Egalitarianism (from French égal, meaning "equal")—or, rarely, equalitarianism or equalism—is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English: either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights; or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people, economic egalitarianism, or the decentralization of power. Some sources define egalitarianism as the point of view that equality reflects the natural state of humanity.
Some specifically focused egalitarian concerns include economic egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, asset-based egalitarianism, and Christian egalitarianism. Common forms of egalitarianism include political and philosophical.
One argument is that liberalism provides democracy with the experience of civic reformism. Without it, democracy loses any tie—argumentative or practical─to a coherent design of public policy endeavoring to provide the resources for the realization of democratic citizenship.
Equality of Person
The English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the United States Constitution use only the term person in operative language involving fundamental rights and responsibilities, except for one reference to "men" in the English Bill of Rights regarding men on trial for treason and one counting device in the measurement of proportional Congressional representation in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as the rest of the Constitution, in its operative language uses the term person, stating, for example, that ". . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Equality of Men and Women in Rights and Responsibilities
An example of this form is the Tunisian Constitution of 2014 which provides that "men and women shall be equal in their rights and duties."
Equality of Men
The slogan "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" was used during the French Revolution and is still used as an official slogan of the French government. The 1789 Rights of Man and of the Citizen French Constitution is framed also with this basis in equal rights of men, but not of women. This was satirized by Olympe de Gouges during this time with her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen.
The French constitutional provisions of "rights of man" are still given weight today in French constitutional court interpretations granting certain rights to men and not to women, including a 2012 right to engage in fictional personal Income splitting with a dependent spouse, a practice followed much more by men than women.
The Declaration of Independence of the United States is an example of an assertion of equality of men, but not of women, under natural rights, with its language "all men are created equal"; John Locke is sometimes considered the founder of this form.
Some of the framers of the United States Constitution, most notably John Dickinson, refused to sign the Declaration of Independence in part because of this use of "rights of man" rather than "rights of person".
Many state constitutions in the US also use "rights of man" language rather than "rights of person." See, e.g., the Kentucky State Constitution.
At a cultural level, egalitarian theories have developed in sophistication and acceptance during the past two hundred years. Among the notable broadly egalitarian philosophies are socialism, communism, social anarchism, libertarian socialism, left-libertarianism, one-nation conservatism and progressivism, all of which propound economic egalitarianism. Several egalitarian ideas enjoy wide support among intellectuals and in the general populations of many countries. Whether any of these ideas have been significantly implemented in practice, however, remains a controversial question.
An early example of equality-of-outcome economic egalitarianism is Xu Xing, a scholar of the Chinese philosophy of Agriculturalism, who supported the fixing of prices, in which all similar goods and services, regardless of differences in quality and demand, are set at exactly the same, unchanging price.
Social ownership of means of production is sometimes considered to be a form of economic egalitarianism because, in an economy characterized by social ownership, the surplus product generated by industry would accrue to the population as a whole as opposed to a class of private owners, thereby granting each individual increased autonomy and greater equality in their relationships with one another. Although the economist Karl Marx is sometimes mistaken to be an egalitarian, Marx eschewed normative theorizing on moral principles altogether. Marx did, however, have a theory of the evolution of moral principles in relation to specific economic systems.
The American economist John Roemer has put forth a new perspective of equality and its relationship to socialism. Roemer attempts to reformulate Marxist analysis to accommodate normative principles of distributive justice, shifting the argument for socialism away from purely technical and materialist reasons to one of distributive justice. Roemer argues that, according to the principle of distributive justice, the traditional definition of socialism based on the principle that individual compensation be proportional to the value of the labour one expends in production is inadequate. Roemer concludes that egalitarians must reject socialism as it is classically defined in order for equality to be realized.
Religious and spiritual egalitarianism
The Sikh faith was founded upon egalitarian principles, going beyond most faiths to provide equality not only based upon race but also gave equality to man and woman. This equality led to denunciation of sati - the practice of widows sacrificing themselves on the funeral pires of deceased husbands - and provided women in the Sikh faith equal rights to practice their faith and be regarded as created equal in the eyes of God.
The Christian egalitarian view holds that the Bible teaches the fundamental equality of women and men of all racial and ethnic mixes, all economic classes, and all age groups, but within the teachings and example of the male Jesus Christ, subject to a male deity God, and the overarching principles of scripture.
Within the wide range of Christianity, there are dissenting views to this from opposing groups, some of which are Complementarians and Patriarchalists. There are also those who may say that, whilst the Bible encourages equality, it also encourages law and order and social structure (for example, parents having authority over their children, and the view that wife should submit to her husband). These ideas are considered by some to be contrary to the ideals of egalitarianism. At its foundational level, Galatians 3:28 holds that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"—defining all as equal in the sight of God. Similarly, Colossians 3:11 says, "Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all", defining all as equal in the sight of God in relationship to faith in Jesus Christ. Various Christian groups have attempted to hold to this view and develop Christian oriented communities. In Acts, chapter 4, members of the early Christian community sell their possessions, give the proceeds to a common fund overseen by the disciples, then take 'according to their need'. One of the most notable of present-day communities are the Hutterite groups of Europe and North America, living in agricultural and collective communities.
Judaism is not a universalist religion and teaches that Jews (defined as the biological descendants of Jacob "Israel", the son of Abraham) have a specific covenant with God, as a chosen people (Deutoronomy 7:6 "chosen as God's treasured people"), to serve as an example of God's light to the goyim. Rabbinic literature such as the Babylonian Talmud makes key distinctions in religious and legal contexts between Jews and the gentiles (literally, "the nations"). In modern Judaism, particularly Conservative Judaism, egalitarian refers to religious observance omitting separations and prohibitions based on gender. Synagogues that identify as egalitarian generally allow mixed seating (i.e., no mechitza) and allow women to lead services with men in attendance, as well as read publicly from the Torah.
The Islamic stance on equality is to some extent similar to that of Christianity (another universalist religion), and stresses that all humans are equal in the eyes of God, regardless of gender, class and race. The Quran states, "O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.". Louise Marlow's Hierarchy and Egalitarianism in Islamic Thought compares the egalitarianism of early Islam to current practice.
Military egalitarianism has been noted since ancient times, such as with Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day Speech. This occurs in spite of the distinctions military forces attempt to make between officers and enlisted men. For example, former Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. said that United States Air Force culture included an egalitarianism bred from officers as warriors who work with small groups of enlisted airmen either as the service crew or onboard crew of their aircraft.
Alexander Berkman suggests:
...equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity... Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse in fact... Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality... Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse.
The cultural theory of risk holds egalitarianism as defined by (1) a negative attitude towards rules and principles, and (2) a positive attitude towards group decision-making, with fatalism termed as its opposite.
The Cultural Theory of Risk distinguishes between hierarchists, who are positive towards both rules and groups, and egalitarianists, who are positive towards groups but negative towards rules. This is by definition a form of "anarchist equality" as referred to by Berkman. The fabric of an "egalitarianist society" is thus held together by cooperation and implicit peer pressure rather than by explicit rules and punishment. However, Thompson et al. theorise that any society consisting of only one perspective, be it egalitarianist, hierarchist, individualist, fatalist or autonomist, will be inherently unstable: the claim is that an interplay between all these perspectives are required if each perspective is to be fulfilling. For instance, although an individualist according to Cultural Theory is aversive towards both principles and groups, individualism is not fulfilling if individual brilliance cannot be recognised by groups, or if individual brilliance cannot be made permanent in the form of principles. Accordingly, egalitarianists have no power except through their presence, unless they (by definition, reluctantly) embrace principles which enable them to cooperate with fatalists and hierarchists. They will also have no individual sense of direction in the absence of a group. This could be mitigated by following individuals outside their group: autonomists or individualists.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels rejected egalitarianism in the sense of greater equality between classes, clearly distinguishing it from the socialist notion of the abolition of classes based on the division between workers and owners of productive property. Marx's view of classlessness was not the subordination of society to a universal interest (such as a universal notion of "equality"), but was about the creation of the conditions that would enable individuals to pursue their true interests and desires. Thus, Marx's notion of communist society is radically individualistic.
Karl Marx was a proponent of two principles, the first applied to socialism and the second to an advanced communist society: "To each according to his contribution" and "from each according to their ability; to each according to their need". Although Marx's position is often confused or conflated with distributive egalitarianism, in which only the goods and services resulting from production are distributed according to a notional equality, in reality Marx eschewed the entire concept of equality as abstract and bourgeois in nature, preferring to focus on more concrete principles such as opposition to exploitation on materialist grounds and economic logic.
- "All men are created equal"
- Asset-based egalitarianism
- Basic income
- Culture of Australia
- Culture of New Zealand
- Deep ecology
- Equality before the law
- Equal marriage
- Equal opportunity
- Equality of outcome
- Gender equality
- Gift economy
- Harrison Bergeron
- Inequity aversion
- Jante Law
- Jock Tamson's Bairns
- Left-wing politics
- Liberté, égalité, fraternité
- Racial equality
- Reciprocal altruism
- Redistributive justice
- Social equality
- Tall poppy syndrome a pejorative term used in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand
- The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
- The Talented Tenth