The middle class as focus of ethnic, national, religious and political conceptions and strategies is nowadays regarded as the one great hope for economic and democratic development. In this contribution I put this assessment into perspective. The main representatives of the middle class in rural-urban areas of Indonesia are officials. Their economic activities are mostly not productive nor are they prone to advance democratic institutions and are thus not bearers of a potential civil society. In characterizing them as middle class I stress their mode of consumption and particularly their ideology. I then show that strategically used ethnicity can be seen as the perfect expression of a middle class ideology, as both are based on moral claims and absolutist aspirations and both see themselves as an embodiment of universal humanity. In this article I first describe how an ethnic image was constructed to serve colonial indirect rule by creating a discrete, hierarchical, formalised ethnic unit legitimising the position of its leaders. Secondly, I describe how this image perfectly fitted the ideological needs of the new national ‘middle class aristocracy’ composed of officials in maintaining the social and political status quo, fighting for and defending posts and revenues. I draw the conclusion that the stability of the New Order must be attributed to the fact that the middle class is mainly composed of officials who, by defending their own personal interests, support the centralist, patrimonial and repressive state system.