We understand that monarchy and the right to rule is inherited. The descendant who inherited power has the right to rule the country. Take feudal China several centuries ago as an example, the King has every right to kill his citizen at his discretion. His citizens and the land in the boundaries of his kingdom remains his own property.

And then we are examining another form of power in modern society today. Take the city I live as an example. The first richest man in my city is always ranked on the Forbe's list. His sons are going to inherit his massive wealth measured up to 30 billions USD.

I am very confused and want to understand what's the difference between the two forms of inheritance above.

  • There is no difference if you come from the standpoint of the right to dispose of your own property as you see fit, and you accept the axioms you stated above.
    – user1873
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 0:26
  • It occured to me that, probably earlier than the Declaration of Independence, people argue that the country is not to be owned by a man. Yet, the king "worked" to claim his "property". It's not what I believe. It's what people believe. People don't believe a man can work his way up to claim a country. That's why invited me to here.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 0:41
  • I'd like to point out that a monarchy in and of itself does not imply inheritance or dynasty. Typically, it turns out that way, but there is no requisite link between the two concepts. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:13
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    one's power & one's money
    – user1726
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 2:49
  • @user1873 In a feudal system, inheritance happened by operation of law and it was often not legal to state who inherited something contrary to that law. The ability to decide who inherits is a much later innovation of the last several hundred years.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 21:01

2 Answers 2


The fundamental answer is that the billionaire does NOT own people or sovereign power, just property.

In case of the King, the King got to choose who would inherit the sovereign power. With power, came property (including in some cases the kingdom's subjects), but the power - the right to rule - was what was inherited.

In case of the billionaire, what is inherited is property. Same as you yourself, when you die, if you own a computer and some money in bank accounts, have a right to will them to your children or whoever else you wish, same with the billionaire - the only difference is the number of zeros on the value of the property.

But fundamentally, there's no difference between the inheritance of those $30B USD and inheritance of $X USD worth of assets your heirs will inherit from you - and both have nothing to do with inheriting sovereign power as the King's heir would.

As a side note, don't confuse money with power. Barak Obama was born reasonably poor as far as I'm aware, and is now arguably the most powerful man on Earth (and if you count the nuclear football, more powerful than pretty much any King who ever ruled). Money may ease access to power in some circumstances, but it does not in and out of itself grant you power by virtue of having the assets (ask the people with money murdered by Bolsheviks between 1917 and 1925 about that if you don't think that's the case). As Mao Zedong wisely noted, real power only comes from the barrel of a gun; or as a significantly wiser Ahiqar said, from the word able to sway other people's opinions and actions.

Minor update: having re-read the answer, it covers the main political angle, but omits the minor legal one: Feudal monarchy inheritance largely followed very rigid and well-established rules (often, Primogeniture). Modern property inheritance is - largely, at least in USA - arbitrary given a valid will exists and the legal challenges to the will don't succeed. Bill Gates can write out all his descendants out of his will and give 99.99% of his property to Malaria Relief Fund, fully legally.

  • I was about to say "thanks, we are looking at the surface now." Thanks for your answer. I now know what you meant by the way you fashioned your answer. I am thinking. Money does not always get you any closer to "real power", nor it could pardon anyone from crime against law or humanity. Yet, we agreed that money may ease access to power in some circumstances. In an ideal world, probably not where Mao Zedong claimed about what is real power, massive wealth does not necessarily contribute to any infringement to others.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 12:23
  • Also, I think it's important to note that a monarchy often does not imply an absolute monarchy... the days where a king can randomly execute people are largely gone, although not completely. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:15
  • @JeremyHolovacs - Good point, but the question was about "feudal" monarchy - i'm assuming that kind of excludes modern ones.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 16:43
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    Moreover, you are only quoting the inheritance laws in the US. In some countries, you cannot completely write out your descendants. The goal of such countries may be to avoid creating or perpetuating an aristocracy, which may happen if all non-first borns heirs are written out.
    – Distic
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 16:37
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    "Modern property inheritance is - largely - arbitrary given a valid will exists" - This is true in the US and England&Wales. It is false in Scotland and most of Europe. (The degree of falsity varies by country.) Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 13:22

From Socialist point of view there was little difference. The both forms made people rich and powerful without labor or other kind of merit - just by the birth.

As such, they saw Capitalism only as a little improvement over Feudalism, the both regimes being rule of wealthy minority over poor majority by the right acquired with inheritance.

The right of inheritance was very much limited in the USSR: only close relatives could inherit property. Inherited real estate should be sold if not used (otherwise would be taken by the state). Very widespread was a practice to bequeath property to the state.

After the fall of Socialism in Russia one of the first measures of the new regime was to expand inheritance rights so to include the most distant relatives.

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    Which is why the families of USSR party bosses got to vacation in the West, get "Party" level medical care (which was orders of magnitude better than normal), shop in "forex" stores, have a large flat in the center of Moskow, get accepted to elite higher educational institutions on special quotas, etc... The power and priviledges enjoyed by USSR higher ups were more different from normal people there than those of rich people in the West compared to poor. Or why Beria (and many others) had the power to grab any woman they liked and rape her - something no billionaire in the West has the power.
    – user4012
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 1:06
  • @DVK these "privileges", even if existed, are far behind what a family of a medium-level company employee enjoys in the west (the flat in the center of Moscow even would not be their property and would not be inherited even as a rent permit). Regarding raping of women by Beria, if it is true would mean that he abused his power (what connection to inheritance whatsoever?)
    – Anixx
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 2:12
  • While I am not a socialist and their ideals are antithesis to my own you answer has merit when viewed through their eyes. However I think it would be improved with some references to back up your claims. Particularly Very widespread was a practice to bequeath property to the state. and they saw Capitalism only as a little improvement over Feudalism would benefit greatly from a third party reference. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 18:32

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