Last modified on 14 December 2014, at 11:00


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

The noun bourgeoisie and the adjective bourgeois, in sociology and political science are terms that describe a historical range of socio-economic classes.


19th centuryEdit

  • The code of the Bourgeoisie … is different from the Feudal code of the past, of the knightly classes, and of Chivalry; it is different from the Democratic code of the future—of brotherhood and of equality; it is the code of the Commercial age and its distinctive watchword is—property. The Respectability of today is the respectability of property. There is nothing so respectable as being well-off.
  • La haine du Bourgeois est le commencement de la vertu.
    • Hatred of the bourgeois is the beginning of wisdom.
    • Gustave Flaubert, Letter to George Sand, May 10, 1867.
  • The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity.
  • Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
  • “Most men live in order to make a living; when they have that, they live in order to make a good living; when they have that, they die. …
“This comment can be developed into a demonstration of human immortality. This demonstration could be stated as follows: It is the destiny of every human being to make a good living. If he dies before he does that, he has not fulfilled his destiny. …But if he makes a good living, then he has achieved his destiny, but the destiny of making a good living cannot be that he is supposed to die, but, on the contrary, that he is supposed to live well on his good living—ergo, man is immortal.”
  • Kierkegaard, Judge William describing A’s view, Either-Or, H. Hong, trans. (1987), part 2, p. 279
  • The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley of ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value.
    • Karl Marx (1848), The Communist Manifesto, Section 1, paragraph 14, lines 1-5.
  • It’s the music in our conscience, the dance in our spirit, which wants to make all Puritan litanies, all moral sermons, and petty bourgeois respectability sound out of tune.
    • Nietzsche (1886) Beyond Good and Evil, I. Johnston, trans., § 216.
  • The conversation of the true bourgeois about men and life, which is no more than a collection of ugly details, brings on a profound attack of spleen when I am obliged out of propriety to listen to it for any length of time.
    • Stendhal (1835–1836), The Life of Henry Brulard, J. Sturrock, trans., p. 223.

20th century, first halfEdit

  • The Steppenwolf stood entirely outside the world of convention, since he had neither family life nor social ambitions. He felt himself to be single and alone, whether as a queer fellow and a hermit in poor health, or as a person removed from the common run of men by the prerogative of talents that had something of genius in them. Deliberately, he looked down upon the ordinary man and was proud that he was not one. Nevertheless his life in many aspects was thoroughly ordinary. … He was secretly and persistently attracted to the little bourgeois world, to those quiet and respectable homes with tidy gardens, irreproachable stair-cases and their whole modest air of order and comfort. It pleased him to set himself outside it, with his little vices and extravagances, as a queer fellow or a genius, but he never had his domicile in those provinces of life where the bourgeoisie had ceased to exist. He was not at ease with violent and exceptional persons or with criminals and outlaws, and he took up his abode always among the middle classes, with whose habits and standards and atmosphere he stood in a constant relation, even though it might be one of contrast and revolt.
    • Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, B. Creighton, trans., (New York: 1990), pp. 50-51.
  • What we call bourgeois, when regarded as an element always to be found in human life, is nothing else than the search for a balance. It is the striving after a mean between the countless extremes and opposites that arise in human conduct. If we take any one of these coupled opposites, such as piety and profligacy, the analogy is immediately comprehensible. It is open to a man to give himself up wholly to spiritual views, to seeking after God, to the ideal of saintliness. On the other hand, he can equally give himself up entirely to the life of instinct, to the lusts of the flesh, and so direct all his efforts to the attainment of momentary pleasures. The one path leads to the saint, to the martyrdom of the spirit and surrender to God. The other path leads to the profligate, to the martyrdom of the flesh, the surrender to corruption. Now it is between the two, in the middle of the road, that the bourgeois seeks to walk. .... He strives neither for the saintly nor its opposite. The absolute is his abhorrence. He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots. He is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well. In short, his aim is to make a home for himself between two extremes in a temperate zone without violent storms and tempests; and in this he succeeds though it be at the cost of that intensity of life and feeling which an extreme life affords. A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self (rudimentary as his may be). And so at the cost of intensity he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule.
    • Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, B. Creighton, trans., (New York: 1990), pp. 51-52.
  • Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes dissimilar things comparable by reducing them to abstract quantities. For the Enlightenment, anything which cannot be resolved into numbers, and ultimately into one, is illusion; modern positivism consigns it to poetry.
    • Horkheimer and Adorno (1947) Dialectic of Enlightenment, E. Jephcott, trans. 1972, p. 4.
  • With the spread of the bourgeois commodity economy the dark horizon of myth is illuminated by the sun of calculating reason, beneath whose icy rays the seeds of the new barbarism are germinating.
    • Horkheimer and Adorno (1947) Dialectic of Enlightenment, E. Jephcott, trans. 1972, p. 25.
  • If there were no politics, then all the bourgeois would have to fill him would be his inner life, i.e., nothing.
    • Karl Kraus (1874–1936), Dicta and Contradicta, J. McVity, trans. (2001), #393.
  • Towards this fine honor of a trade converged all the finest, all the most noble sentiments—dignity, pride. Never ask anything of anyone, they used to say. … In those days a workman did not know what it was to solicit. It is the bourgeoisie who, turning the workmen into bourgeois, have taught them to solicit.
    • Charles Péguy, Basic Verities, A. & J. Green, trans. (New York: 1943), p. 83.
  • The man of culture finds the whole past relevant; the bourgeois and the barbarian find relevant only what has some pressing connection with their appetite.
  • The bourgeoisie first betrayed society through capitalism and finance, and now labor betrays it by embracing a scheme of things which sees profit only, not duty and honor, in work.

20th century, second halfEdit

  • Advancing bourgeois society liquidates memory, time, recollection as irrational leftovers of the past.
    • Theodor Adorno, “Was bedeutet Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit” (1959).
  • The bourgeois … is tolerant. His love for people as they are stems from his hatred of what they might be.
  • On bourgeois ground … change is impossible anyway even if it were desired. In fact, bourgeois interest would like to draw every other interest opposed to it into its own failure; so, in order to drain the new life, it makes its own agony apparently fundamental, apparently ontological. The futility of bourgeois existence is extended to be that of the human situation in general, of existence per se.
    • Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope (1959), N. Plaice, trans. (1986), p. 4.
  • Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 59.
  • In America we have only the bourgeoisie, and the love of the heroic is one of the few counterpoises available to us. In us the contempt for the heroic is only an extension of the perversion of the democratic principle that denies greatness and wants everyone to feel comfortable in his skin without having to suffer unpleasant comparisons. Students have not the slightest notion of what an achievement it is to free oneself from public guidance and find resources for guidance within oneself.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 66-67.
  • [Rock and the intellectual Left] must both be interpreted as parts of the cultural fabric of late capitalism. Their success comes from the bourgeois’ need to feel that he is not bourgeois.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 78.
  • Continental thinkers have been obsessed with bourgeois man as representing the worst and most contemptible failure of modernity, which must at all costs be overcome. Nihilism in its most palpable sense means that the bourgeois has won, that the future, all foreseeable futures, belong to him, that all heights above him and all depths beneath him are illusory and that life is not worth living on these terms.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 157-158.
  • Americans … do not naturally apply the term “bourgeois” to themselves, or to anyone else for that matter. They do like to call themselves middle class, but that does not carry with it any determinate spiritual content. … The term “middle class” does not have any of the many opposites that bourgeois has, such as aristocrat, saint, hero, or artist—all good.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 158.
  • Locke had illegitimately selected those parts of man he needed for his social contract and suppressed all the rest, a theoretically unsatisfactory procedure and a practically costly one. The bourgeois is the measure of the price paid, he who most of all cannot afford to look to his real self, who denies the existence of the thinly boarded-over basement in him, who is most made over for the purposes of a society that does not even promise him perfection or salvation but merely buys him off.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 177.
  • The bourgeois is selfish, but without the purity and simplicity of natural selfishness. … His faithfulness to others and his obedience to law are founded on expectation of gain. … Thus he corrupts morality, the essence of which is to exist for its own sake. The bourgeois satisfies neither extreme, nature or morality. The moral demand is merely an abstract ideal if it asks for what nature cannot give. Brutish selfishness would be preferable to sham morality.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), p. 185.
  • Utilitarianism had found [in Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help] its portrait gallery of heroes, inscribed with a vigorous exhortation to all men to strive in their image; this philistine romanticism established the bourgeois hero-prototype—the penniless office-boy who works his way to economic fortune and this wins his way into the mercantile plutocracy.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 12.
  • When the bourgeoisie sees power slipping from its grasp, it has recourse to fascism to maintain itself.
  • Nietzsche, driven by the absolute demand of his existential truthfulness, could not abide the bourgeois world, even when its representative had human nobility.
    • Karl Jaspers, Nietzsche, C. Walraff and F. Schmitz, trans. (Baltimore: 1997).
  • While this bourgeois order found its rich—and even affirmative—representation in art and literature, … it remained an order which was over-shadowed, broken, refuted by another dimension which was irreconcilably antagonistic to the order of business, indicting it and denying it. And in the literature, this other dimension is represented not by the religious, spiritual, moral heroes (who often sustain the established order) but rather by such disruptive characters as the artist. the prostitute, the adulteress, the great criminal and outcast, the warrior, the rebel-poet, the devil, the fool—those who don't earn a living, at least not in an orderly and normal way.
    To be sure, these characters have not disappeared from the literature of advanced industrial society, but they … perform a function very different from and even contrary to that of their cultural predecessors. They are no longer images of another way of life but rather freaks or types of the same life, serving as an affirmation rather than negation of the established order.
  • The term bourgeois I use following Flaubert, not Marx. Bourgeois in Flaubert's sense is a state of mind, not a state of pocket. A bourgeois is a smug philistine, a dignified vulgarian. … The character I have in view when I say "smug vulgarian" is, thus, not the part-time philistine, but the total type, the genteel bourgeois, the complete universal product of triteness and mediocrity. He is the conformist, the man who conforms to his group, and he also is typified by something else: he is a pseudo-idealist, he is pseudo-compassionate, he is pseudo-wise.
    • Vladimir Nabokov, “Philistines and Philistinism,” in Lectures on Russian Literature (1981).
  • In classical cultures, an ascended class had to justify itself before those now below in the social structure. But the culture revolution of our time has eliminated this need for class- as well as self-justification. Nevertheless, those below still seek to emulate the ascendant social class, without being convinced of its superiority.
    • Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966), chapter 2.
  • The one version of the bourgeois comprises the artisan, the trader, the official, the financier, and the entrepreneur, all of whom, in their own way, can claim to know what labor is. Juxtaposed to them from the beginning, stands a type of bourgeois who does research, writes poetry, composes and makes music, and philosophizes and who believes that these activities develop a world that is self-sufficient. It is obvious that these two fractions of the bourgeois ego get on only superficially and come together only in the hollow connection of property and cultivation. They create the century-long tension between the good and the evil bourgeois, the idealist and the exploiter, the visionary and the pragmatist, the ideally liberated bourgeois and the laboring bourgeois. This tension remains as inexhaustible as that between the world of work and “freedom” in general.
    • Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, M. Eldred, trans. (1987), pp. 63-64.

21st centuryEdit

  • The bourgeois thinkers of the eighteenth century thus turned Aristotle’s formula on its head: satisfactions which the Greek philosopher had identified with leisure were now transposed to the sphere of work, while tasks lacking in any financial reward were drained of all significance and left to the haphazard attentions of decadent dilettantes. It now seemed as impossible that one could be happy and unproductive as it had once seemed unlikely that one could work and be human.
  • the European bourgeoisie took the momentous steps of co-opting on behalf of both marriage and work the pleasures hitherto pessimistically—or perhaps realistically—confined, by aristocrats, to the subsidiary realms of the love affair and the hobby.

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