(derived from the French
, meaning equal
) is a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals, and have the same political
, and civil
rights. Generally it applies to being held equal under the law and society at large. In actual practice, one may be considered an egalitarian in most areas listed above, even if not subscribing to equality in every possible area of individual difference.
Applications of egalitarianism
is considered a protean
doctrine; as a social philosophy it has been applied to society in a wide variety of different ways. Common forms of egalitarianism include economic egalitarianism
, legal egalitarianism
, luck egalitarianism
, political egalitarianism
, gender egalitarianism
, racial equality
, asset-based egalitarianism
, and Christian egalitarianism
Moral and legal egalitarianism
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 other groups. Over time, universal egalitarianism has won wide adherence and is a core component of modern civil rights
Broadly egalitarian philosophies
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
, and Human Rights
, which promote economic
, and legal egalitarianism
, respectively. 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. For instance, some argue that modern representative democracy
is a realization of political egalitarianism, while others believe that, in reality, most political power still resides in the hands of a ruling class
, rather than in the hands of the people.
Different kinds of egalitarianism can sometimes conflict, while in other situations they may be indispensable to each other. For instance, communism
is an egalitarian doctrine
, according to which everyone is supposed to enjoy material equality. However, because material inequality has always existed to some extent in domestic and international economy
, communists argue that something must be done to remove it. Since those who enjoy the greatest material wealth are not likely to wish to part with it, some form of coercive mechanism is often used.
Some Marxists now believe that communism can only be achieved if the coercive powers of redistribution needed during the transitional period are vested in a democratic body whose powers are limited by various checks and balances, in order to prevent abuse. In other words, they argue that political egalitarianism is indispensable to material egalitarianism. Meanwhile, other defenders of material egalitarianism have rejected state communism in favor of such views as libertarian socialism or anarchism, which do not necessarily advocate the transitional use of the state as a means of redistribution. This is in contrast to unplanned economies such as free market capitalism, that use the market place to distribute wealth rather than any centralized or decentralized bodies of power.
Egalitarianism in hunter-gatherer groups
There have been many instances of egalitarianism found in modern hunter-gatherer
groups, in several parts of the world. Even when it is within an individual's favour, or has no obvious benefit, many returning hunters will share meat with the rest of the group. The more pronounced egalitarianism can be found in leadership. Many of these groups do not have a defined leader, only for contact with modern societies (they may have mastered another language for example). This is reflected in group discussions, where individuals with mastery in one subject such as hunting will be respected, but never obeyed (if the whole group decide to go another way). If one individual does attempt to take control, then they may be ridiculed, punished or ignored.
Egalitarianism in children
A study of Swiss children showed a significant increase in sharing between the ages of 3 and 8. It has not been determined whether this is the result of an innate instinct, or exposure to and adoption of the customs of adults.
A society that meets the meritocratic
goal of equal opportunity might still be a harsh environment for those who lack the physical or mental capabilities to compete. It has been argued that policies that go beyond the meritocratic ideals are ineffective.
Various other anti-egalitarian views have been brought forward, among others in the discussion on the distribution of income. To the contrary, John Rawls has argued that the welfare of a society depends on the welfare of the worst-off individual because society is better off if you improve the welfare of others.