Meritocracy needed to replace the old regime of privilege that allowed the nobility to rule on the basis of birth status, not only because the bourgeoisie wanted political and social recognition commensurate with their actual and potential contributions in all endeavors, as Sieyes wrote in the What is the Third Estate, but because they identified the national interest with their social order and regarded the backward-looking clergy and nobility (First and Second Estates) as more menacing enemies to the French nation than England. This was the birth of a new definition of progress, nationalism, and democracy, along with the nascent stage of bourgeois consciousness and value system.
Though other countries would aspire and emulate the Enlightenment’s definition of nationalism and democracy in the next two centuries, with each contracting cycle in the global economy there has been a corresponding crisis in the social and political structures on which 18th-century liberal democracy is rooted. Hence, the overriding concern of politicians and social elites to support sub-structures on which social order rests, fearing the inevitable socio-political turmoil if nothing is done.
The under 40-years-of-age generation belonging to the cyber-eco bourgeoisie, as I have baptized it to distinguish it from bourgeoisie of previous eras, has been profoundly influenced by web mindset around which the world evolves, ecology sensitivity, and a new consciousness that distinguishes it from its predecessors. The West arrived at the present social order after the formation of the mercantile bourgeoisie (1350s-1750s), industrial bourgeoisie (1750s-1870s), and financial bourgeoisie (1870s-1970s), all the result of the evolutionary economic system predicated on perpetual expansion and global integration of the system.
Prevalent in developed and semi-developed countries, the cyber-eco-bourgeoisie (1970s-present) are now on the verge of a new revolution that is redefining the foundations of bourgeois liberal democracy. Manifesting signs of profound contradictions throughout the 20th century during the “revolt of the masses” as Jose Ortega y Gasset observed in a book by the same title, liberal democracy is in need of revitalization. There is a “cyber-eco-bourgeois revolution” currently unfolding; a systemic change not in the mode of production but in thought and way of life that is a continuation of the Enlightenment spirit.
Technology and contradictions in the political economy will continue to foster the evolutionary development of this post-web middle class. The cyber-eco-bourgeoisie will become more evident once it emerges from its nascent stage and reconfigures the entire social and institutional structure just as the mercantile bourgeoisie and their successors did in their time. With the caveat that all social orders contain disparate elements within them, some characteristics of the cyber-eco-bourgeoisie that the political economy has created include:
* Cyberspace-Eco-consciousness and world-view. This entails distinct identity, and difference in the way of thinking not so much in terms of substance but of style from the bourgeoisie of previous eras. Cyber-eco bourgeoisie is not a passing fad nor is this class suffering from another form of addiction. Rather it is immersed in cyberspace-ecological consciousness to which it has given birth and an integral part of its common interests and lives. Just as the industrial bourgeoisie felt a sense of solidarity two centuries ago, so do their cyber-eco counterparts today.
* Living inside universal cyberspace. Doing everything from shopping and communicating to praying and dating through the web may be a sign of greater alienation of this class than of its counterparts in any previous era, but an indication of technology–computer system philosophy–determining life. Moreover, by living in and through the web as citizens of the world rather than citizens of nation-state and experiencing the world through cyberspace present, the new bourgeoisie and working class youths emulating them reject the real-time-real-space present. They are aware the world is institutionally corrupt, ecologically destructive to the planet, and backward instead of forward-looking. As currently constituted the political economy is immersed in contradictions in so far as it fosters greater scientific and technological progress along with wealth concentration that engenders greater poverty, greater social and geographic polarization, and less sustainable development.
* Fear, anxiety, and Cyber-cynicism of Proletariat-ization on the part of the cyber-eco bourgeoisie resulting from globalization and obsolescence of the professional class that identifies itself with the future. The web has an underlying universal egalitarian aspect to it that redefines elitism just as Enlightenment thinkers did three centuries ago to reflect societal change. The new bourgeois class is exposed to an overflow of web-knowledge from a very young age, therefore it is far more skeptical and demanding than any other group that the contradictions of 20th-century political economies and cultures have produced thus far in East or West.
Perhaps justifiably, the cyber-eco bourgeoisie is more cynical of all authority–from politician to teacher and preacher–largely because information on the web presents many different viewpoints, facts, and possibilities other than those the establishment or authority wants to inculcate into the public mind. Skepticism stems partly from web exposure at a very young age and patterns of hypocrisy of rhetoric judged against the long-standing record of ecological contamination and social injustice. And unlike the corporate-owned media that fosters conformity, cyberspace contains endless possibilities for dissidence, endless possibilities for a better world.
* Nihilism: Immersed in massive information and fantasy of “multimedia” and the realization that there is a gap between severe limitations of institutions and daily life vs. limitless possibilities for progress as presented through cyberspace to achieve the goal of social and environmental justice along with sustainability accounts for tendencies of nihilism among the cyber-eco-bourgeoisie. Nihilism tends to pervade across a substantial segment of the bourgeoisie as a reflection that the “real world’”is irrelevant, unaccommodating, hostile, and above all hypocritical because it is socially unjust, environmentally dangerous, and nothing matters because the status quo remains unchanged behind the veneer of vacuous rhetoric.
There is a widening gap between political systems and institutions in general that theoretically promote meritocracy when in the real world it is increasingly evident meritocracy is obviated by the absence of opportunities. Hence, the only option before the new bourgeoisie is to pursue institutional change to close the gap between very high expectations and very low reality levels.
* Techno-science would-be-rebels at one level, the cyber-eco bourgeoisie will be interested in re-molding society in a neo-positivist orientation to reflect their value system and way of life, and to be integrated into an institutional mainstream that reflects their values. More relativistic in political and social thought, the new bourgeoisie are unburdened by the political dogmatism that plagued their predecessors who felt the need to demonize the opponent. At a more fundamental level, however, dialectical materialism and class struggle is not and will not be obviated by the new bourgeoisie, who sees fighting against an entrenched obsolete institutional structure that marginalizes and deprives it of a future to which the new middle class believes it is entitled.
* Cyberspace-Eco Social Order is inevitable with the evolution of the bourgeoisie, largely because objective conditions will bring it about. The working class or at least a segment will be co-opted into the cyberspace-eco-bourgeois movement in more conservative countries like the US and UK, where institutions are under the firm control of traditional socioeconomic and political elites. In countries with a history of strong working-class consciousness labor will maintain greater socio-political cohesion and may forge alliances with other radical groups–students and cyber-eco bourgeoisie–as a way of retaining political influence.
Whether co-opted by or antagonistic to the cyber-eco bourgeoisie, the comprador bourgeoisie inside and outside the formal economy, as well as the working class and its role in society will be influenced, if not largely determined, by the new middle class. Though this is already a reality in the rapidly evolving division of labor for the most advanced countries in high-tech sectors, it will become a reality for the entire world for that is at the core of the both the mode of production and mode of technology.