The bourgeoisie is a polysemous French term that can mean:
- a sociologically defined class, especially in contemporary times, referring to people with a certain cultural and financial capital belonging to the middle or upper stratum of the middle class: the upper (haute), middle (moyenne), and petty(petite) bourgeoisie (which are collectively designated “the bourgeoisie”); an affluent and often opulent stratum of the middle class who stand opposite the proletariat class.
- originally and generally, “those who live in the borough”, that is to say, the people of the city (including merchants and craftsmen), as opposed to those of rural areas; in this sense, the bourgeoisie began to grow in Europe from the 11th century and particularly during the Renaissance of the 12th century, with the first developments of rural exodus and urbanization.
- a legally defined class of the Middle Ages to the end of the Ancien Régime (Old Regime) in France, that of inhabitants having the rights of citizenship and political rights in a city (comparable to the German term Bürgertum and Bürger; see also “Burgher”).
The “bourgeoisie” in its original sense is intimately linked to the existence of cities recognized as such by their urban charters (e.g. municipal charter, town privileges, German town law), so there was no bourgeoisie “outside the walls of the city” beyond which the people were “peasants” submitted to the stately courts and manorialism (except for the traveling “fair bourgeoisie” living outside urban territories, who retained their city rights and domicile).
In Marxist philosophy, the bourgeoisie is the social class that came to own the means of production during modern industrialization and whose societal concerns are the value of property and the preservation of capital to ensure the perpetuation of their economic supremacy in society. Joseph Schumpeter saw the incorporation of new elements into an expanding bourgeoisie, particularly entrepreneurs who took risks to bring innovation to industries and the economy through the process of creative destruction, as the driving force behind the capitalist engine.