Bourgeois considerations in United States

January 23, 2014

The word bourgeois derives from the Old French; specifically, bourg, meaning a citizen of a town.  Bourgeois is variously described as (1)  A person belonging to the middle class; (2) A person whose attitudes and behavior are marked by conformity to the standards and conventions of the middle class; (3) In Marxist theory, a member of the property-owning class; a capitalist and, (4) Someone with a conservative or materialistic outlook.

In 11th-century Europe, the bourgeoisie emerged as a historical phenomenon when the bourgs of Europe developed into cities dedicated to commerce.  These industrious people formed guilds made up of craftsmen, artisans and businessmen who conflicted with their feudal landlords.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, the bourgeoisie became a political social class which led to the demise of the feudal system.  After the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the newbourgeoisie began acquiring wealth, education and influence; they evolved into an aspiring middle class.   The aristocracy was not pleased, to say the least.

The tectonic shift in wealth revolutionized the Western world.

Now switch to present-day America.  We hear, almost on a bi-weekly basis, the president talking about "growing" the middle class.  We had a strong middle class in America; it is the economic basis of our success as a society.  But it is systematically being destroyed, so I detect a forked tongue issuing from Washington.  Why talk about "growing" something we already have while crippling the people who build it?   How do manufacturers, shopkeepers, businessmen and builders survive the barrage of regulations, controls, taxes and fees levied on them? This new form of punishing the middle class in the name of economic parity reeks of the old distaste for the bourgeois.

Deirdre McCloskey, an economist from the University of Illinois and Erasmus University in Amsterdam, wrote a book named Bourgoise Virtues. She lists the virtues of economy, private property, respecting merit and viewing success without envy.  McCloskey says bourgeois virtues are not a contradiction.  “It is the way we live now, mainly, at work, on our good days, and the way we should live.”

Annette Silva


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