanent universal male suffrage was Greece in 1844; universal suffrage was first in New Zealand in 1893 (though some territories and states, like Wyoming, had it as far back as 1869). Without a revolutionary era as happened at the end of the 18th century on actual Earth, it is unlikely that suffrage would be universal, or ever extended to all men without property.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you're in the right ballpark with Venice. The Italian city-states played around with a Republican form of governments all over the place. Genoa in particular had elections in the 11th century. $\endgroup$
    – Michael W.
    Apr 10, 2019 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ The definition quoted at the beginning of the answer is worthless; yes, most western European societies during the Middle Ages were feudal, but equating feudalism with what western Europeans (all of them? really?) did between the 5th and 12th century is strange. I would hope that Britannica goes on and says down the page, sorry, that was a little white lie, here is the true definition. (1) What happened in the 13th, 14th, 15th century? Did they progress to communism? (2) So the late Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire and, notoriously, Japan, were not feudal? What were they? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 10, 2019 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: You obviously have a very unusual definition of the word "feudalism". You really should edit the question and explain what you mean, because, for example, England to this day has "Kings, Lords and farmers" (we don't call them "peasants"). And yet England has not had a feudal society since half a millennium ago. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 10, 2019 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ This answer makes a good point. Too often people think "feudalism" is defined by the window dressing: a peerage, chivalry, chartered land ownership, serfs, and the occasional crusade. It's much more legal, economic, and political than that. And because of that, once you introduce democracy (or any other form of government) you no longer have feudalism. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 10, 2019 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ I've always liked Athena for example of universal suffrage: all citizens of Athens could vote! The catch, though, was that very few inhabitants were recognized as "citizens": only males of Athenian parents, which excluded a large swath of immigrants and all slaves... $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2019 at 12:31

One important aspect of Feudalism, and why it came about in the first place, that is often overlooked from a modern viewpoint is that Feudalism is a two way social structure:

Those who are at the top and supported by those below them aren't originally up there looking out for purely their own self interest, but rather their role in society was to be that of protector and manager.

Lower classes swear loyalty to an upper class not because they were lowly dirt dwelling scum who got nothing out of it, but rather they swear loyalty in exchange for protection, peace, and organization.

"I work this land, give you part of my yearly labour, and otherwise support you, and you and all your buddies promise to help me live in peace and good health, and keep those far off foreigners from killing all the men and running off with the gold and women..." ["And maybe I'll help you go to those foreign lands to take their stuff..."]

(Consider this social construct to the modern "I promise to work for your company, and you promise to lay me off whenever you think that might help you buy a bigger house/yacht/jet/whatever." - Humanity is weird.)

So you have multiple ways to structure things:

  • Do the lords and protectors get elected?
  • Are there multiple layers of government, based on social class, with elected elements? [In human history we have any number of examples advisers elected to government representing various class levels.]
  • A mix and match of elected/hereditary/religious titles?

At its heart, a democratic-feudal structure is no less stable than a democratic "Vote for me so I can plunder the nation for my four year term for my own/my friend's/family's benefit" politics we see today.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I wanted the Lords and Kings to be elected by either the peasants or the class they are in. Preferably the former. The government can be described as military orders loyal to the government (army, navy, air force), a Congress/parlimant, the Hiearchy (the ruling class), then the King (elected head if state). Essentially, I am trying to create a near medieval society with a modern touch. $\endgroup$
    – Noah
    Apr 10, 2019 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ I'd expect a "democratic feudalism" to be similar to an elective monarchy, except that the entire hierarchy is elected, rather than just the guy at the top. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Apr 10, 2019 at 21:31

You can't have a feudal society and capitalism. Capitalism creates a plutocratic class that will fight against the feudal elite. If they fail the capitalism is crushed and feudalism remains. If they win, the feudal system is gone.

This happens because the social link in a capitalist society is money while in a feudal society are the oaths of fealty between the people. These two links can't coexist for long.

About democratic feudalism (but without capitalism): it can exist - the warlords may form noble republics where they elect their overlord and can veto decisions, something like the government of old Poland.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1. I agree. The weak link is combining capitalism with feudalism. Apart from what you said capitalism requires lots social and economic infrastructure to work, while feudalism is what states that lack such infrastructure use. Any overlap would be temporary and full of conflict. As for democracy, the warlords themselves might also be elected. Having soldiers, warriors or pirates elect their leaders is fairly common actually. But it would require that the fiefs are given to the military unit not individual people, so it would differ from feudalism as we know. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2019 at 21:31

A feudal system can have an "electoral system": for instance, usually the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was elected by a council of the most important feudal lord

Usually, a feudal system (but it happens for every system featuring a ruling oligarchy by birth) goes into crisis when a bourgeoisie (commoners who are able to accumulate a considerable wealth) rises. These new riches basically want to have the right to join the administration of the power. It happened for instance in the ancient Rome, in Italy and North Europe during the rise of the communes, in the 18th century France

In the Middle Age, usually the people in the countryside were under the rule of the feudal lords, while the people living in the cities were free from feudal rules, and could become "owners of themselves" and start a work as artisans or merchants, creating an embryo of bourgeoisie and this way triggering the rise of communes in late Middle Age.

So, in my idea a possibility would be a partial feudal-democratic system: the society is divided into free cities (under democratic rule) and rural countries (under feudal rule). Feudal lords should of course follow the laws and treat well their subjects, in order not to lose their peasants. At the same time, people who don't like democracy or feel that they would live better under the protection of a ruler could leave the cities and become subjects of the feudal lords.
Every time the emperor dies or resigns, the feudal lords and the representatives of the cities would elect a new emperor.

The problem is that at some point, the industrial revolution will happen (it seems unavoidable, in order to reach a present-day-like development), which would create an unbalance in the equilibrium between country and city (basically, cities will start to exponentially accumulate wealth and population).
To keep the feudal system, we can speculate that a kind of subdivision would spontaneously be established (feudal lords could found their own factories, more efficient thanks to the feudal labor, but less innovative with respect to urban factories), that could live up to present day.


Plenty of countries like that right now. So just scale it up. Most of the independent polynesian nations are democratic oligarchies. It all comes down to control of resources.

How it works is that the elite class (chiefs) controls all the land, businesses, govt etc,. by law, so all govt CEO's and politicians are exclusively from an elite class with no one else eligible to even apply.

Private ownership of land is not common and very expensive so most people live on land controlled at all points by elites, in theory they can do anything they want. But in practice disagreeing or voting against the chiefs wishes could get them and their whole extended family legally banished from their village and therefore without the resources they need to feed themselves.

So while these are recognised democracies, it may be very different to what other countries have.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. That really helps. $\endgroup$
    – Noah
    Apr 11, 2019 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ You're welcome, all political systems are just names, it's who controls the resources that really matters. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Apr 11, 2019 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ Within the individual classes, such societies can be quite democratic. $\endgroup$
    – Dohn Joe
    Apr 11, 2019 at 17:09

Feudalism has three main parts, lords, lands, and vassals. The lords own the lands and lords owe their loyalty to other lords supplying mutual military and economic support. The peasantry are tied to the land. Nothing says the lords can't be elected by the peasants they rule. Involving complex capitalism would make things a little more complex. A corporation might fit in with the lords, owning land and the workers on it while pledging loyalty to a lord or other corporation.

A strict social hierarchy is not necessarily a requirement of feudalism though.


I could see all three of these factors dovetailing quite nicely (if you can use dovetail for 3 things...).

This gives us classes: lords, vassals, peasants, royalty, etc. At each level you receive different rights, privileges and responsibilities. Perhaps only lords can vote or maybe all classes can vote but only lords and royalty can own land. These distinctions are up to you and don't greatly impact the other two aspects.

You don't vote for king! And maybe even prince, financial adviser or some number of lords. Again, there is a large amount of sway you can exert here depending on just how democratic you want your world to be.

Instead of marriage, knighthood or other methods of moving from class to class, you move up in rank with money. This isn't to say that you can become king this way as that still requires a vote (but money does tend to help with that). As you accumulate money you gain rights thanks to moving up in class. Poor peasant Bill Gates makes himself a lord of a minor or major kingdom (depending on where you draw the voting line).

All together you have what might look shockingly like our modern society except that we have King Trump and he doesn't just pretend to wield absolute power, he does and he's king for life. Instead of money allowing you to influence political decisions, it allows you to make them. Like all political systems, the flaws will become apparent the longer it's around and this system would by no means be perfect.


You've just described the Roman Republic

Roman society had a complex caste system where your birthright defined how you were to be treated under Roman Law and capped how high in society you could climb. Roman literature on the rhyme and reason regarding the structure of their government indicates that it was their goal to combine the best aspects of Monarchy, Nobility, and Democracy into a single form of government as their idea of how to mitigate the corruption and instability inherent in each system.

They believed a true Monarchy was unstable because it only takes one poorly suited leader to destroy a nation, but that it inversely allowed for the most efficient way to get things done in a crisis. They believed Nobility was unstable because it allowed tyranny through oligarchy, but that it was the most efficient way to focus on what is important to the wellbeing of a nation over long periods of time. Lastly, they believed Democracy was unstable because most people were unqualified to make wise decisions regarding the course of a government, but that the process of voting was important for making wise decisions when wisdom comes to more than one reasonable conclusion. On top of these 3 basic foundations, there was a 4th factor that they feared the population of their ever growing empire that was not Roman, would become more powerful than Rome itself; so, many of their laws were built around granting rights to people based on "How Roman" they are.

The way Rome did it was by dividing its society into a tiered system where by you had to be of a certain status to vote for or hold various positions of power. So, unless you were from one of the Senatorial Patrician families you could not vote for or become a Senator or become a military general or be appointed consul during a time of crisis; so, while they had an elected Senate that held a lot of power, only the top <1% of their society was privileged enough to participate in that level of government. Being a Senatorial Patrician was the equivalent to being a lord in medieval society, but instead of preventing power from diluting too much over time though first-born rights, they did it through elections. Below that you had the Eques Patrician who were still members of the noble houses of Rome, but not high enough in status to participate in the Senate. That said, they could ascend to hold significant military ranks and hold important public offices outside of the Senate. They were more akin to Knights. Below that you had the Civis Romani who had no title of nobility but enjoyed significant extra legal rights for being freemen born of Roman/Latin descent; so, they could hold offices and vote for positions in the lesser Assemblies.

Below that power just tapers off more and more with ever more restrictive social castes like the Liberti, the Peregrini, the Socii, all the way down to the Servi Poenae who had even fewer rights than chattel slaves did in the early US.


As others have pointed out, you can't combine feudalism with capitalism. Capitalism became dominant after the breakup of feudalism and is an economic system where "most means of production are privately owned and production is guided and income distributed largely through the operation of markets". Now, feudalism is a system, in which land, worked by serfs who were bound to it, was held by vassals in exchange for military and other services given to overlords. To do this, you would need to create a form of slavery where slaves/servants are specifically bound to the land they work and are servants to those who own the land, which would be hard to re-implement in many modern capitalist nations (imagine going to modern Western capitalist nations like Switzerland or Canada and being taken serious with such a proposal). Feudalism also lacked a money-based market economy, something capitalism requires, and had the lord/monarch essentially have near absolute authority on who got what property. What kind of wealthy man or oligarch would want to remove the market economy that makes them wealthy and have a single lord decide who gets what resources? If someone successfully had all of a nation's resources and abolished the market economy of the country, the nation would officially be feudalist, not capitalist. The spread of capitalism, mercantilism, and other economic systems - as well as the abolition of the serf system- ultimately led to the end of feudalism. Plus, capitalism allows for social mobility and ownership of private property based on money, even if you are foreign to the region you want to own property in and know little about its politics. Feudalism is power by oaths and familial connections with power lords. These things would be in conflict unless one simply 'co-existed' with the other in small states with an uneasy peace between each other.


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