Egalitarianism (20TH CENTURY)

Principle for guiding treatment of individuals.

A preliminary assumption that all people should, in the absence of good reason to the contrary, be treated equally. Thus the onus is on those who argue that sex should be a disqualification to a career, or that poverty should be a barrier to the provision of education, to prove their case, rather than vice versa.

David Miller et al., eds, The Blackwell Dictionary of Political Thought (Oxford, 1987)

Some specifically focused egalitarian concerns include communism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, equality of outcome and Christian egalitarianism. Common forms of egalitarianism include political and philosophical.

Legal egalitarianism

Equality of personOne argument is that liberalism provides democratic societies with the means to carry out civic reform by providing a framework for developing public policy and providing the correct conditions for individuals to achieve civil rights.[11]

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 (a) a reference to men in the English Bill of Rights regarding men on trial for treason; and (b) a rule of proportional Congressional representation in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As the rest of the Constitution, in its operative language the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution uses the term person, stating 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”.

Gender equality

The motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” was used during the French Revolution and is still used as an official motto of the French government. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen French Constitution is framed also with this basis in equal rights of mankind.

The Declaration of Independence of the United States is an example of an assertion of equality of men as “All men are created equal” and the wording of men and man is a reference to both men and women, i.e. mankind. John Locke is sometimes considered the founder of this form.

Many state constitutions in the United States also use the rights of man language rather than rights of person since the noun man has always been a reference to and an inclusion of both men and women.[citation needed]

Feminism is greatly informed by egalitarian philosophy, being a gender-focused philosophy of equality. Feminism is distinguished from egalitarianism by also existing as a political and social movement.[12]

Social egalitarianism

[edit]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 and progressivism, some of which propound economic egalitarianism. Whether any of these ideas have been significantly implemented in practice remains a controversial question. Anti-egalitarianism[13] or elitism[14] is opposition to egalitarianism.

A very early example of equality of what might be described as outcome economic egalitarianism is the Chinese philosophy of agriculturalism which held that the economic policies of a country need to be based upon egalitarian self-sufficiency.[15]

In socialism, 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 have a theory of the evolution of moral principles concerning specific economic systems.[16]

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 is proportional to the value of the labor one expends in production (“To each according to his contribution”) is inadequate. Roemer concludes that egalitarians must reject socialism as it is classically defined in order for equality to be realized.[17]

Egalitarianism and non-human animals

Many philosophers, including Ingmar Persson,[18] Peter Vallentyne,[19] Nils Holtug,[20] Catia Faria[21] and Lewis Gompertz,[22] have argued that egalitarianism implies that the interests of non-human animals must be taken into account as well. Philosopher Oscar Horta has further argued that “[e]galitarianism implies rejecting speciesism, and in practice, it prescribes ceasing to exploit nonhuman animals” and that we should aid animals suffering in nature.[23] Furthermore, Horta argues that “because [nonhuman animals] are worse off in comparison to humans, egalitarianism prescribes giving priority to the interests of nonhuman animals”.[23]

Religious and spiritual egalitarianism


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”.[24] Muhammad echoed these egalitarian sentiments, sentiments that clashed with the practices of the pre-Islamic cultures. In a review of Louise Marlow’s Hierarchy and Egalitarianism in Islamic Thought, Ismail Poonawala wrote: “With the establishment of the Arab-Muslim Empire, however, this egalitarian notion, as well as other ideals, such as social justice and social service, that is, alleviating suffering and helping the needy, which constituted an integral part of the Islamic teaching, slowly receded into the background. The explanation given for this change generally reiterates the fact that the main concern of the ruling authorities became the consolidation of their power and the administration of the state rather than upholding and implementing those Islamic ideals nurtured by the Qur’an and the Prophet.”[25]


The Bible states: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[26] In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. cited the passage in a pamphlet oppositing racial segregation in the United States. He wrote, “Racial segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ.”[27] He also alluded to the verse at the end of his “I have a dream” speech.[28] Considered in its entirety, the verse is cited to support an egalitarian interpretation of Christianity.[29] According to Jakobus M. Vorster, the central question debated by theologians “is whether the statement in Galatians 3:28 about ecclesiastical relationships can be translated into a Christian-ethical norm for all human relationships”.[30] Vorster argues that it can, and that the verse provides a Christian foundation for the promotion of human rights and equality, in contrast to “patriarchy, racism and exploitation” which in his opinion are caused by human sinfulness.[30] According to Karin Neutel, “Contemporary interpreters have updated Paul’s statement and added pairs to the three original ones: ‘neither gay nor straight,’ ‘neither healthy nor disabled,’ and ‘neither black nor white.’… [The original] three pairs must have been as relevant in the first century, as the additional categories are today.” She argues that the verse points to a utopian, cosmopolitan community.[28]

Modern egalitarianism theory

Modern egalitarianism is a theory that rejects the classic definition of egalitarianism as a possible achievement economically, politically and socially. Modern egalitarianism theory, or new egalitarianism, outlines that if everyone had the same opportunity cost,[clarification needed] then there would be no comparative advances and no one would gain from trading with each other. In essence, the immense gains people receive from trading with each other arise because they are unequal in characteristics and talents—these differences may be innate or developed so that people can gain from trading with each other.

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