- "Bourgeois" redirects here; for the composer with that name, see Derek Bourgeois.
Bourgeois in modern use refers to the wealthy classes in a capitalist society. It is a French word, derived from the Italian borghesia (from borgo, village, in turn from Greek pyrgos). A borghese, then, was a freeman of a burgh or town. The word evolved to mean merchants and traders, and later on referred to all persons in the broad socioeconomic spectrum between nobility and serfs.
In the early medieval age, as cities were forming and growing, artisans and tradesmen begin to emerge as an economic force. They formed guilds and companies to conduct business and promote their own interests. These people became the bourgeoisie. In the late Middle Ages, they combined with elements of the nobility in uprooting feudalism, and they became the ruling class. In the 17th and 18th century, they supported the American revolution and French revolution in uprooting nobility.
But the bourgeoisie were never without their detractors; narrowmindedness, materialism, hypocrisy, opposition to change, and lack of culture were a few of the negative characteristics attributed to them by Moliere and others. The word took on negative connotations, from which it still suffers today.
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In Karl Marx's class struggle theories, bourgeoisie is defined as the class in a commodity-producing capitalist society which owns the means of production; the term is effectively the same as "capitalists." However, Marx himself distinguished between "functioning capitalists" actually managing enterprises, and "mere coupon-clippers" earning property rents or interest-income. Marxism sees the proletariat (wage laborers) and bourgeoisie as directly waging an ongoing competition, in that capitalists exploit workers and workers try to resist exploitation.
In the rhetoric of several Communist parties, "bourgeois" becomes an insult; those who are perceived to collaborate with the bourgeoisie are often called its lackeys, but Marx himself primarily used the term "bourgeois" as an objective description of a social class and of a lifestyle, not as a pejorative. He admired its industriousness but excoriated it for moral hypocrisy.
Still, the use of the word by Marx's followers reinforced the word's prior negative connotations.
- The Communist Manifesto
- Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
- Libertarian Socialism
References related to Marxism and its derivatives
- Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 2: The Politics of Social Classes. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.
- Ralph Miliband, Class and class power in contemporary capitalism, in: Stanislaw Kozyr-Kowalski and Jacek Tittenbrun, On Social Differentiation. A Contribution to the Critique of Marxist Ideology, Part 2. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University Press, 1992, pp. 7–62.
- Ernest Mandel, Social differentiation in capitalist and postcapitalist societies, in: Stanislaw Kozyr-Kowalski and Jacek Tittenbrun, On Social Differentiation. A Contribution to the Critique of Marxist Ideology, Part 2. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University Press, 1992, pp. 63–91.
- Erik Olin Wright et al., The Debate on Classes. London: Verso, 1989.
- The Democratic State – A Critique of Bourgeois Sovereignty