The Enlightenment brought both technological and scientific advancement (starting a period of discovery and achievement that hasn't yet ended) and social/political advancement. We generally think of the revolutionizing of science (towards more fact-oriented, provable science instead of sentimental, unprovable theories) as being linked to the revolutionizing of politics (moving from monarchies and tight connections between the church and state to democracies and republics founded on human rights and freedom), because they happened so close together.

But could a society be as technologically and scientifically developed as our society (or maybe slightly more advanced) exist as a monarchy, or a country using the feudal system? Or is there something in scientific discoveries and research that would lead to a political/social revolution and eventually the replacement of the feudal system and monarchies with a democracy?

Essentially, could a society exist with the technological advancement we have today, but not the social or political advancement?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 6:22

17 Answers 17


I've read a book series before which had a technologically advanced feudal society in a very believable way.

While the reasons for feudalism's developement were complicated, one very large reason was the difficulty of direct control. After the breakdown of the Roman Empire, and with it both its military might and its intricate postal system, it became highly diffcult for rulers of large kingdoms to maintain control over the vast territories they began accumulating. They didn't have enough military power to enforce their control, and they didn't have effective ways of communication This led to local rulers becoming much more autonomous and gaining more independence, while remaining technically subservient to the king. This developed into feudalism as time passed.

So, if you have a technologically advanced authoritarian society where these two reasons apply, feudalism is quite likely to develop.

And there's a very common Sci-Fi setting where this can easily work - outer space.

See, if you have a vast interstellar empire, these two apply. It's very difficult to subdue entire planets militarily without causing immense damage to said planet, and without very effective FTL travel, communication would be even worse then medieval times; with limited FTL travel, it would be around the same.

So take an authoritarian government, give it limited FTL travel, wait a few thousand years for planets to become populated, and with a few other ingredients, you can create a technologically advanced feudal society.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a great answer. My response was going to be on the lines of this too. $\endgroup$
    – Rohit
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity, what was the book series that you read ? $\endgroup$
    – Frédéric
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Frédéric. John Scalzi's Interdependency Series certainly fits. $\endgroup$
    – TRiG
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Frédéric The specific series was Phil Geusz's David Birkenhead series. It mostly focuses on the military aspects, but has some depth into the political aspects too. $\endgroup$
    – Yaitz331
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 13:15

The main feature of a feudal monarchy is the "vassalic contract". It means that one vassal serves it's liege while the liege provide protection. It can be on a small scale : organizing a local police force to protect from day to day violence, or it can be on a huge scale... organizing intergalactic diplomacy to prevent war between the carebear monarchy and the villain republic of evil.

In this system you can have free men, you can have serfs, slaves and any kind of social class (or even caste) that you want, as long as you have a top down authority with (somewhat) personal link between each strata of your population. As long as everyone keep to their roles, the structure can keep on working, it can even work along with a capitalistic economy. The higher ups have to keep to their oaths and contracts, still ensuring the working of society.

A good example in literature would be Barrayar from Lois McMaster Bujold. You get an intergalactic feudal empire that works quite well in... a composition of everything you might envision.

So, if
- the lords, through time, kept on their appointed roles (protection of the vassals and self-checking).
- Most traditional limitation on trade and industry for nobles should be lifted.
- Joe Average could get more power with sufficient works without needing a revolution (classical example includes rewards and mariage).
- You can even add vassality transference where someone either go up in the hierarchy or goes to a new liege, ensuring mobility.
- The king/emperor were, globally, capable enough to deal with the most aggressive competition. At least capable at the right time. (meaning no heavy loss of authority)

You can have enough social stability for your feudal intergalactic empire to work, with any kind of economy and in addition to some other ideology to mix up with the basis.

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    $\begingroup$ Have an upvote for mentioning Barrayar! I was going to give the exact same example! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ The limitation here is the lack of upward mobility. It's almost impossible for Joe Average to become an industrial tycoon. Lords have to become capitalists, but, as real history teaches us, not so many of them have an aptitude or desire to do so. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ You forget that there was a huge stygma attached to most kind of "working" for the nobility, including trade. I'll include that in my answer. Also, there was upward mobility, through rewards or mariage. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 7:48

"Could a society exist with the technological advancement we have today, but not the social or political advancement": a few examples of modern(-ish) societies which cannot be called democracies, and most certainly are not similar to "western" polities:

  • National-Socialist Germany, also known as the Third Realm, 1933-1945.
  • The Empire of Japan, 1868-1945.
  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 1922-1991, followed by the Russian Federation, 1991-present.
  • The People's Republic of China, 1949-present, and still going strong.
  • The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1936-present.
  • The Islamic Republic of Iran, 1979-present.
  • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 1948-present.

So, quite obviously, it is perfectly possible to have a modern(-ish) society in terms of technology without necessarily having the kind of representative democracy which people in the global west take for granted.

The style of political organization prevalent in Europe and the so-called western civilization in general is but one possible path of development. We like to think that it is somehow "better" than other types of political organizations, and sometime we even believe that it is inherently better. But, as practice shows, it is not really the only possible one.

Now, to the question asked in the title, whether a technologically advanced society exist as a feudal monarchy, the answer is, unsurprisingly, that it depends on what is meant by "feudal monarchy".

  • First of all, the type of feudal society specific to the western European Middle Ages and (partially) Early Modern period was very highly specific to the the western Europe in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. Even parts of Eastern Europe, clearly within of the same cultural environment, were profoundly different. (For example, in South-Eastern Europe we never had the kind of inheritable hierarchical titles of nobility specific to the west; basically, one was either a noble person or they weren't; there was no such thing as a hierarchy of inheritable titles. Moreover, the meaning of nobility was markedly different.)

  • The basic characteristic of a feudal society is, well, feudalism, that is, a system of hierarchical inter-personal relationships of which the most important feature is the holding of lands (= fiefs) or appanages in exchange for fealty, services and labor. You cannot really have that in a modern(-ish) society.

    First of all, in a modern(-ish) society you cannot have people be loyal to persons, you must have them be loyal to institutions. That is not feudalism in any way, shape of form.

    Second, land holding is not nearly important enough in a modern society. What killed the feudal society dead was the rise of industry and finance, which made the landed nobility become unimportant at first and eventually irrelevant.

    Third, in a modern(-ish) society you need to have a degree of social mobility which is incompatible to the rigidly hierarchical nature of a feudal society.

On the other hand, while you cannot have an actual for-real feudal society with a modern(-ish) economy, you can most certainly have a type of organization which deviates markedly from western-style democracies. Some attributes of a feudal society can be present, so that while the society cannot be called "feudal", it may show some aspects superficially resembling feudal structures. For example, in the United Kingdom they still have titles of nobility, which don't really mean much but are useful as marks of social distinctions. In the same United Kingdom, they have a non-elected upper house of Parliament, membership in the House of Lords being awarded for exceptional achievements. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia they have a for-real hereditary dynasty. In the People's Republic of China they maintain a neat separation between political power and economic activity.

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    $\begingroup$ "the Third Realm" ??? Also, some of these like Nazi Germany and the USSR are not feudalistic structures. Authoritarian, but certainly not feudalistic. $\endgroup$
    – Kaloyan
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ I have never heard anyone refer to the Nazi Germany as "the Third Realm." It's always rendered as "the Third Reich." There appears to have been some usage of it during WWII but still far less than "the Third Reich." That it's a literal translation doesn't matter: it's not what people say. When we go for "literal" (which isn't common) we say "the Third Empire," which was also more common than "the Third Realm" during WWII. $\endgroup$
    – gormadoc
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @gormadoc: Yes, I know that the most common phrase is the Third Reich. (It's the same in my language, "Al Treilea Reich", but at least we have the excuse that we don't have a common word meaning realm.) (The German word Reich does not really mean empire; it truly means a "realm" in general. An empire specifically would be a Kaiserreich, an "imperial realm".) I have chosen a literal translation on purpose. Welcome to Worldbuilding! $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ You listed a set of undemocratic countries but they don't really resemble feudalism at all. It seems unnecessary to just list countries that aren't democracies. $\endgroup$
    – Archerj
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The point is that you don't get to choose. It's called the Third Reich in English and has been for decades. So that's what you should call it, too. That's how language works. What you do in your language doesn't matter. $\endgroup$
    – user428517
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 18:50

Who controls the money controls the power

The rise of the middle class broke the aristocracy, the problem being that the aristocracy were obsessed with land because that's where all the money had been up until the industrial revolution. In practice it mostly remained in the land for a considerable transition period as well.

However if you get an aristocracy who embrace industrialisation and make sure they own the factories as well as the land, then you could potentially maintain feudalism. In that scenario you have to maintain the universities as independent organisations sponsored by either the church or the crown. Engineers become your new "free" masons, able to travel freely to ply their trade.

It wouldn't be an economy as you now think of it. A modern industrial economy is based on the average person's disposable income. To maintain feudalism you're largely maintaining an underclass with minimal disposable income that makes up the majority of the population. You'd have to work out a new model to base it on.

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    $\begingroup$ Technically we still have large portions of the population with low income. Most goods purchased and used comes from countries with even less income, protection, liberties and so on (with very few chances to better their lot) to ensure the cheapest cost of production. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ @MakorDal out of sight, out of mind! see also: industrial pollution, etc. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ @MakorDal, ah yes, but now we're oligarchy not feudal, the poor are outsourced. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ ...or perhaps if they don't own it, the people who do effectively become the new feudal lords. $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ If your source of income is a monthly payment you underclass with little disposable income, depending on the goodwill of the bosses. The poor salarymen underclass still exists. $\endgroup$
    – Geronimo
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:29

I would say "no", but for economic reasons. The apparent surface link between technology and politics is underneath mediated by economics. In Western history, the three have always been intertwined. And it's difficult to imagine an alternative history where the ruling class in a feudal society have the incentive or even the notion to innovate technologically, since -- absent other influences -- the status quo serves them quite well.

I recommend reading Talking to My Daughter about the Economy, by Yanis Varoufakis, for a cogent (if breezy) description of how feudalism gave way more or less inevitably to a market economy with the specific technological advancements in shipbuilding, the compass, and navigation.

(Yes, these three things existed long before European feudalism dissipated, but advanced ocean-going shipping -- the kind that supported robust, reliable, and routine global trade -- is relatively recent. Measuring longitude [3], for example, is a real challenge which we today take too much for granted. And, e.g., "there are no reports of the use of a nautical chart on an English vessel until 1489" [1].)

In short, the landed gentry who had for literally centuries held all the economic and therefore political power just by dint of being land owners, and specifically in societies where if you weren't born a land owner you would never become a land owner, began losing out to the new merchant class who, by dint of robust global trade, could amass the same kind of economic power, which therefore of course threatened a loss of political power.

For the landed class to enter into this global trade, the most efficient thing to do was to change their tenant/commons-based land holdings into means of producing commodities for trade. c.f., the history of British "enclosure" [2].

From that point forward, the surest way to gain an upper hand in the growing global competitive marketplace was innovation. This spurred technological advancement, at the same time as creating a "labor market" -- a concept completely foreign to feudal arrangements of labor and production.

The rest, as they say, is history.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_navigation#Medieval_age_of_navigation

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_longitude


One of the key aspects of feudal systems is that all is property of the king, and the underlings are "animated property". What the farmer produces belongs to the king, none of the eventual surplus in production will remain with him.

Based on the current theories on capitalism, the lack of incentive given by the lack of profit for the individual leads to lack of development (see the late czarist Russia or the Tokugawa Japan, where the feudal system was still in use, and how they were lagging behind in development with respect to the contemporary rest of Europe).

However, once you look at the exchanges between nations, nothing prevent a feudal system from importing goods and knowledge from more advanced countries. As long as the country is also able to retain its independence, of course.

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    $\begingroup$ "the lack of incentive given by the lack of profit for the individual leads to lack of development" happily, modern societies have rediscovered the value of debt bondage in the form of student loans and mortgages, which combined with some well designed regressive taxes and perhaps a bit of crippling health insurance will act as a fine base for a plutocratic system. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ Money is not the only incentive. A major driver of technological development, including in modern democracies, has been military research. $\endgroup$
    – James_pic
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 17:36


Techonological advancement is a function of specialization and specialization is a function of the energy sources your society has access. It has nothing to do with political liberalism. If you have more energy you have the greater the farming output and with it more people that can become specialized knowledge workers.

What you need is that your society, somehow, learned how to tap the power of the fossil fuels. It isn't far fetched - the greeks had early steam engines and the chinese and arabs were aware that natural crude oil can be used as fuel. So, that's cover the issue of energy.

About the political system: a feudal monarchy is based on oaths of fealty between the hierarchy of vassals. In our timeline these oaths weakened as the kings started to rely on the merchants to provide taxes to fund more professional armies and the wars of religion broke down the lord-vassal relationship. To deal with these two problems your nobility must have an open path to become merchants, something the european nobility had trouble with, and the reformation must not happen. If you have the Americas in your world, it can serve as a dumping ground for nobles that won't inherit. They will be sent to the Americas, build their castles there, vassalize the natives/bring in indentured serfs, build churches, and sell sugar cane and tobacco. Their children without inheritance (like youngest sons) will go deeper into the continent and do the same.

  • $\begingroup$ To make technological advancement possible a growing class of intellectuals and free flow of information is necessary. Both of which are often agressivelly supressed by authoritarian regimes. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Feudalism is not authoritarian, not in the modern (USSR, Nazi Germany) sense. The oaths of fealty limits what the liege can demand and, when violated, tend to result in noble rebellions. There is no totalitarian thought control like in modern authoritarian regimes. Also, there is also provisions for free cities, guilds and orders, functioning inside the fractal system of oaths. $\endgroup$
    – Geronimo
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 16:30

In addition to the answers already posted, one significant factor to consider is how your hypothetical society musters and applies military force.

Although geography and communications played a role in creating societies with feudal systems, military technology appears to have also played a highly significant role. Western European feudalism, Japanese feudalism, and the quasi-feudalism of Persian society in late antiquity all arose in conjunction with systems where the dominant military forces were made up of highly trained and expensively equipped aristocratic elites. European and Japanese feudalism were both destroyed when changing weapons technologies downgraded the importance of aristocratic elites in favor of mass citizen armies.

So a near-future feudalism might become possible if a revolution in military technology once again favored small, elite forces over mass citizen armies. The use of AIs and robotic or drone forces may end up being such a revolution. If a near future society has military forces that no longer require citizen volunteers or conscripts because they are made up of small numbers of technicians directing mass robotic forces, that has to have a political impact.


We've actually had one of those: The Zaibatsu era of Imperial Japan. These were large conglomerates (and quasi-dependent smaller companies) that controlled so much of the country's economy that everyone and everything in the country was essentially subservient to their interests.

This is essentially a pseudo-feudal system where loyalties to large companies and the families that run them take the place of loyalties to your local liege lord. The country was nominally Democratic as well, but it was a Democracy where political parties (and even military services) were often tied to specific companies, and failing to be sufficiently politically supportive of their expansionist interests abroad or their domestic political interests at home regularly got the miscreant assassinated.


Steam engine is one of the most important technological advancements.

Let's compare how James Watt created his steam engine in Britain and at the same time Ivan Polzunov created one in Russian Empire.

Watt was a free person - he went to different cities, partnered with the best iron-makers, metalworkers, factory owners. He not only developed his machine, started a prosperous industry, but also propelled forward many related technologies, drove industrial revolution.

Being a serviceman of the state, Polzunov, like most Russians at the time, was not allowed to leave the factory, where he was assigned. He was only allowed to send petitions to the administration. He was lucky - Russian empress was very supportive of his project, but that was not enough. Polzunov asked for copper, iron, led, bricks, wood, etc, but received only a fraction. He asked for skilled blacksmiths, metalworkers, carpenters, but got only few apprentices (all of them were bonded workers since there was no free labor in Russia). Eventually, he successfully built the machine, but died at the same time. The machine was abandoned soon after - human labor was very cheap in Russia. Much later Russia started importing western machines.

Of course, Russia was not an true feudal state. Still, I cannot imagine how a society, which lacks freedom, where people need permission from lords to do anything, can achieve much progress. At best they can import technology from the neighbors.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this historical example a lot. However, my understanding was that the question was asking "Could a Feudal society exist with our level of technology (or more)?" while your answer very gives good evidence that "A Feudal society would most likely not advance very much technologically." This fails to address the possibilities of a modern society which already had our technology becoming Feudal, or a long-lived feudal society eventually attaining modern tech through imports or just the passage of enough time. $\endgroup$
    – Dast
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Dast Whether feudal society alone can maintain high tech left by previous civilizations - answer is no. We know that in middle ages they lost a lot of tech created by Romans. An important property of feudalism was lack of mobility, both geographically and socially. Only an elder son of blacksmith is allowed to become blacksmith. If a son of nuclear reactor engineer happens to be a moron - you loose your reactor. Your second question - whether they can keep importing high tech from modern neighbors - may be. North Korea survived for a while already. $\endgroup$
    – jhnlmn
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 1:38

I think what you ask for is quite feasible.

You assume that enlightenment sparked the desire for freedom, resulting in democracies. But in my opinion, that is not correct.
Let's take a look at two of the first democracies, namely France and the united states.
The driving factors that mobilized the masses were literacy, i.e. the ability to spread information fast and wide, and, most of all, a feeling of injustice. We may say these were not just feelings, but for my point it's irrelevant.

People only rise up if the expected gain is greater than the risk. And the risk is death or imprisonment, either for oneself or for beloved ones, so the gain must be quite large. Arguably, it's sufficient if the leaders of the revolt convince those people who actually put their lives at risk, but that's a slightly different story.

So, to prevent a revolt, and thus the end of the feudal system, you could either increase the risk, or decrease the reward. The latter has the advantage of being a lot more sustainable.
What i am talking about: Don't let your underlings go hungry, and make sure they feel reasonably safe, respected and prosperous.
It is said that the greatest enemy of liberty is a happy slave. And i am convinced that this is true.
If you put away the idea of slaves as being chained and beaten to death on a whim, but instead think of anybody who is not free to make their own decisions, you will find that for example everybody who has to work as an employee, who has debts or rent to pay, etc, is not a free person.

Yet hardly any one of these people thinks about revolts, let alone takes any action in this direction. One of the reasons is that most people think that they are either fairly well off, or hope to be so soon, in the current system (one could argue if that is reasonable, but again, i digress), so they don't feel an urge t change the system.

So, if you think for example about a post-scarcity society, it is quite easy to think of a feudalistic one. As long as the people are reasonably happy, as long as they are convinced that at least most of their dreams are theoretically fulfillable, they won't endeavour to change society. All you need to do is to fulfill the basic needs of your unterlings, and give them some chance to play a part in your government, for those that desire to, and you stand a really good chance to continue with your feudal system indefinitely.


you are asking about the relationship between political systems and the velocity of technological development.

there is middleman, a link between these two worlds, and that is the economic system.

from that perspective technological development´s main dependance is the extent/magnitude of -> accumulation of capital present in the current economy.

whether this accumulation of capital happens in a stock company or is controlled by public government doesnt really matter. in other words: quick advancement of technology is theoretically compatible with both, "liberal" or "socialist" influenced political systems.

in socialism, the speed of development can be influenced by decisions. yet it is not limitless, because workforce is.

a communist government can tax people and put 50% into space flight, but it can not order to colonize mars within 3 weeks, simply because there is not so much workforce avaliable, under no circumstances.

in capitalism, the demand to make profit does on one hand create advancement automatically, but at the same time in capitalism it has to happen always within the parameters of capitalism.

if you dont make your cars better but somebody makes his cars better, you will be kicked out of the market. so you make your cars better to make profit. == capitalism _forces technological development.

but if you make your cars a huge step better at once while the concurrent company does not, they will be able to pay a dividend to their shareholders and you are not. some shareholders might leave you and invest in the comapny with the more oldfashioned product instead. == capitalism _limits the speed of technological progress because it also requires that the owners make profit. (or at least dont loose money)

now to feudalism: i dont think the level of accumuluation 1000 years would even begin to be comparable to today. however, the velocity of technological improvement is of course always relative to the day before day X.

i have left other possible factors, such as education and culture, aside. 1000 years ago their influence mighht have been greater than today, because huge accumulation of capital was nearly impossible.

but it might still be correct to ignore those other factors (including the "enlightment age") because they also have a strong dependency on economics, i.e. on accumulation. (you can only teach reading to the masses if there was enough disponible working hours available somewhen before to invent the bookprint.)

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Could you provide some specific examples to justify your answer? Eg how does capital accumulation influence the technological development? $\endgroup$
    – Riddles
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ it is difficult to explain, because you usually end up thinking only in terms of business economics if you discuss these things. however, business economics is one case among many. $\endgroup$
    – bubu
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ bah, "cant edit comments" deleted my post :) $\endgroup$
    – bubu
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ let´s look at my example with the car factory in capitalism again: to make your car better than last year you need to tell your supplier to invent a new engine. he will do that by employing workers. as they have to eat, they dont work for free but expect means of exchange. no matter if you give them fruits and a room or if you pay dollars, you will always end up with the need to invest something which once was based on somebodys working time. $\endgroup$
    – bubu
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ as any form of money or cheque can be traded against goods, and goods only exist through produciton work, you could say that advancement of technology always requries that you have "savings" left from former working hours. only if there is overproduction, technology can advance. that is basically why capitalism and communism are "superior" to the stone age. $\endgroup$
    – bubu
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:24

Arguably they already do: anything with a strong Mafia presence has feaudal-ish feel to it, one swears loyalty a lord, who then allows one to work the land (or run a store, within said land). That lord also offers protection against other lords.

And, of course, plenty of technologically advanced countries are not democratic.

Really the main difference in this alternate reality is that society openly embraces their feudal monarchy instead of trying to hide it, but there could be lots of reasons for that, tradition, religion, other countries trying more liberal ideologies with disastrous results, or what have you

  • $\begingroup$ David Weber's Honoverse has a planet run this way: Erewhon $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Italy is one of the sicker states of Europe. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:31

Short Answer:

Yes it is possible for an advanced country to have a monarchy.

Yes it is possible for an advanced country to have a federal political system that is partially feudalistic, with hereditary lords and vassals.

No, it is not possible for an advanced country to have serfdom, so if you are thinking about serfdom as a vital feature of feudal society you are out of luck.

Long Answer:

Today there are about 180 to 200 countries on planet Earth, depending on which polities count as countries in one's definition.

And some of them are more advanced than others, but in every one of them at least a proportion of the population has a degree of access to the most advanced products developed in the more advanced countries. Almost every country in the world is part of the world wide technological civilization.

So advanced countries in the world today have various forms of government.

Most countries have republican forms of government.

There are parliamentary republics where the prime minister is head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state.

There are presidential republics where the president is both head of state and head of government.

There are semi presidential republics where the president is head of state and the executive powers are shared by the prime minister and the president, making them both partial heads of government.

And today most republics claim to be democratic. Republics generally have positions on the democratic scale between very democratic, mostly democratic, largely democratic, slightly democratic, and not democratic at all, since many republics have authoritarian, dictatorial, or totalitarian governments.

A number of states in the world today are monarchies. Monarchies generally share the same sort of distinctions as republics.

Some monarchies are like parliamentary republics, having a prime minister as head of government and a monarch as ceremonial head of state.

Some monarchies are like presidential republics, having a monarch as both head of state and head of government.

Some monarchies are like semi presidential republics, having a monarch as head of state, and with both the prime minister and the monarch having some of the powers of head of government. In most monarchies today the monarch has at least a tiny little bit of executive power, while the prime minister usually has much more executive power than the monarch.

And today most monarchies claim to be democratic. Monarchies generally have positions on the democratic scale between very democratic, mostly democratic, largely democratic, slightly democratic, and not democratic at all, since many monarchies have authoritarian, dictatorial, or totalitarian governments.

Every Country in the world today, except for tiny little Vatican City, has administrative subdivisions, whose governments are either elected by their residents or appointed by higher authorities.

Some countries, like Azerbaijan, The Bahamas, & Bahrain, for example, have only 1 level of subdivision. The United States of America, has three main levels: states, counties, and municipalities. The People's Republic of China, France, Myanmar, and Pakistan have five levels of administrative subdivisions.


And of course those levels of subdivisions are interesting because in various countries the relations between the levels resembles a feudal monarchy more or less - usually less.

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or "federal" government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established.1 Federalism can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.2

Federalism differs from confederalism, in which the general level of government is subordinate to the regional level, and from devolution within a unitary state, in which the regional level of government is subordinate to the general level.[3] It represents the central form in the pathway of regional integration or separation,[4] bounded on the less integrated side by confederalism and on the more integrated side by devolution within a unitary state.[5]

Leading examples of the federation or federal state include the United States, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Argentina, and Australia. Some also today characterize the European Union as the pioneering example of federalism in a multi-state setting, in a concept termed the federal union of states.[6]


In a typical medieval country there would be both feudalism and the manorial system. The holder of a manor would be the lord of that manor.

Counts were originally appointed officials but made their positions hereditary. In the Feudal system a count would be the overlord of most of the lords in his county.

Dukes were originally appointed officials but made their positions hereditary. In the feudal system a duke would be the overlord of most of the counts in his country.

And of course a king would be the immediate or ultimate overlord of all the lords, counts, and dukes in his kingdom.

So in this greatly simplified model of the feudal system there would be four levels of feudal rulers: lords, counts, dukes, and kings. And each feudal ruler would be the vassal of some superior ruler or rulers for his fief or fiefs. And vassals and overlords had mutual obligations and rights.

So there are some similarities and differences between Federalism and Feudalism.

It may be noted that one federal state, the German Reich from 1871-1918, had most of the member states ruled by hereditary monarchs (with more or less democratic governments) with feudal titles, thus having considerable overlap between federalism and feudalism.

At the present time the United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates ruled by hereditary sheikhs, with the president and prime minister elected by the sheikhs. Thus the president is both a sheikh and a president, sort of like the president of France is a co prince of Andorra.

Malaysia is a federation of 13 states, nine of which are hereditary monarchies. The nine monarchs elect one of their number to be the head of state, the Yang di-Pertum Agong, every five years.

So the answer is yes.

Yes it is possible for a country at early 21st century levels of development to have a monarchy, since some of them do.

Yes, it is possible for an advanced country to have a more or less feudalistic type of government, like a form of federalism with hereditary rulers.

But no, it should not be possible for an advanced country to have serfdom. All forms of serfdom or slavery tend to slow down progress and development. So in an advanced country slavery and serfdom would be illegal, and the less widespread any similar and possibly illegal status is, the move advanced the society will be.

  • $\begingroup$ Serfdom was thining out hundreds of year before the end of feudality. In France, for example, it disapeared 5 centuries before the Revolution. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 6:58

There isn't much intrinsically connecting scientific advancement with the absence of autocratic government.

I'd say that, with our worlds history as a model, what you need for innovation is a consistently effective government, where effective here means "keeps (most of) the people (in power) from suffering (or talking to each other about it)", an effective educational / academic system with a focus on observable phenomena, an environment where any external government that wants to impose their way of life on you doesn't have the agency to do so with their guns or wallets, and an abundance of natural resources or the ability to exploit someone else for theirs.

Generally if you don't have an effective government, people get really concerned with survival or killing whoever's in charge so that their kids can go about surviving without putting so much effort into it. In these scenarios, people generally don't have a ton of time to 'innovate' because social instability makes that really hard - mostly because if you have time and energy to tackle scientific questions you're almost by definition not an oppressed individual who is struggling to survive, and if social stability starts collapsing all the people who were struggling tend to be rather cross with all the people who weren't. Of course, democracy does quite a bit to keep social stability high - Making everyone feel like the power to change their fate for the better is in their hands makes a government super resilient to the suffering of the populace. But, you don't NEED democracy for that social stability, you can just keep the suffering under control or under wraps.

If you don't have an effective educational / academic system, people don't learn more than the folks who came before them before they die, and innovation doesn't happen. If you don't focus on observable phenomena, people tend to invent answers instead of discovering them, which is a much slower way to advance. Also important is having enough people participating in this system - Greater numbers help solve problems more quickly, as long as they all talk to each other. Large numbers of people talking to each other freely is not dangerous to an autocracy so long as the topic of their conversation isn't "how do I kill the autocrats," which, historically, can be avoided by not giving the people talking reasons to kill the autocrats, or making sure people who are talking about killing autocrats are quickly removed from the conversation.

It might go without saying, but if some other country/government conquers you or eliminates your government, either you stop existing and can't advance, or someone else ends up carrying the torch forward and taking credit for all the stuff you did to advance. History has shown a general trend of non-autocrats having a great deal of animosity towards autocrats, but whether or not that animosity was effective at eliminating them seems largely a matter of circumstance.

And, of course, all the knowledge in the world won't help you if you can't do something with it - So, you need resources. Once you get into the realm of high energy interactions chemistry gets really hard to advance in after a point because you start needing things like steel and/or rubber in order to keep pushing the envelope, because a bunch of phenomena can't be observed in controlled circumstances unless you can control high energy matter, which requires strong (or non-reactive) stuff.

Also, access to a wide -variety- of resources is very important, because you can't learn about stuff you don't have access to. It is no coincidence that advancement started accelerating exponentially after global trade became a thing.

Having resources or not having resources doesn't seem connected to being autocratic or non autocratic, so, again, I have to conclude that this is independent of being an autocracy.

On all points, I can see no direct connection between autocracy and the necessary ingredients for scientific advancement, but I do see several factors that would make it (and have made it, in the past) more difficult under autocratic leadership - Particularly, ineffective autocratic leadership.

If you allow your people to prosper, allow them to believe they are prospering, or ensure that anyone who complains about not prospering disappears quickly and quietly, and you ensure that scientific endeavours stay well funded and well supplied, I see no reason there should be a limit to what they can accomplish.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your answer is nice in that it makes a difference between autocracy and authoritarian/repressive government. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 6:58

No. As long as people are not free to innovate (with their own means/discretion), in general you will not have innovation.

Henry Ford said "A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large." The symbiosis and brotherhood brought to life by private property rights, and the failure of every counterinvention proves that private property rights and capitalism are crucial to the existence and success of advanced society. They are essential to civilization.

Ford's observation of the growth and benefit only works in a system where people are entitled both to own the means of production and the fruits of their own labor. Under no other system can such tremendous progress as we have seen be attained.

The idea that one can mix and match sociopolitical and economic ideologies with impunity is bunk. All freedoms are ultimately economic, and all wars are ultimately economic. You cannot break the commandment "thou shalt not steal" and expect to prosper indefinitely in other areas, nor can you slight human relations and expect to prosper materially in the long run.

If I say you don't have a right to what you produce, is that not an economic (albeit dead) theory? Is it not also a social and a political theory? There is no such thing as an ideology devoid of taint--that is, all ideologies influence all things that they touch. We live in one world, not two or more.

For a complete bibliography, see history.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is profoundly ahistorical. One, Henry Ford is not an expert on this subject. Two, 'innovation' as a human concept didn't start in the 18th century in Europe. People have been inventing shit since we were people, and that happened all over the globe under all modes of government and economic policy. Three - See the history of the USSR for a big contemporary counter example of your core thesis, in which innovation was leaps and bounds past the west in many areas for decades. You can argue it was unstable (not sure I agree, but valid) , but you can't reasonably argue it wasn't innovative. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ Capitalism is not a political system, it's an economical one. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 6:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Henry Ford was not a historian, sociologist, or economist, and frankly, even if he was, he was still a white American from the early 20th century - not exactly the least biased spokesperson for global history. Literally he had no qualifications, none, no higher education, nothing at all to indicate he was an expert in any of the relevant fields. Saying he is an economic expert is like saying a NASCAR driver can engineer a NASCAR car, and saying he's a historical expert is like saying a NASCAR driver can be a particle physicist - It might be true, but there is no evidence to suggest so. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 22:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @pygosceles While it's true that political system and economical system works together, it's false to say that capitalism is linked to democracy or even republic. There exist capitalistic monarchy (UK) for example, capitalistic communism (CPR),... there even were capitalistic totalitarianism and capitalistic fascism. $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 8:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can. Army property is government property, for a simple example. And people outside the walls still own their homes, their cars... $\endgroup$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 8:31

Yes. But only if it reached it's advanced technologies in more democratic state and transformed into autocracy. Or that it has more democratic neighbors from which it can import advances in technology.

Monarchies are autocracies. That means that small group(s) of hereditary rulers rule over huge swaths of peasants. To keep the regime stable, people need to be indoctorinated and fed lies about the ruling caste deserving their positions due to whatever reason. Those reasons are usually religious. Once people stop believe that, they will find it unfair that some people got power just because they were born in the right family, rebellions happen.

To stop that, the ruling cast must make sure that people are not taught critical thinking, world history, or any real science. Intellectuals get killed or dragged into work camps and access to information is heavily limited. This wasn't problem in the past, because education and access to information cost lots of money, so keeping peasants fed lies was easy. In modern age of printing press, radio, television or internet, that becomes difficult, but not impossible.

But limiting intellectual's education and free through and limiting access of people to information will stifle any technological advancement. Any any small hole in the indoctorination or the "great firewall" will lead people to demand more rights and access to more freedoms and autocracy quickly topples as politicians who can give those freedoms quickly gain popularity.

  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, it's difficult for a society without freedom of movement and freedom of ideas (and freedom of where workers work, and whom workers can marry, and a thousand other personal freedoms) to make scientific advances. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 20:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You make reasonable points, but I think the level of downvoting is because you make them with far too much confidence and blanket them too widely. Many oppressive societies have advanced technologically, and some technologies (mass surveillance camera's) might make the maintenance of these states more easy. The idea that every human being on Earth with some critical thinking and some knowledge of history is pro-democracy (or even a majority of them) is (sadly) extremely naive and simply wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Dast
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 12:51

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