In (very oversimplified) feudalism a vassal gets usage of a land and protection from his lord in exchange for loyalty and services. If the piece of land is big enough the vassal can parcel it to his own vassals.
Would a reverse system also work, in which individuals, households or communities own the land and then offer they fealty to a liege in exchange for protection? The liege in turn may need to bend a knee to another more powerful liege.
There would be no cultural bias against "shopping" for a liege or switching allegiance if current liege is not delivering. Likewise inheritance and claims would have much less importance.
To go deeper into details:
- There is strong cultural preference to the people on the ground "owning" the land instead of some higher figure. Maybe even to the degree of believing that one can only own as much as he can personally use and by using the land one owns it.
- The various levels of lords are not usually outsiders - they are usually elevated from their peers by being most competent or threatening. So village champion is simply one with best predisposition to kinking ass and taking names, he bands together with others and select one of their own as their leader, the leader in turn is allying with, subjugating or being subjugated by similar local leaders, and so on and so forth.
- The selection of suzerain is free only in sense that switching sides is frowned upon by bystanders. Usually the choice is only between candidates that already amassed similar marital strength, or in cases where switching sides upset the balance of power (as the lord power comes mostly from his vassals then he is powerless to stop them if they defect en masse).
Would such a system be feasible in the sense that it could naturally evolve and be sustained for at least few generations?
My worry is that such system would either make high level lords too weak to repeal outside threat - making invaders the new ruling class and ending the system, or, to the contrary, making lords powerful enough to change the system, making their positions independent of vassal wishes.