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Past present: The lonely crowd

In European history, the middle classes played an important role to transform the social, political, and economic structure of the society. Before the revolution in France, the aristocracy was on the decline but it persisted to continue its status and privileges on the basis of birth and family.

More than 95pc of the people of France belonged to the Third Estate. These were more than 24 million people including serfs, still bound to the soil, members of the middle class and peasants. The average person of the Third Estate being a peasant, servant, skilled and unskilled worker, doctor, lawyer, teacher, storekeeper and labourer, and hence the backbone of the country. They paid the largest share of taxes, had very few privileges, were excluded from active politics and barred to hold high offices of government and the church. Therefore, the main obstacle in their progress was the social, political, and economic structure of the state and society which was controlled by the aristocracy.

The middle classes of France supported the revolution which led to annihilation of old system. At the peak of the revolution, the national constituent assembly passed the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen which protected the rights of the middle classes.

Following the defeat of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806, the middle classes wanted to reform the society in order to eliminate its weaknesses. Their policy was not to damage the institution of state but to get its support to implement changes in the society. A Prussian diplomat once said to his French counterpart that France brought the revolution from below, while Prussia was interested to change the society from above.

To the German intellectuals, the state was an important institution and instead of weakening it, they wanted to make it powerful. To Hegel, it was divinity on earth so the institution of state was used to transform the German society from above.

The Pakistani middle class received a setback after Independence when the Hindu and Sikh middle classes left as a result of communal riots. This void was filled by immigrants who arrived from various parts of India, along with the existing residual of the middle classes who heavily relied on state patronage. So unlike the French, their interest was to follow the pattern of the Prussian model to strengthen the state and its institutions. The Pakistani middle class therefore fully supported the state and its nationalism, which was based on religion and the two-nation theory which later on became the basis of the Pakistan ideology.

The process of Islamisation began in 1949 after passing the Objective Resolution. It reached its zenith during the dictatorship of Zia ul Haq, when the middle class apparently accepted it, transforming their lifestyle accordingly.

Religious extremism which subsequently took the society under its strong grip was welcomed by the middle class who enthusiastically displayed and demonstrated the observance of religious rituals. Women began to demonstrate their attachment to religion by wearing the veil and hijab. Even their everyday language adopted popular religious expressions like ‘remember me in your prayers’.

Although, the Pakistani state has failed to solve the basic problems of society and brutally crushed all progressive resistance movements, there has been no active movement to destroy the state and its institutions. People either expect the army to rescue the country from disorder and anarchy despite the previous experiences of army rule. Or they hope that the judiciary would eliminate all corruption in the society, while at other times, democracy appears to be the universal remedy for leading the country towards progress and prosperity.

However, the middle class has not yet learnt a lesson and still prefers to stick to old, rusty traditions and beliefs. Due to its opportunism and hypocrisy, there is no hope that it could play a radical and revolutionary role in transforming the state and society. It will continue to support corrupt institutions of the state, follow the path of conservatism and prevent any enlightenment and progress. In short the middle class is responsible for preserving backwardness and extremism in society.