A shortening of the word equalitarian, suggesting a commitment to, or a state of,
equality. Egalitarian societies or groups are contrasted to hierarchical or class-based
societies or groups.
Egalitarian philosophies include Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Left Libertarianism, Progressivism,
and Human Rights, which promote economic, political, and
Egalitarian ideas are supported by intellectuals. Communism is an egalitarian doctrine,
envisaging that everyone must enjoy material equality. Communists argue that political
egalitarianism is indispensable to material egalitarianism.
Egalitarianism can generally be found in children. One may be an egalitarian even if not
subscribing to equality in every area.
Egalitarianism is a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as
equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights.
Egalitarianism as a social philosophy has been applied to society in many ways.
Common forms of egalitarianism include economic egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck
egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality,
asset-based egalitarianism, and Christian egalitarianism.
Utilitarianism and Egalitarianism are both forms of Consequentialism. Consequentialism holds that one must act
so as to maximize the overall intrinsic value of some population.
Consequentialism holds that one must distribute resources within some population
so as to maximize its overall intrinsic value.
Moral and legal egalitarianism
Universal egalitarianism has won wide adherence and is a core component of modern civil
rights policies. The United States Declaration of Independence includes a kind of moral
and legal egalitarianism. Because "all men are created equal," each man is to be
treated equally under the law. Similar to many other developed nations of the time, it was
not until much later that the U.S. society extended these benefits to slaves, women and
Egalitarianism in hunter-gatherer groups
Egalitarianism is found in modern hunter-gatherer groups. Without any motive many
returning hunters share meat with the rest of the group. These groups do not have a
defined leader. This is reflected in group discussions, where individuals with mastery in
one subject such as hunting will be respected, but not necessarily obeyed.
Equality before the law or equality under the law or legal egalitarianism is the principle
under which each individual is subject to the same laws, with no individual or group
having special legal privileges. Legal egalitarianism admits no class structures entail
separate legal practices. Thus, canon law, star chambers, and aristocracy are alike
forbidden, and the testimony of all persons is counted with the same weight. This
political development arose in the 18th century in both the United States and France after
their revolutionary periods. It was a radical development, as it negated the former feudal
and aristocratic foundations.
According to the eminent Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, equality before the law and
material equality are incompatible, arguing that material inequality is a natural
consequence of legal equality: "From the fact that people are very different it
follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual
position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them
differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only
different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other,
but not both at the same time". - Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty.
It also follows that, "Our argument will be that, though where the same must use
coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people
more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for
further and discriminatory coercion."
Luck egalitarianism is a view about distributive justice espoused by a variety of
egalitarian and left-wing political philosophers. According to this view, justice demands
that variations in how well off people are should be wholly attributable to the
responsible choices people make and not to differences in their unchosen circumstances.
This expresses the intuition that it is a bad thing for some people to be worse off than
others through no fault of their own.
Luck egalitarians therefore distinguish between outcomes that are the result of brute luck
(e.g. misfortunes in genetic makeup, or being struck by a bolt of lightning) and those
that are the consequence of conscious options (such as career choice or fair gambles).
Luck egalitarianism is intended as a fundamental normative idea that might guide our
thinking about justice rather than as an immediate policy prescription. The idea has its
origin in John Rawls's thought that distributive shares should not be influenced by
arbitrary factors, but Rawls was not himself a luck egalitarian. Luck egalitarians
disagree among themselves about the proper way to measure how well off people are (for
instance, whether we should measure material wealth, psychological happiness or some other
factor) and the related issue of how to assess the value of their resources.
Prominent advocates of luck egalitarianism have included Ronald Dworkin, Richard Arneson,
Gerald Cohen, John Roemer, and Eric Rakowski. The position is controversial within some
currents of egalitarian thought, and the philosopher Elizabeth S. Anderson has been a
vocal critic of it on the ground that, amongst other things, the fact that
something is chosen does not necessarily make it acceptable. An example of this would be a
robber offering someone a choice between their money and their life. She also claims that
luck egalitarianism expresses a demeaning pity towards the disadvantaged. Neither of these
criticisms is accepted by luck egalitarianism's proponents.
Many philosophers think that the term "luck egalitarianism" is a misnomer,
because many so-called "luck egalitarians" (of the 'resourcist' strand at least)
do not in fact want to equalize luck or eliminate uncertainty, but instead believe that
individuals should be equal in the amount of resources they have when facing luck or
Gender equality (also known as gender equity, gender egalitarianism, or sexual equality)
is the goal of the equality of the genders or the sexes, stemming from a belief in the
injustice of myriad forms of gender inequality.
World bodies have defined gender equality as related to human rights, especially women's
rights, and economic development. UNICEF defines gender equality as "levelling
the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity
to develop their talents." The United Nations Population Fund declared gender
equality "first and foremost, a human right." "Gender equity" is
one of the goals of the United Nations Millennium Project, to end world poverty by 2015;
the project claims, "Every single Goal is directly related to women's rights, and
societies where women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development
in a sustainable manner."
Many followers of this philosophy would like to see this term come to replace
feminism or masculism, when used to describe a belief in basic
equal rights and opportunities for members of both sexes within legal, social, or
corporate establishments. They strive for ultimate fairness, and seek cooperative
solutions so as to make things better for both males, females and everything in between.
While they may share a number of critiques and analyses with self-described man haters
and/or masculists, they feel that egalitarianism is a better word for a belief
in equality than any word that focuses on one of the genders.
Asset-based egalitarianism is a form of egalitarianism which theorises that equality is
possible by a redistribution of resources, usually in the form of a capital grant provided
at the age of majority. Names for the implementation of this theory in policy include
universal basic capital, basic capital and stakeholding, and all are generally synonymous
within the equal opportunity egalitarian framework. - Cunliffe, J & Erreygers, G
(2004) The Origins of Universal Grants: An Anthology of Historical Writings on Basic
Capital and Basic Income.
Two independent schools of thought were developed on the subject, involving individuals
from the American Labour Movement and scholars of the Belgian School. However, the same
reasoning (given by both schools) behind the basic capital proposal is the redistribution
of wealth usually funded by an inheritance tax in order to provide a universal and
unconditional sum of money (or capital assets) at the age of majority. From most authors,
the intention was to create a nominal grant for everyone based on a deserved natural
inheritance of the earth.
Asset-based egalitarian policies, such as the Ackerman and Alstott proposals, are often
criticised as not being egalitarian. Due to different people having different abilities
and talents to utilise financial wealth, there is always a risk that those without formal
financial education would alienate their own freedom by dissipating their capital or
'stakeblowing.' Stuart White argued that unless education corrected for this, there would
be an inegalitarian outcome, as people fundamentally have different asset-management
capacities. - White, S (2006) The Citizens Stake and Paternalism in
Ackerman, B et al (eds) Redesigning Distribution.
Christian Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level),
also known as biblical equality, is a recent adaptation of the moral doctrine of
Egalitarianism which holds that people should be treated as equals. Ultimately,
Egalitarianism holds that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth and moral
Christian Egalitarianism holds that all people are equal before God and in Christ. All
have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God.
God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or
According to Christian Egalitarianism, gender equality in Christian church leadership
(including pastors) and in Christian marriage is biblically sound. Its theological
foundations are interpretations of the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and other New
Testament principles. It refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of
itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believers gifting or calling to any
ministry in the church or home. It does not imply that women and men are identical or
undifferentiated. Christian Egalitarianism affirms that God designed men and women to
complement and benefit one another.
The opposing view is Complementarianism, a theological view held by some Christians that
differing, often non-overlapping roles between men and women, manifested in marriage,
church leadership, and elsewhere, is biblically required.
Complementarian and Christian Egalitarian views need not be mutually exclusive, according
to some recent proposals that one can subscribe both to Complementarianism and Christian
egalitarianism. This theoretically would allow men and women to complement each other
without any form of hierarchy. This view argues that the Bible prescribes both equality
and complementary positions and roles for both men and women. One academic book advocating
this position is Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. -
Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee (eds.), Discovering Biblical
Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.