DEFINITION of 'Egalitarianism'

Egalitarianism is a philosophical thought system that emphasizes equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status and political beliefs. Egalitarianism may focus on income inequality and distribution, which are ideas that influenced the development of various economic and political systems. Karl Marx looked to egalitarianism as a starting point in the creation of his Marxist philosophy, and John Locke considered egalitarianism when he proposed that individuals had natural rights.

BREAKING DOWN 'Egalitarianism'

One of the major tenets of egalitarianism is all people are fundamentally equal. Egalitarianism can be examined from a social perspective that looks at ways to reduce economic inequalities, or from a political perspective that looks at ways to ensure the equal treatment and rights of diverse groups of people.

Types of Egalitarianism

Philosophers break down egalitarianism into several types. Proponents of economic egalitarianism, or material egalitarianism, believe every member of society should have equal access to wealth. Economic egalitarianism forms the basis for Marxism and socialism.

Legal egalitarianism involves the principle that everyone is subject to the same laws. This means no group has special legal protections over another. People who idolize political egalitarianism espouse democracy where every person has equal standing with respect to governmental power.

Economic Egalitarianism

In terms of wealth and finance in free market economies, supporters of economic egalitarianism believe everyone has the right to try to accumulate wealth. Therefore, each individual should have the opportunity to make money in this system. People may gather this wealth through investments, owning businesses and working at jobs.

Owning a business includes several aspects that drive the equality of opportunity to make money. This process typically starts with a loan from a bank, and then the person who receives the loan invests the money in whatever business enterprise he chooses. The next step includes customers who have an equal opportunity to buy the company's products or services. Finally, these consumers have an equal choice to respond to the company's prices and quality of goods or services to make an informed decision about a purchase.

A few things limit economic egalitarianism in a free market society. Money supply, inflation, lack of jobs and consumer prices may limit the access of economic activity to people who lack wealth. Legal constraints also get in the way of economic egalitarianism.

Origin of the Word

The word "egalitarianism" comes from the French alteration of "equalitarian." The French borrowed the term from the Latin "aequalitatem."

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