The Middle Class: A discussion on the origins and usage of the term 'the middle class'

Essay by goaltender11111College, UndergraduateA+, April 2004

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In France during medieval times, a separate group emerged that were not quite peasants, but at the same time were not exactly nobility. They were originally called the bourgeoisie. This new group was right in the middle of the two classes. During the medieval time period, according to the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, the bourgeoisie were normally comprised of "merchants, trades people, artisans, and later bankers and entrepreneurs." Eventually, with the rise of the towns as an important center for activity, the bourgeoisie became important as economic and social classes.

Following the end of the Middle Ages, the bourgeoisie's influence became larger, as they normally supported the new ruling monarchs. They usually found themselves at the forefront of science, technology, and social change. However, by the 17th century, they found themselves supporting the principles of natural rights and constitutionally run governments. Before the 20th century, this class was easy to spot.

The lines between the lower class, the bourgeoisie, and the nobility, or upper class, were clearly drawn. However, starting in the 20th century and continuing on to today, the lines drawn between the classes are harder to see and define. This is especially true of the middle class, no longer called the bourgeoisie, because the phrase has a broad, sweeping meaning.

The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder tries to define this phrase, but falls short of its true definition. According to the Reader's Digest, the term "middle class" is, "The class of society between the upper and lower, including professionals and business workers" (945). This definition is vague. To understand the meaning to its fullest, one must go to the definition of the upper and lower classes. These definitions are just as unclear as the definition of the middle class. It basically says that the upper class is, "the...