Is feudalism the “natural” social order? Among cultures that were not hunter-gatherers, it certainly dominated over virtually all of historical time, and probably it was fiercely practiced before that. It appears to be a self-reinforcing “attractor state” in which technology (e.g. metal weaponry) empowers any cabal of the strong to exert power over large numbers of their peers. The same underlying pattern appeared in kingdoms, theocracies or Soviet commissar castes. Hence: is the feudal pyramid obligate and permanent? Are we, perhaps, only living through a brief exception to a pervasive pattern? More generally, might the same Darwinian attractor apply elsewhere across the galaxy, wherever intelligence arises?
Ubiquitous feudalism could indeed cripple many a promising species. Certainly, if one looks at pyramid-shaped societies on Earth, it appears that the lords’ reproductive success was purchased at the price of scientific stagnation, rigid repression, and miserably awful statecraft. If so, then we have a plausible and compelling “fermi” or hypothesis for the absence of ETCs: the feudal attractor state is so successful that most species fall into an endless condition of stultified stagnation. Fearful of destabilizing effects, ruling castes never allow spaceflight, let alone exploration – by radio or in person – of the stars.David Brin
The Fermi Paradox has puzzled astronomers since the dawn of the space age, spawning a large variety of possible explanations for the ‘Great Silence’ of the galaxy around us. While I haven’t heard this one until now, it certainly seems plausible. There’s no reason to assume the laws of Darwinian evolution will operate differently in extraterrestrial environments, as organisms will still compete for food and reproduction. Many science-fiction novels have explored similar ideas, from Dune (stagnation as the greatest threat to human survival) to Foundation (a shadow elite manipulating the course of Imperial history). Of course, there’s a large Universe out there, so it’s more likely there isn’t a single explanation for the Silence, but instead a range of contributing factors.