Distinguish the common features of European feudalism and capitalism.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most common feature between both European feudalism and capitalism is the structure of power.  In both settings, there is a clear delineation of who holds power over others.  European feudalism featured a master who controlled the land and one for who all others worked.  The lord or master was where power and wealth resided.  Serfs were entrenched at the bottom of the European feudal order.  In the same dynamic, capitalism features a power structure where owners are at the highest level.  Workers operate in a similar function to the serfs.  In both settings, the individual who owns the means of production are the ones who possess the greatest amount of power.  In his writing, Karl Marx argued that this is one of the most dominant common feature in both economic realities: "...[I]n pre-capitalist systems it was obvious that most people did not control their own destiny—under feudalism, for instance, serfs had to work for their lords. Capitalism seems different because people are, in theory, free to work for themselves or for others as they choose. Yet most workers have as little control over their lives as feudal serfs. The hierarchy of power is one shared feature common to both European feudalism and capitalism.  

It is for this reason that those who believe in the stages of economic development would see European feudalism preceding capitalism.  Both orders were predicated upon the same power structure.  Individuals who were able to own or control the means of production were able to display power over those who didn't.  Even though there were more of the latter than the former, the power structure in both kept the relatively few in the greatest amount of power and enabled them to exert control over the larger social entity.