Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change

Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change

Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change

Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change


What are the causes of imperial decline? This work studies the Ottoman empire in the 18th and 19th centuries to argue that the Ottoman imperial decline resulted from a combination of Ottoman internal dynamics with external influences. Specifically, it contends that the split within the Ottoman social structure across ethno-religious lines interacted with the effects of war and commerce with the West to produce a bifurcated Ottoman bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie, divided into disparate commercial and bureaucratic elements, was able to challenge the sultan but was ultimately unable to salvage the empire. Instead, the Ottoman empire was replaced by the Turkish nation-state and others in the Balkans and the Middle East. This work will appeal to students of sociology and Ottoman studies.


The Ottoman state evolved from an Anatolian frontier principality in 1299 to become a world empire extending from Eastern Europe and the Arabian peninsula to North Africa in the sixteenth century; it gradually receded before disappearing in 1922, when, on its central lands, the Turkish nation-state emerged. How and why did the Ottoman empire decline, eventually to be replaced by the Turkish nation-state? the argument that follows focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Ottoman wars and commerce with the West interacted with the existing social structure to create a segmented bourgeois class formation. It contends that this segmentation of the Ottoman bourgeoisie, dividing into its commercial and bureaucratic class fragments, accounted for the decline of the Ottoman empire.

More specifically, it argues that the effects of war, commerce, and the Enlightenment concept of "civilization" shaped the parameters of Ottoman social change. the response of the Ottoman sultan, also shaped by these parameters, was cast within the context of Ottoman Westernization and deeply influenced by the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century adoption of Western goods, institutions, and ideas. the sultan increased efforts at confiscation as a means of control and introduced Western-style education to train a new social group loyal to his person. Yet his actions produced the unintended consequence of transforming three Ottoman social groups--merchants, officials, and intellectuals--into an emergent bourgeoisie segmented along religious and ethnic lines. in time, the bureaucratic element of this segmented bourgeoisie obliterated the commercial minority bourgeoisie, leading to the formation of the nation-state. As the Turkish nation-state consolidated itself at the expense of the bourgeoisie, Turkey was relegated to the margins of the world economic and political order.

Social Change Analyses of Non-Western Societies

Karl Marx's words of caution about the universalization of social change models is an appropriate starting point for critically analyzing theories of social change as they are applied to non-Western societies. Marx, who provided sociology with one of its most analytically rigorous paradigms of social change, stated:

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