Egalitarianism (

  1. REDIRECT Template:Etymology)—or, rarely, equalitarianism[1][2]—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.[3] 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.[4] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English.[5] 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[6] or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralisation of power. Some sources define egalitarianism as the point of view that equality reflects the natural state of humanity.[7][8][9]


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.[10]

In the years following World War II, the social democracies of Europe have all adopted egalitarian programs designed to promote general access to health care and education.


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.[11]

Another form is economic egalitarianism, which emphasizes equality in ownership and control of the means of production. Karl Marx is considered a proponent of this form of egalitarianism, expressed in the slogan "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.


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, anarchism, libertarianism, left-libertarianism, social liberalism and progressivism,[dubious ] 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.[12]


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.[13] 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 (parents having authority over their children; the view that those who work evils are generally lower down the social scale than those who practise good, etc.); these ideas are considered by most to be contrary to the ideals of egalitarianism. At its foundational level, Christian thought holds that "... in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman", defining all as equal in the sight of God.[14] 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 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.


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 Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. says that United States Air Force culture includes 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.[15]


A book published in 2009, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, took into account data sets from major world economies and correlated them with inequality indices. The book found that the absolute wealth within a country had little effect on the citizens' well-being or social cohesion, and that income inequality correlated strongly with social problems such as homicide, infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancies, emotional depression and prison population. For example, countries such as Japan, Finland and Norway scored highly in social well-being and income equality, while countries such as the United States and United Kingdom scored low in both.[16] A study of American college students published in Nature showed that people are willing to pay to reduce inequality.[17] When subjects were placed into groups and given random amounts of income, they spent their own money to reduce the incomes of the highest earners and increase the incomes of the lowest earners.[18][19]

In a follow-up study, Swiss children showed a significant increase in sharing between the ages of 3 and 8. It has not been determined whether the results of either of these experiments are due to an innate instinct, or exposure to and adoption of the customs of other people.[20]


An essay by Gary Hull (Ayn Rand Institute) in Capitalism magazine criticizes:

Egalitarianism, which claims only to want an 'equality' in end results, hates the exceptional man who, through his own mental effort, achieves that which others cannot... In an attempt to 'dumb down' all students to the lowest common denominator, today's educators no longer promote excellence and students of superior ability... Imagine the following Academy Award ceremony. There are no awards for best picture or best actor. Instead, every picture gets a certificate and every actor receives a prize. That is not an awards ceremony, you say? So it isn't. But it is an egalitarian's dream -- and an achiever's torment. Talent and ability create inequality... To rectify this supposed injustice, we are told to sacrifice the able to the unable. Egalitarianism demands the punishment and envy of anyone who is better than someone else at anything. We must tear down the competent and the strong -- raze them to the level of the incompetent and the weak... What would happen to a Thomas Edison today? If he survived school with his mind intact, he would be shackled by government regulators. His wealth would be confiscated by the IRS. He would be accused of 'unfair competition' for inventing so many more products than his competitors.[21]

On the other hand, 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[23] 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


External links

  • 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.
  • The Equality Studies Centre
  • Twin Oaks Intentional Community
  • Federation of Egalitarian Communities