Transition from feudalism to capitalism

The transition from feudalism to capitalism is the period of change that the agricultural and rural economies experienced at the end of the Middle Ages, after which these economies began to industrialize and organize themselves in urban centers. And it is that this transition process begins at the end of the Middle Ages, but lasts until the eighteenth century.

This great change meant moving from an agricultural economy to an economy in which profits were sought based on private ownership of the means of production and free competition.

Therefore, we speak of societies that evolved, going from being organized through the feudal mode, that is, peasant societies under the protection of feudal lords, to organizing as a society of bosses (also called capitalists) and workers.

There are various social and economic crises that led Europe to evolve from a feudal economy to a capitalist economy. To do this, it is convenient to analyze the key stages that influenced this great economic and social change.

Crisis of the fourteenth century and other determining factors

The fourteenth century brought famines and diseases such as the Black Death (1348). All this meant a drastic drop in demography, accompanied by a feudal economic model that was incapable of responding to the needs of the population.

The technological development of the Medieval Age was scarce, the feudal lords were not able to take advantage of the surpluses and economic activity was concentrated in rural areas. Hence, cities, like the bourgeoisie, played a secondary role in the economy.

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However, after the fourteenth century, feudalism began to decline. The first States arise, the power of the nobility decreases, vassalage and servitude end, commercial transactions are monetized and maritime trade increases.

Beyond the end of the Middle Ages, another element of great importance in this transition are the revolutions that take place in the 18th century. On an economic level, the industrial revolution has a decisive impact, while on a political level the French Revolution was decisive.

In what aspects does this process of change manifest itself?

The great change that the world undergoes when it abandons feudalism and embraces capitalism is reflected in all aspects. Thus, from the economic point of view, we find an evolution in the sectoral composition of GDP, which goes from being an economy in which the primary sector, the agricultural sector, focused all eyes, to being an economy in which cities win importance and the industrial mode of production is gaining importance.

At the social level there was an important change from a society structured in estates (nobility, clergy, peasants) to a society organized in classes, in which the position of each individual is determined by wealth. In turn, the bourgeoisie will gain influence.

On the religious level, in the Middle Ages, religion played a central role in people’s lives. However, with the passing of the centuries, it will be the man who occupies a leading role in the face of religion.

From a political point of view, this transition will mean the end of authoritarian monarchies. Thus, modern states emerge that, at the end of the Modern Age, will end up advancing to adopt liberal democracy as a political system.

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Where did this transition take place?

The transition from feudalism to capitalism had its main impact in Europe and did not develop uniformly in all countries. Thus, England would be the first country to carry out this tradition due to the great impact that the Industrial Revolution had. For its part, in France the French Revolution was decisive, which marked the end of the Old Regime and consolidated liberal ideas. On the contrary, Spain would be a country further behind in this transition.

The case of Russia is especially striking. For their society maintained many characteristics of feudal society even at the beginning of the 20th century. Hence, social discontent ended up causing a revolution in 1917.

The case of a country like Japan is also noteworthy. Anchored in a feudal society, with a deep respect for traditions, the country had remained largely isolated from ideas coming from abroad. However, the 19th century represented a radical transformation of the country, as the Japanese ended up abruptly opening up to capitalism.

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