World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Universal class

Article Id: WHEBN0000723255
Reproduction Date:

Title: Universal class  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Karl Korsch, Morse–Kelley set theory, Marxist theory, Dominant ideology, Index of contemporary philosophy articles
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Universal class

Universal class is a category derived from the philosophy of Hegel, redefined and popularized by Karl Marx. In Marxism it denotes that Social class of people within a stratified society for which, at a given point in history, self-interested action coincides with the needs of humanity as a whole.


Hegel believed that history was a movement tending towards the realization of "freedom" (although there is much debate over precisely what Hegel means by freedom) – which, in his own historical moment, he had held his own society to represent, or at least represent the beginning of. For Hegel, divisions and conflicts between people were the external appearance of the internal tensions which drive the development of Spirit. Conflict and its resolution were the ratchet by which human progress was driven steadily forwards – he once famously described Napoleon Bonaparte as "the World Spirit on horseback". Accordingly: having arrived at the end of history, these divisions were to be reconciled by the new "universal class" of state bureaucrats, who acted at all times to reconcile conflicts of interest and acted only in the best interests of the entire society.He also believed in the universal class as an end product.


Karl Marx took the Hegelian concept of a class which might act in the interests of all. For Marx, the opportunities for further human progress could be realized or lost, depending on the extent to which the universal class of the moment directed social developments.

For example, the opportunities opened up by the surplus of labor in the market, the entrepreneurs gradually or violently took formal control of their societies from the old class of aristocrats. In doing this the bourgeoisie sought to further its own interests, which inevitably furthered the interests of society as a whole. So, for a period, Marx characterizes the bourgeoisie as the universal class.

Marx considered the universal class in his time to be the proletariat – roughly speaking, the class of persons contributing their labor to society in exchange for subsistence wages. At around the time of the various rebellions which took place across Europe in 1848, the bourgeoisie lost their position as society's avant-garde, by Marx's analysis. They had become more interested in consolidating their own social power than in revolutionizing society. The revolutionary baton had passed to the proletariat, which had both the means and the incentive to take human progress further.

The moment of this transition is significant for Marxist thought in another way. As a historical materialist analysis, Marxism ought to be able to account for its own appearance at a certain moment in history, by reference to material, historical processes. The proletariat's succession to the throne of universal class provides a plausible candidate, at least within the terms of Marxist thought. It marks a new material stage, which would permit or perhaps even require there to be a Karl Marx at the level of ideas.

Further reading

  • Marx's immediate analysis of the unrest in France, 1848-1850
  • 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx, 1852
  • The civil war in France, Marx, 1871
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.