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The Bildungsbürger class defined itself more on the basis of education than material possessions and thus great emphasis was laid upon the education of the children.

Bildungsbürgertum (German: [ˈbɪldʊŋsˌbʏʁɡɐtuːm]) is a social class that emerged in mid-18th century Germany as an educated class of the bourgeoisie with an educational ideal based on idealistic values and classical antiquity.[1]

The Bildungsbürgertum could be described as the intellectual and economic upper bourgeoisie in contrast to the Kleinbürgertum (petite bourgeoisie).


The term itself was coined in the 1920s by the right wing and had an anti-bourgeois sentiment, which was perceived by the incompatible idea of being a 'genuine' intellectual and a bourgeois (Bürger).

The term Bildungsbürgertum is a concept difficult to translate into the English language. The notion of the word "Bildung" has broader meaning than that of "culture", or "education", and is deeply rooted in the idea of the Enlightenment.[2] The term also corresponds to the ideal of education in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development; rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills, education is seen as a process wherein an individual's spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in a process of continual expansion and growth. (See Bildung, General knowledge) which clashes with the concept of bürgertum, a privileged but intellectually ignoble social class.


Bildungsbürgertum was the term for a new social class that initially emerged in Germany in the mid-18th century. This group distinguished themselves through education in the humanities, literature, and science, and involvement in the state affairs. As a class of wealthy non-noble people, emerging first in the free imperial cities, they gained material wealth, social position and a better education, which was based on Humboldt's educational ideal. The idea of Bildung (i.e. culture, education) was shaped by a belief in human perfectibility, specifically that an individual's potential could be realized through a classical education.

In the late absolutist management state there existed a need for a large number of educated officials to implement reforms. To avoid a violent revolution, as in France, a national class was formed that had access to cultural education and thus to political positions. As a result, many educational institutions were established, significantly more in Germany. The universities established in Germany, including the Humboldt University, became a model for modern universities in other countries. This new class was not primarily defined politically or economically, but mainly culturally. It is often argued that Germany owes its reputation in technical expertise, scholarship and administration to the Bildungsbürgertum.

Nationalism at its origin was a liberal ideal, and as the Bildungsbürgertum were often represented in the liberal factions of society, they were often in the forefront of the quest for the founding of a sovereign nation state. By the 1870s, the bulk of the Bildungsbürgertum had lost its forward-driving liberal orientation.

According to professor Klaus Vondung, the following characteristics could be applied to the Bildungsbürgertum at the end of the 19th century:

  • academic education
  • in-group behaviour, self-isolation from other social classes and establishment of neo-aristocratic thinking, especially concerning stature and pedigree.
  • high self-recruitment
  • social prestige being perceived as more important than material wealth
  • predominantly Protestant
  • considered the "cultural elite"
  • dominated certain professions

In the 18th century, academic occupations such as professors, gymnasium (grammar school) teachers, physicians, pharmacists, attorneys, judges, Protestant ministers, engineers and leading officials were strongly represented among the Bildungsbürger.

In Germany the Bildungsbürgertum exercised first influence before the bourgeoisie as the commercial class gained more influence during industrialization from 1850 onwards. In France and Britain, it developed mainly as a commercial class and could, by virtue of its economic strength, claim political power. In Germany the formation of the bourgeoisie occurred only in the first half of the 1800s, to be politically active. It played a crucial role in the revolution of 1848, which nevertheless failed.

A well-known example for an individual associated with the term Bildungsbürgertum is the 20th-century writer Thomas Mann.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meet the Germans – Typically German - Meet the Germans – and find out what's typical about them - Goethe-Institut". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  2. ^ [1] – The future of market transition, Kevin T. Leicht


  • Werner Conze, Jürgen Kocka (red.): Bildungsbürgertum im 19. Jahrhundert. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1985 ff.
    • 1. Bildungssystem und Professionalisierung in internationalen Vergleichen. 1985, ISBN 3-608-91254-1.
    • 3. Lebensführung und ständische Vergesellschaftung. 1992, ISBN 3-608-91558-3.
  • Lothar Gall: Bürgertum, liberale Bewegung und Nation. Ausgewählte Aufsätze. Orbis-Verlag, München 2000, ISBN 3-572-01175-2.
  • Michael Hartmann: Der Mythos von den Leistungseliten. Spitzenkarrieren und soziale Herkunft in Wirtschaft, Politik, Justiz und Wissenschaft. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt/M. 2002, ISBN 3-593-37151-0.
  • Malte Herwig: Eliten in einer egalitären Welt. wjs-Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-937989-11-0. (Website zum Buch)
  • Oskar Köhler: Bürger, Bürgertum. I: Staatslexikon. Herder, Freiburg/B.
  • Mario R. Lepsius (red.): Das Bildungsbürgertum als ständische Vergesellschaftung. In: Ders.: Lebensführung und ständische Vergesellschaftung. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-608-91558-3.
  • Pia Schmid: Deutsches Bildungsbürgertum. Bürgerliche Bildung zwischen 1750 und 1830. Dissertation, Universität Frankfurt/M. 1984.
  • Klaus Vondung (red.): Das wilhelminische Bildungsbürgertum. Zur Sozialgeschichte seiner Ideen. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1976, ISBN 3-525-33393-5.