Why did feudalism arise in Western Europe?

Feudalism and the “rule of law” in Western Europe and Japan

On the legal sociology of Max Weber pp 112-151 | Cite as

Part of the Contributions to Social Science Research book series (BEISOFO, volume 65)


Max Weber had no doubt that the feudal structure of rule was historically and genetically a decisive prerequisite for the ‘breakthrough into modernity’. The feudal division of sovereignty prevented the establishment of a bureaucratic superstructure that had stifled all rationalizing tendencies in late antiquity or in China; feudal individualism encouraged intense competition for the means of war, administration, production and salvation, which in turn accelerated the rationalization of political, legal, economic and religious institutions. Nevertheless, for Weber, feudalism was anything but an evolutionary transition stage which inevitably had to produce a rational state, a rational law and a rational capitalism. On the contrary: the example of Japan showed strikingly for him that feudalism, with its specific coverage of needs as well as its privileged ethics of the class, could just as well put insurmountable obstacles in the way of the rationalization process, if special circumstances did not arise.

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© Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen 1984

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