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The bourgeoisie is one of the wealthy classes into which a 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 of society which owns the means of production. Marxism sees the proletariat and bourgeoisie as inherently opposed, since (for example) factory workers automatically wish wages to be as high as possible, while owners wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible.

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.

In the 20th century some sub-classes were indicated to sharpen the definition, with a "high bourgeoisie" composed of the richest classes (industrialists, major traders, etc.), a "middle bourgeoisie" (owners of solid patrimonies or incomes, but less rich than the previous ones), and a "little bourgeoisie" (petty bourgeoisie) composed of the workers (workmen or employees) depending on the other two sub-classes and with a sufficient income to be also (or "still") consumers. In this vision, the proletariat would then be the remnant lowest class (the poor). This version of the word bourgeoisie completely ignores the original focus of ownership of the means of production. This vision, however, is not common to all economists.

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