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The bourgeoisie is one of the wealthy classes into which a capitalist society is typically divided, according to certain western schools of economic thought, especially Marxism. The term is a French word derived from the Italian borghesia (from borgo, village, in turn from Greek pyrgos). A borghese, then, was a person who had a house in the center of a village.

A bourgeois class emerged in medieval Italy, when the inhabitants of villages started to become wealthier than the people in the surrounding countryside. This gave them relatively more power and influence in society, moving them closer to the ruling classes and clergy, and further from the rural classes. The archetype of this mediaeval bourgeoisie was the mill owner, who rapidly acquired such great influence over the local economy that he was able to veto his prince.

In the following centuries, the term was better applied to define the first bankers and the people in developing activities such as trade and finance.


The bourgeoisie in Marxist theory

In Marxist theory, the bourgeoisie is defined as that class in commodity-producing capitalist society which owns the means of production; the term is effecively the same as "capitalists." Marxism sees the proletariat (wage-earners) and bourgeoisie as inherently opposed, since (for example) workers automatically wish wages to be as high as possible, while owners wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible—in other words, capitalists exploit the workers.

In the rhetoric of most radical Communist parties, "bourgeois" is an insult; those who are perceived to collaborate with the bourgeoisie are often called its lackeys.

If one only defines "owning the means of production" as a private individual having complete control over a particular means of production, there are very few members of the bourgeoisie left in modern 21st century capitalist society. In contemporary Marxist parlance, bourgeoisie refers to those who control corporate institutions through majority share holdings, options, trusts, funds, intermediaries or by making public statements regarding market transactions. This sense harks back to the Marxist interpretation of "ownership" as involving control or class power. In these terms a "capitalist" would be someone whose wealth results predominantly from investments, and thus does not need to work to live. In modern non-Marxist common parlance, the terms bourgeoisie and proletariat now refer to the more general concepts of rich and poor, and not specifically to owning or not owning the means of production.

Classes are not homogenous entities, and many analysts make use of "sub-classes" which are used to sharpen the definition of a particular group. These divisions often make use of the terms: "high bourgeoisie," a group composed of the richest classes (industrialists, major traders, etc.); "middle bourgeoisie," owners of solid patrimonies or incomes, but less rich than the high bourgeoisie; and, "little bourgeoisie" (petty bourgeoisie), composed of the independent entrepreneurs who hire few if any employees beyond their immediate families. For some, the petty bourgeoisie also includes members of the Marxian proletariat, while the "proletariat" then would be the remaining lowest class (the working poor). This version of the word bourgeoisie completely ignores the original focus of ownership of the means of production. This analysis is not common to all economists.

Bourgeois social values

Social values often associated, in a pejorative way, with the bourgeoisie are:

External Links

  • The Democratic State A Critique of Bourgeois Sovereignty

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Last updated: 02-05-2005 13:50:27
Last updated: 02-24-2005 14:50:12