Monday, 24 June 2013

Middle Class Blues?

Brazil and Turkey are these days sharing a thread common to most emerging countries: the ire, voice and power of a newly established young urban middle class. On the face of it, you might have the impression that the young bourgeoisie has been caught by the middle class blues. Almost fifty years ago, at the dawn of the 1960s student revolts in Europe, Hans Magnus Enzensberger – one of my very favorite authors – tried to approach the middle class feelings in a fine poem that reflected WWII memories not so long gone:


Middle Class Blues

We can't complain.

We're not out of work.

We don't go hungry.

We eat.

The grass grows,

the social product,

the fingernail,

the past.

The streets are empty.

The deals are closed.

The sirens are silent.

All that will pass.

The dead have made their wills.

The rain's become a drizzle.

The war's not yet been declared.

There's no hurry for that.

We eat the grass.

We eat the social product.

We eat the fingernails.

We eat the past.

We have nothing to conceal.

We have nothing to miss.

We have nothing to say.

We have.

The watch has been wound up.

The bills have been paid.

The washing-up has been done.

The last bus is passing by.

It is empty.

We can't complain.

What are we waiting for?


Well, they are not waiting any longer. It is quite likely that the current protests, while destabilizing and weakening the affected governments in the short term, will be the start to stronger democracies and strengthen, rather than weaken, the rise of the emerging countries. Already Aristotle reflected “that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large […]; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.”[1] We may have concentrated so far too much on the economic implications of the middle class for the emerging markets and the world economy. Yet, since the late 18th century, Europe´s urban educated bourgeoisie has been ascribed a special political and sociological role in the revolutions away from feudalism toward democratic societies, not least by Karl Marx (Der 18. Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte) and Max Weber (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft).


I am reading them right now…

[1] Quote from Susanna Vogt, Globalisation from the Bottom Up: The Aspiring Middle Classes in Emerging Economies, KAS International Reports 12|2011, Berlin: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

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