Bourgeoisie

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Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the title character in the play by Molière.

In sociology and in political science, the noun bourgeoisie (Fr.: [buʁ.ʒwa'zi] | Eng.: /bʊərʒwɑːˈz/) and the adjective bourgeois are terms that describe a historical range of socio-economic classes. As such, in the Western world, since the late 18th century, the bourgeoisie describes a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital, and their related culture"; hence, the personal terms bourgeois (masculine) and bourgeoise (feminine) culturally identify the man or woman who is a member of the wealthiest social class in capitalist societies.[1]

In contemporary academic theories, the term bourgeoisie usually refers to the ruling class in capitalist societies. In Marxist theory, the abiding characteristics of this class are their ownership of the means of production.[2]

Contents

Etymology

In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670), the 17th-century French playwright Molière (1622–73) catalogued the social-class essence of the bourgeoisie. (Portrait by Nicolas Mignard, 1658)

The Modern French word bourgeois derived from the Old French burgeis (walled city), which derived from bourg (market town), from the Old Frankish burg (town); in other European languages, the etymologic derivations are the Middle English burgeis, the Middle Dutch burgher, the German Bürger (burgess), and the Polish burżuazja, which occasionally is synonymous with the intelligentsia.[3] In English, “bourgeoisie” (a French citizen-class) identified a social class oriented to economic materialism and hedonism, and to upholding the extreme political and economic interests of the capitalist class ruling class.[4] In the 18th century, before the French Revolution (1789–99), in the French feudal order, the masculine and feminine terms bourgeois and bourgeoise identified the rich men and women who were members of the urban and rural Third Estate — the common people of the French realm, who violently deposed the absolute monarchy of the Bourbon King Louis XVI (r. 1774–91), his clergy, and his aristocrats. Hence, since the 19th century, the term "bourgeoisie" usually is politically and sociologically synonymous with the ruling upper class of a capitalist society.[5]

Historically, the mediæval French word bourgeois denoted the inhabitants of the bourgs (walled market-towns), the craftsmen, artisans, merchants, and others, who constituted "the bourgeoisie", they were the socio-economic class between the peasants and the landlords, between the workers and the owners of the means of production. Resultantly, as the economic managers of the (raw) materials, the goods, and the services, and thus the capital (money) produced by the feudal economy, the term "bourgeoisie" evolved to also denote the middle class — the businessmen and businesswomen who accumulated, administered, and controlled the capital that made possible the development of the bourgs into cities.[6]

Contemporarily, the terms "bourgeoisie" and "bourgeois" identify the ruling class in capitalist societies, as a social stratum; while "bourgeois" describes the Weltanschauung (worldview) of men and women whose way of thinking is socially and culturally determined by their economic materialism and philistinism, a social identity catalogued and described in drame bourgeois (bourgeois drama), which satirizes buying the trappings of a noble-birth identity as the means climbing the social ladder.[7][8] (See: Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, 1670)

History

The 16th century German banker Jacob Fugger and his principal accountant, M. Schwarz, registering an entry to a ledger. The background shows a file cabinet indicating the European cities where the Fugger Banker conducts business. (1517)
Origins and rise

In the 11th century, the bourgeoisie emerged as a historical and political phenomenon, when the bourgs of Central and Western Europe developed into cities dedicated to commerce. The organised economic concentration that made possible such urban expansion derived from the protective self-organisation into guilds, which became necessary when individual businessmen (craftsmen, artisans, merchants, et alii) conflicted with their rent-seeking feudal landlords who demanded greater-than-agreed rents. In the event, by the end of the Middle Ages (ca. AD 1500), under régimes of the early national monarchies of Western Europe, the bourgeoisie acted in self-interest, and politically supported the king or the queen against the legal and financial disorder caused by the greed of the feudal lords. In the late-16th and early 17-th centuries, the bourgeoisies of England and the Netherlands had become the financial — and thus political — forces that deposed the feudal order; economic power had vanquished military power in the realm of politics.[6]

From progress to reaction

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the bourgeoisie were the politically progressive social class who supported the principles of constitutional government and of natural right, against the Law of Privilege and the claims of rule by divine right that the nobles and prelates had autonomously exercised during the feudal order. The motivations for the English Civil War (1642–51), the American War of Independence (1775–83), and French Revolution (1789–99) partly derived from the desire of the bourgeoisie to rid themselves of the feudal trammels and royal encroachments upon their personal liberty, commercial rights, and the ownership of property. In the 19th century, the bourgeoisie propounded liberalism, and gained political rights, religious rights, and civil liberties for themselves and the lower social classes; thus was the bourgeoisie then a progressive philosophic and political force in modern Western societies.

By the middle of the 19th century, subsequent to the Industrial Revolution (1750–1850), the great expansion of the bourgeoisie social class caused its self-stratification — by business activity and by economic function — into the haute bourgeoisie (bankers and industrialists) and the petite bourgeoisie (tradesmen and white-collar workers). Moreover, by the end of the 19th century, the capitalists (the original bourgeoisie) had ascended to the upper class (people whose money works for them), whilst the developments of technology and the technical occupations thereby engendered, allowed the ascension of working-class men and women to the lower strata of the bourgeoisie; yet the social progress was incidental.

In the event, despite its initial philosophic progressivism — from feudalism to liberalism to capitalism — like all ruling political establishments, the bourgeoisie social class (haute and petite) became reactionary in their refusal to allow the ascendance (economic, social, political) of people from the proletariat (peasants and urban workers) in order to remain predominant, as the political Establishment of their society.[6]

Denotations

The 19th-century German intellectual K.H. Marx (1818–83) identified and described the bourgeoisie as an economic class of great societal influence.
The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie

In the Middle Ages (CE 500–1500), the bourgeois usually was a self-employed businessman — proprietor, merchant, banker, entrepreneur, et alii — whose economic role in society was being the financial intermediary to the feudal landlord and the peasant who worked the fief, the land of the lord. Yet, by the 18th century, the time of the Industrial revolution (1750–1850) and of industrial capitalism, the bourgeoisie had become the economic ruling class who owned the means of production (capital and land), and who controlled the means of coercion (armed forces and legal system, police forces and prison system). In such a society, the bourgeoisie’s ownership of the means of production enabled their employment and exploitation of the wage-earning working class (urban and rural), people whose sole economic means is labour; and the bourgeois control of the means of coercion suppressed the socio-political challenges of the lower classes, and so preserved the economic status quo; workers remained workers, and employers remained employers.[9]

In the 19th century, the German economist Karl Marx distinguished two types of bourgeois capitalist: (i) the functional capitalist, the business administrator of the means of production; and (ii) the rentier capitalist whose livelihood derives either from the rent of property or from the interest-income produced by finance capital, or both.[10] In the course of economic relations, the working class and the bourgeoisie continually engage in class struggle, wherein the capitalists exploit the workers, whilst the workers resist their economic exploitation, which occurs because the worker owns no means of production, and, to earn a living, he or she seeks employment from the bourgeois capitalist; the worker produces goods and services that are property of the employer, who sells them for a price. The money generated by the sale of the goods and services yields three sums (i) the wages of the worker, (ii) the costs of production, and (iii) profit (surplus value). Thereby, the capitalist profits (makes extra money) by selling the surplus value of the labour of the workers; hence is new wealth created through work.

Besides describing the social class who own the means of production, the Marxist usage of the term "bourgeois" also describes the consumerist style of life derived from the ownership of capital and real property. As an economist Karl Marx acknowledged the bourgeois industriousness that created wealth, yet criticised the moral hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie when they ignored the true origins of their wealth — the exploitation of the proletariat, the urban and rural workers. Further sense denotations of “bourgeois” describe ideologic concepts such as “bourgeois freedom”, which is opposed to substantive forms of freedom; “bourgeois independence”; “bourgeois personal individuality”; the “bourgeois family”; et cetera, all derived from owning capital and property. (See: The Communist Manifesto, 1848)

The state bourgeoisie

In the 20th century, communist states developed the nomenklatura, a state bourgeoisie constituted by the bureaucrats who administrated the country’s government, industry, agriculture, education, system of state capitalism, et cetera. Moreover, anarchism occasionally describes all important state leaders and functionaries as part of the state bourgeoisie who control the private and public means of production in a state.[citation needed]

Modern history

Fascist Italy

The Italian fascist régime (1922–45) of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini regarded the bourgeoisie as an obstacle to Modernism in aid to transforming Italian society.[11] Nonetheless, despite such intellectual and social hostility, the Fascist State ideologically exploited the Italian bourgeoisie and their materialistic, middle-class spirit, for the more efficient cultural manipulation of the upper (aristocratic) and the lower (working) classes of Italy.

In 1938, Mussolini gave a speech wherein he established a clear ideological distinction between capitalism (the social function of the bourgeoisie) and the bourgeoisie (as a social class), whom he dehumanized by reducing into high-level abstractions: a moral category and a state of mind.[11] Culturally and philosophically, Mussolini isolated the bourgeoisie from Italian society by portraying them as social parasites upon the Fascist Italian State and “The People”; as a social class who drained the human potential of Italian society, in general, and of the working class, in particular; as exploiters who victimized the Italian nation with an approach to life characterised by hedonism and materialism.[11] Nevertheless, despite the slogan The Fascist Man Disdains the «Comfortable» Life, which epitomized the anti-bourgeois principle, in its final years of power, for mutual benefit and profit, the Mussolini Fascist régime transcended ideology in order to merge the political and financial interests of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini with the political and financial interests of the bourgeoisie, the Catholic social circles who constituted the ruling class of Italy.

The fascists argued that as a materialist creature, the bourgeois man was against religion. To establish a distinction between the supernatural faith of the Roman Catholic Church and the materialist faith of temporal religion, in The Autarchy of Culture: Intellectuals and Fascism in the 1930s, the priest Giuseppe Marino said:

Christianity is essentially anti-bourgeois . . . A Christian, a true Christian, and thus a Catholic, is the opposite of a bourgeois.[12]

In Bonifica antiborghese (1939), Roberto Paravese claimed:

Middle class, middle man, incapable of great virtue or great vice: and there would be nothing wrong with that, if only he would be willing to remain as such; but, when his child-like or feminine tendency to camouflage pushes him to dream of grandeur, honours, and thus riches, which he cannot achieve honestly with his own “second-rate” powers, then the average man compensates with cunning, schemes, and mischief; he kicks out ethics, and becomes a bourgeois.


The bourgeois is the average man who does not accept to remain such, and who, lacking the strength sufficient for the conquest of essential values — those of the spirit — opts for material ones, for appearances.[13]

The economic security, financial freedom, and social mobility of the bourgeoisie threatened the philosophic integrity of Italian Fascism, the ideologic monolith that was the régime of Benito Mussolini. Any assumption of legitimate political power (government and rule) by the bourgeoisie represented a Fascist loss of totalitarian State power for social control through political unity — one people, one nation, one leader. Sociologically, to the fascist man, to become a bourgeois was a character flaw inherent to the masculine mystique; therefore, the ideology of Italian Fascism scornfully defined the bourgeois man as “spiritually castrated”.[13]

Modern economies

In the modern developed countries there is less distinction between "bourgeois" and "proletariat", with most citizens assuming aspects of both roles. Most workers are also capitalist shareholders in many public companies either through their own savings plans or through state-operated pension plans. The majority of Americans now categorize themselves as part of the American middle class.

Bourgeois culture

The German cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) identified the cluttered sitting-room as the bourgeois’s success as businessman and conspicuous consumer.
The bourgeoisie in theatre, literature, and cinema

The comedy-ballet play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-be Gentleman, 1670) by Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) satirized the nouveau riche businessman who buys his way up the social-class scale, in order to realise his aspirations of becoming a gentleman, someone who, in 17th-century France, was a man born to the social-class role, not a self-made social climber. The prototype bourgeois is Monsieur Jourdain, the protagonist who studies dancing, fencing, and philosophy, the trappings and accomplishments of a gentleman, in order to pose as a man of noble birth.[8][14]

Buddenbrooks (1901), by Thomas Mann (1875–1955), chronicles the moral decay of a rich family through its declines, material and spiritual, in the course of four generations, beginning with the patriarch Johann Buddenbrook Sr. and his son, Johann Buddenbrook Jr., who are typically successful German businessmen; each is a reasonable man of solid character. Yet, in the children of Buddenbrook Jr., the materially comfortable style of life provided by the dedication to solid, middle-class values elicits decadence: The fickle daughter, Toni, lacks and seeks no purpose in life; son Christian is honestly decadent, and lives the life of a ne’er-do-well; and the businessman son, Thomas, who assumes command of the Buddenbrook family fortune, occasionally falters from middle-class solidity by being interested in art and philosophy, the impractical life of the mind, which, to the bourgeoisie, is the epitome of social, moral, and material decadence.[15][16][17]

Babbitt (1922), by Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951), satirizes the American bourgeois George Follansbee Babbitt, a middle-aged realtor, booster, and joiner in the Midwestern city of Zenith, who—despite being unimaginative, self-important, and hopelessly conformist and middle-class—is aware that there must be more to life than money and the consumption of the best things that money can buy. Nevertheless, he fears being excluded from the mainstream of society more than he does living for himself, by being true to himself; thus, his heart-felt flirtations with independence, dabbling in liberal politics and a love affair with a pretty widow, come to nought, because he is afraid. Yet, Babbitt sublimates his desire for self-respect and does encourage his son to rebel against the conformity that results from bourgeois prosperity, by recommending that he be true to himself: “Don’t be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I’ve been.”[18]

The cinema of the Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900–83) examines and analyses the bourgeois mentality and the life it provides for its practitioners:

The pejorative “bourgeois”

In the U.S., beyond the realms of political economy, history, and political science, the sociological terms bourgeois and bourgeoise are colloquially applied to describe the social stereotype of the nouveau riche man and woman who is a politically timid conformist who is satisfied with a wealthy, consumerist style of life that is characterised by conspicuous consumption and continual striving for prestige.[21][22]

See also

References

  1. ^ Bourgeois Society
  2. ^ Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com. "bourgeoisie". Random House, Inc.. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bourgeoisie. Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  3. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology C.T. Onions, Editor (1995) p. 110.
  4. ^ Oxford English Reference Dictionary Second Edition (1996) p. 196.
  5. ^ Dictionary of Historical Terms Chris Cook, Editor (1983) p. 267.
  6. ^ a b c “Bourgeoisie”, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. (1994) p. 0000.
  7. ^ Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia Third Edition (1987) p. 118, p. 759.
  8. ^ a b Molière, ed. Warren 1899
  9. ^ The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850, Works of Karl Marx, 1850
  10. ^ A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, T.B. Bottomore, p. 272
  11. ^ a b c Bellassai, Sandro (2005). "The Masculine Mystique: Anti-Modernism and Virility in Fascist Italy". Journal of Modern Italian Studies 3: 314–335. 
  12. ^ Marino, Giuseppe Carlo (1983) L'autarchia della cultura. Intellettuali e fascismo negli anni trenta, Roma: Editori Riuniti.
  13. ^ a b Paravese, Roberto (1939) "Bonifica antiborghese", in Edgardo Sulis (ed.), Processo alla borghesia, Roma: Edizioni Roma, pp. 51–70.
  14. ^ Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia Third Edition (1987) p. 118, p. 512.
  15. ^ Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (Third ed.). 1987. pp. 118, 137. 
  16. ^ Neider, Charles (1968). The Stature of Thomas Mann. 
  17. ^ Beutin, Wolfgang (1993). A history of German Literature: From the Beginnings to the Present Day. London: Routledge. p. 433. ISBN 0-415-06034-6. 
  18. ^ Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (Third ed.). 1987. p. 65. 
  19. ^ see this review by Roger Ebert
  20. ^ Kinder (ed.) 1999
  21. ^ Zinn, Howard (1980). A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060907924. 
  22. ^ Beckert, Sven (2001). "Propertied of Different Kind: Bourgeoisie and Lower Middle Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States". In Bledstein, Burton J.; Johnston, Robert D.. The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415926416. 

Further reading

External links