In his SEP-article on Richard Rorty, Bjorn Ramberg on two occasions mentions bourgeois liberalism without offering any details of what Rorty or others mean by it. I have never come across this expression as a technical term before. Any clarifications on what bourgeois liberalism consists in would be appreciated.

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    See Rorty, Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism.
    – Conifold
    Dec 24, 2020 at 10:45
  • The doi of the paper is 10.2307/2026153 -- you can enter that into sci-hub.st to get past the paywall, but note this site is of questionable legality (though it's regularly used by academics, see discussion on the academia stack exchange)
    – Hypnosifl
    Dec 24, 2020 at 19:58
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    It is usually a term of opprobrium from the Marxists, yes, but is important to grasp that it should be a term of opprobrium from true conservatives too. This is why comprehending Kommerell is important. Today a true conservative may be harder to find than a true Marxist. If you live in the USA you are liberal bourgeoisie, but we are entering a fluid time.
    – Gordon
    Dec 25, 2020 at 15:01
  • I should say, if you live in the USA you are probably liberal bourgeoisie at the end of the day.
    – Gordon
    Dec 25, 2020 at 15:04
  • The liberal has no compunction against falling into fascism no matter what he may say during "good times" so that liberalism is the best friend of capitalism in good times, and fascism is the last resort of capitalism in bad times, the liberal will follow right along. The true consetvative should not fall into fascism, but they do at times because they are dominated by Super Ego (usually Father) pulling them toward authoritarianism.
    – Gordon
    Dec 25, 2020 at 15:33

3 Answers 3


The bourgeoise, of course, is the generic term for the merchant or commercial classes that rose to power when the "Bourgeoise Revolutions" in England, France, and America overturned the feudal/monarchical regimes, replacing them with constitutional governments.

Liberalism is a broad term extending from the liberal "rights" espoused by Locke to the liberalized markets described by Adam Smith. So, "bourgeois liberalism" describes the mix of democratic constitutions, "free market" capitalism, and legal "rights" characteristic of most Western nations today, whether conservative or socially "liberal" in the contemporary political sense.

Because this is generally a term of opprobrium to marxists and other socialists, I believe Rorty employs it with a dash of irony, signaling that his approval of these institutions is a considered, pragmatic stance, with full awareness of the leftist critiques against them.


The bourgeoisie, historically speaking, were a rough 17th-18th century equivalent to the modern upper middle class: people who made a decent amount of wealth from financial, commercial, or trade interests, who represent a class separate from shopkeepers and workers, but still below the socio-political level of the landed aristocracy. The typifying attitude of the bourgeois class was: "I've earned my wealth and deserve the fruits of it." In the early days of Liberalism this was something of a battle cry leveled again the (heritable) power of the aristocracy. In fact, our modern term 'property' (as in wealth) comes from Locke's philosophical argument that ownership is a natural (i.e. analytic) property of human beings stemming from the investment of labor in the natural world. If one puts in the labor to grow a crop, for example, one 'owns' that crop and all the proceeds derived from it in the same way that one 'owns' one's body; it is as immoral to sever a man's property from him as it is to sever his arm or leg.

As we moved into the 19th century, this ideal of Liberalism took on a distinctly unsavory cast. It's one thing to say "I earned this so it's mine" when confronting a landed aristocracy that subsisted entirely on taxation, but it's another thing entirely to say "I earned this so it's mine" when confronting a collection of workers who do the actual labor that produces what one claims to have earned. Marx and the people influenced by him (such as Rorty) tend to use 'bourgeois' as a token of hypocrisy: of someone concealing selfishness and greed behind a mantle of philosophically noble ideals like equality and freedom. The term 'bourgeois liberalism', thus, points at that distinctly Orwellian double-think: 'all (of us) are equal, but some are more equal than others.'


This bourgeois liberalism is exactly what we have now. Even the young American Marxists never read Marx, but they do order from Amazon.

It simply means there is no right and no wrong. It's dollar governed. If you have money you can go yo Disney World no matter who you are, for example.

Today it either ends in Nihilism or fascism or both. It is really a form of Nihilism. It ends up moving toward fascism because if capitalism really is in decay due to climate change and resource depletion, then even the mainstream Biden voter, for example, must move toward fascism to preserve the financial markets and to further enslave labor ie squeeze more profit out of labor.

Read the Wikipedia on Max Kommerell for a criticism from the conservative side.

NB what about the people who do know the difference between right and wrong? The real Left and the true conservatives. This next paragraph is instructive:

Burgfriedenspolitik (German: [ˈbʊʁkfʁiːdn̩s.poliˌtiːk]), literally "castle peace politics" but more accurately a political policy of "party truce", is a German term used for the political truce the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the other political parties agreed to during World War I. The trade unions refrained from striking, the SPD voted for war credits in the Reichstag and the parties agreed not to criticize the government and its war Wikipedia

The King, Father, lives in the castle. The father doesn’t have to be male. It’s the “father idea” that is operative.

To know right and wrong means some internal dominance by Super Ego. The true conservative of course can fall into rigid authority, but so can the socialist. Hence they are always at risk of falling into line behind FATHER. Internal father. Authority. The Super Ego.

In fact, Freud used the Socialists as an example, pointing out their tendency to self-defeat at the last minute. Note the vote of war credits for the Kaiser for WWI by the SPD! Probably the most infamous day in socialist history. And then later, after WWI, during the socialist revolution in Germany, the SPD Leader was in secret contact with the reactionary Right. The socialists defeated themselves.

The chances for human liberation seem very slight because even the best people in society cannot communicate “without fear” (we think of Habermas here). It is not just external threats of violence that we fear, but the internal threat of Super Ego (and the Super Ego is just bad history passed down by the parent. Ultimately it is too rigid).

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