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Egalitarian and equality logo

Egalitarianism (from French égal, meaning "equal")—or, rarely, equalitarianism[1][2] or equalism[3]—is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people.[4] Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.[5] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English.[6] It is defined either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights[7] or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralization of power. Some sources define egalitarianism as the point of view that equality reflects the natural state of humanity.[8][9][10]


  • Forms 1
    • Economic 1.1
    • Political 1.2
    • Philosophical 1.3
    • Religious and Spiritual 1.4
      • In Christianity 1.4.1
      • Judaism 1.4.2
      • Islam 1.4.3
      • Buddhism 1.4.4
    • Military 1.5
  • Reception 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


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.


Egalitarianism in economics is a controversial phrase with conflicting potential meanings. It may refer either to equality of opportunity, the view that the government ought not to discriminate against citizens or hinder opportunities for them to prosper, or the quite different notion of equality of outcome, a state of economic affairs in which the government promotes equal prosperity for all citizens.

The free-market economist Milton Friedman supported equality-of-opportunity economic egalitarianism. Economist John Maynard Keynes supported more equal outcomes.

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.[11]

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 private owners, thereby granting each individual increased autonomy and greater equality in their relationships with one another (see: Social dividend and Social ownership). Although the economist Karl Marx is sometimes mistaken to be an egalitarian, Marx eschewed normative theorizing on moral principles. Marx did, however, have a theory of the evolution of moral principles in relation to specific economic systems.[12]

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 owners and workers (which is on their relation to 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 rather, 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.[13]

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 expands in production is inadequate. Roemer concludes that egalitarians must reject socialism as it is classically defined.[14]


Egalitarianism in politics can be of at least two forms. One form is equality of persons in right, sometimes referred to as natural rights; John Locke is sometimes considered the founder of this form.[15] The slogan "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" was used during the French Revolution and is still used as an official slogan of the French government.[16]

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". 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; but in reality Marx eschewed the entire concept of equality as abstract and bourgeois in nature, focusing instead on more concrete principles such as opposition to exploitation on materialist and economic logic.[17]


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, social liberalism and progressivism, all of which propound economic, political, and legal 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.

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. For instance, some argue that modern representative democracy is a realization of political egalitarianism, while in reality, most political power still resides in the hands of a ruling class, rather than in the hands of the people.[18]

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.[19]

Religious and Spiritual

In Christianity

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, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and the overarching principles of scripture.[20] However, within the wide range of Christianity, there are dissenting views 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 submit to 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 Grecian: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.", and Colossians 3:11 also says "Where is neither Grecian nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond, free: But Christ is all, and in all things." defining all as equal in the sight of God[21][22] in relationship to faith in Jesus Christ. Various Christian groups have attempted to hold to this view and develop Christian oriented communities. One of the most notable of these 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 descendents of Jacob "Israel", the son of Abraham) have a specific covenant with God, as a chosen people. Rabbinic literature such as the Babylonian Talmud makes key distinctions between Jews and the gentiles (literally, "the nations"). Some people argue, that Judaism posits that all humans are essentially created equal and in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This recognises that regardless of gender, ethnicity and race all humans contain the spark of the divine within them and as a result must be treated with human dignity.


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. It does, however, encourage a structured, ordered society where some have authority over others. 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.".[23] Louise Marlow's Hierarchy and Egalitarianism in Islamic Thought compares the egalitarianism of early Islam to current practice.[24] However, within Islam, many members of the Quraish, an Arabic tribe have a special hereditary role as Sayyed (not open to other nations), due to their descent from the Prophet Mohammed through his daughter Fatimah, which gives them social advantages which not all races can have.



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.[25]


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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[27] 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.

See also


  1. ^ "equalitarianism"Definition of . The Free Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2009. 
  2. ^ "equalitarianism"Definition of ., LLC. 2012. 
  3. ^ "A scientist's view: why I'm an equalist and not a feminist". The Guardian. The Guardian. 2013. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Arneson Richard, "Egalitarianism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002.) Web:
  6. ^
  7. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary (2003). "egalitarianism". 
  8. ^ John Gowdy (1998). Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. St Louis: Island Press. p. 342.  
  9. ^ Dahlberg, Frances. (1975). Woman the Gatherer. London: Yale university press.  
  10. ^ Erdal, D. & Whiten, A. (1996) "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution" in Mellars, P. & Gibson, K. (eds) Modeling the Early Human Mind. Cambridge MacDonald Monograph Series
  11. ^ Denecke, Wiebke (2011). The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi. Harvard University Press. p. 38. 
  12. ^ "Egalitarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 16 August 2002. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Karl Marx on Equality, by Woods, Allen. "Marx thinks the idea of equality is actually a vehicle for bourgeois class oppression, and something quite different from the communist goal of the abolition of classes...A society that has transcended class antagonisms, therefore, would not be one in which some truly universal interest at last reigns, to which individual interests must be sacrificed. It would instead be a society in which individuals freely act as the truly human individuals they are. Marx’s radical communism was, in this way, also radically individualistic."
  14. ^ Socialism vs Social Democracy as Income-Equalizing Institutions, by Roemer, John. 2008. Eastern Economic Journal, vol. 34, issue 1, pages 14-26.
  15. ^ Arneson Richard, "Egalitarianism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002.) Web:
  16. ^ Hugo Argenton (November 6, 2012). "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité". La Jeune Politique. 
  17. ^ Rejecting Egalitarianism, by Nielsen, Kai. 1987. Political Theory, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Aug., 1987), pp. 411-423.
  18. ^ Rosales, José María. "Liberalism, Civic Reformism and Democracy." 20th World Contress on Philosophy: Political Philosophy. Web: 12 March 2010. Liberalism, Civic Reformism and Democracy
  19. ^ Thompson et al., Cultural Theory (1990.)
  20. ^ Stagg, Evelyn and Frank. Woman in the World of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978. ISBN 0-664-24195-6
  21. ^ Galatians 3:28. 
  22. ^ Colossians 3:11. 
  23. ^ The Quran 49:13 - English translation by Saheeh International
  24. ^ Poonawala, Ismail K. (Summer 1999). "Hierarchy and Egalitarianism in Islamic Thought by Louise Marlow". (Iranian Studies Vol. 32, No. 3 (Summer, 1999), pp. 405-407). Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  25. ^ "Understanding Airmen: A primer for soldiers" (PDF). Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  26. ^ Alexander Berkman What is Anarchism? pp. 164-5
  27. ^ a b Thompson et al., Cultural Theory (1990)

External links

  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Moral Egalitarianism.
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
    • Egalitarianism, by R. Arneson (2002).
    • Equality, by S. Gosepath (2007).
    • Equality of opportunity, by R. Arneson (2002).
  • New York: Columbia University Press.Fruit of the Motherland: Gender in an Egalitarian Society.Lepowsky, Maria. 1993.
  • The Equality Studies Centre
  • Twin Oaks Intentional Community
  • Federation of Egalitarian Communities
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