State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

The Manorial Economy

It would be really easy to simply skip the manorial economy (and I considered doing so), due to the fact that in economic terms it has little to do with our world.  It can best be described as self sufficient  agrarian units, called manors, where there was a small ruling class and a lot of farmers.  However, a close look at history would reveal a lot of psychological contributions to our time, as well as a starting point for Western Culture.  Thus, we begin with Dr. Carroll Quigley’s description of the beginnings of Western Civilization:

“Western Civilization began, as all civilizations do, in a period of cultural mixture.  In this particular case it was a mixture resulting from the barbarian invasions which destroyed Classical Civilization in the period 350-700.  By creating a new culture from the various elements offered from the barbarian tribes, the Roman world, the Saracen world, and above all the Jewish world (Christianity), Western Civilization became a new society.

“This society became a civilization when it became organized, in the period 700-970, so that there was accumulation of capital and the beginnings of the investment of this capital in new methods of production.  These new methods are associated with a change from infantry forces to mounted warriors in defense, from manpower (and thus slavery) to animal power in energy use, from the scratch plow and two-field, fallow agricultural technology of Mediterranean Europe to the eight-oxen, gang plow and three-field system of the Gemanic peoples, and from the centralized, state-centered political orientation of the Roman world to the decentralized, private-power feudal network of the medieval world.  In the new system a small number of men, equipped and trained to fight, received dues and services from the overwhelming majority of men who were expected to till the soil.  From this inequitable but effective defensive system emerged an inequitable distribution of political power and, in turn, an inequitable distribution of the social economic income.  This, in time, resulted in an accumulation of capital, which, by giving rise to demand for luxury goods of remote origin, began to shift the whole economic emphasis of the society from its earlier organization in self-sufficient agrarian units (manors) to commercial interchange, economic specialization, and, by the thirteenth century, to an entirely new pattern of society with towns, a bourgeois class, spreading literacy, growing freedom of alternative social choices, and new, often disturbing thoughts.” (Tragedy & Hope, pg. 8-9)

The first major idea that I see coming out of this, which affects our time profoundly, is the move from state-centered political orientation to the decentralized, private-power feudal network.  The people of the time learned that the “state” was not necessary for their survival, or for society.  Today, much of our political debate focuses on federal power versus state power versus local power.  Many people still hold to the idea (and I’m not arguing the right or wrong of it) that the more local the control, the better.

The next item I would focus on is the inequitable distributions of income and political power.  In our current discussion as to the United Order, we could well say that Lords exploiting farmers probably isn’t what the United Order is about.  At the same time, we can’t overlook the fact that this caused the accumulation of capital needed for their society to progress and create a middle class, literacy, and basic freedom.  Quigley explains this transition:

“Western Civilization is the richest and most powerful social organization ever made by man.  One reason for this success has been its economic organization.  This, as we have said, has passed through six successive stages, of which at least four are called “capitalism.”  Three features are notable about this development as a whole.

“In the first place, each stage created the conditions which tended to bring about the next stage; therefore we could say, in a sense, that each stage committed suicide.  The original economic organization of self-sufficient agrarian units (manors) was a society organized so that its upper ranks–the lords, lay and ecclesiastical–found their desires for necessities so well met that they sought to exchange their surpluses of necessities for luxuries of remote origin.  This gave rise to a trade in foreign luxuries (spices, fine textiles, fine metals) which was the first evidence of the stage of commercial capitalism.” (pg. 42)

Now, a quick look at, perhaps, he positive side of the manorial economy.  From Quigley:

“A thousand years ago, Europe had a two-class society in which a small upper class of nobles and upper clergy were supported by a great mass of peasants.  The nobles defended this world, and the clergy opened the way to the next world, while the peasants provided the food and other material needs for the whole society.  All three had security in their social relationships in that they occupied positions of social status that satisfied their psychic needs for companionship, economic security, a foreseeable future, and purpose of their efforts.  Members of both classes had little anxiety about loss of these things by any likely outcome of events, and all thus had emotional security.” (pg. 1234-1235)

If we look at the aspects of security, companionship, and purpose, perhaps there are some positives that may be shared with the United Order.  As we look ahead to commercial capitalism and the rise of the middle class, we will see a more equitable distribution of goods, but also a loss in many of the other aspects and purposes which create happiness.  The middle class gained goods, but lost security.  The search for riches even today often costs people companionship.  If we can boil it down to one question, how is it possible to have advancement and equity and companionship?


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  1. Kerry

     /  June 29, 2012

    I would suggest reading all the essays in Nibley’s: Approaching Zion. They are all located here, Scroll down to Approaching Zion and enjoy.

    • Brinton

       /  July 2, 2012

      As usual, you give long, but interesting assignments. I got a chance to read the forward today and these appear to be awesome essays. I’m looking forward to reading all of them and will comment in this section, as well as perhaps dedicating some posts to Nibley’s ideas.

    • Brinton

       /  July 10, 2012

      I read through Our Glory or Our Condemnation (the first Nibley essay) today. I always love reading Nibley, especially for his perspectives. So here’s a rundown of a few thoughts I had while reading:

      Loved this quote: “We must be prepared to receive this glory; we don’t produce it ourselves. We must be ready, so that we won’t die of shock when we get it.”

      Another great quote: “Babylon is not to be converted, she’s to be destroyed.” If we think Zion will come about by programs instituted in our Babylonian system, we are wrong.

      Onto the economic argument where he seems to be very against production, competition, etc. I have a somewhat divergent view from him in that I think we are to learn proper work and proper competition, not at all what Babylon teaches. I also believe that it is very scriptural that the Lord blesses his people with prosperity. 4 Nephi 7, 18, and 23 all name economic prosperity as a blessing of the United Order. I think he rightly condemns what we see in our economy (world-wide) as it has followed the Keynesian theories (government debt to cause factories to produce more to make us richer with things we don’t really need, but the growth is needed to negate the debt, more debt to not crash from our over-production, more stuff that we don’t need, a bad cycle). In reality, I think he and I agree, but he is simply trying to bring light onto the problems of the current system. To live simply, according to our needs and just wants is fine. To get stuck in a system of required consumption, working overtime to finance it, and trashing the earth to produce it is not what Zion is about. Read in this light, I think his essay is right on and very thought provoking.


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