[This is an article from Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is Copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. For copying details, see the Miscellany Introduction.]

I Have Seen the Past --- And It Works

The structure of the Society consists of a rather peculiar mixture of feudalism and central authority. We use feudal names, such as "Barony" and "Baron," but then try to combine them with a modern central administrative system, in which the baron's herald is appointed by the king's herald, who in turn is appointed with the assent of the Corporation's herald. Odder still, it is the medieval names and not the official structure that more accurately describe what is really happening in most kingdoms most of the time. Local officers may be warranted by their kingdom superiors, but most of them are actually chosen by their local group.

There is a reason why the Society is more feudal in substance than in form. The defining feature of a feudal order is that the key resource is controlled at a low level, with the result that higher level "rulers"-kings or dukes-are coalition leaders rather than autocrats. This is as true of the Society at present as it was of France in the twelfth century. Their key resource was heavy cavalry. Ours is volunteer labor. The result is that, in practice, the most powerful people in the Society are barons or their equivalent-local leaders who can get things done. Our king wins his crown on the tourney field, but to actually accomplish anything he needs the support of the local leadership-just like a medieval king.

I have argued elsewhere that authenticity is often desirable for purely practical reasons-medieval people knew more about making armor than we do, so by imitating them we produce better armor. The same is true of political institutions. The constraints facing the Society (and, I suspect, many other volunteer organizations) are analogous to those faced by medieval societies, so medieval political structures may work better for us than modern ones. If so, we may be better off encouraging the feudal tendencies of the Society, rather than setting up a (functionally inappropriate) centralized system and then using it to pretend to be feudal. In addition, by accepting and building on the actual feudal structure of our organization, we make what we are doing feel, and be, more period and more real.

What follows is a detailed proposal for a medieval solution to one of our current problems-the gap, in large SCA kingdoms, between the King and the Baron. The basic idea is to make possible a new unit, called a county, consisting of several baronies, shires, or the like that want to work together. The Count would be chosen by the member groups, with the approval of the Crown. He would serve much the same functions-symbolic and charismatic leader, arbitrator, coordinator-that are served by the King in smaller kingdoms. He would be, in essence, a coalition leader, someone powerful lords one step down want to follow-which is, I think, what powerful nobles in period mostly were.

One further advantage to the proposal is that it would get us away from the modern idea of identifying geography with politics-of dividing the Middle Kingdom, for example, into regions defined by state boundaries. A County might contain two groups in Illinois, one in Minnesota, one in Indiana and one in Michigan-just as the holdings of William Marshall included part of Ireland, part of Normandy, a chunk of the Welsh Marches, and bits and pieces of land scattered around the Angevin domains.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir