Egalitarianism: Definition, Ideas, and Types

What Is Egalitarianism?

Egalitarianism is a philosophical perspective 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. Egalitarianism also looks at how individuals are treated under the law.

Karl Marx used egalitarianism as the starting point in the creation of his Marxist philosophy and John Locke considered egalitarianism when he proposed that individuals had natural rights.

Key Takeaways

  • Egalitarianism is a philosophy based on equality, namely that all people are equal and deserve equal treatment in all things.
  • As an idea, it can be looked at in terms of its implications for individuals in both an economic and legal capacity.
  • Economic egalitarianism, which argues that all should have access to wealth, is the basis for both Marxism and socialism.
  • Legal egalitarianism says that everyone must follow the same laws, with no special legal protections for one over another.
  • Many countries in the world have aspects of egalitarianism woven into the fabric of their societies.

Understanding Egalitarianism

One of the main tenets of egalitarianism is that all people are fundamentally equal. Everyone should be treated equally and have equal opportunities and access in society, no matter their gender, race, or religion.

Egalitarianism can be examined from a social perspective that considers ways to reduce economic inequalities or a political perspective that considers ways to ensure the equal treatment and rights of diverse groups of people.

Types of Egalitarianism

Philosophers break down egalitarianism into several types.

Economic egalitarianism

Proponents of economic egalitarianism or material egalitarianism believe every member of society should have equal access to wealth and the ability to make money, whether that be through investments, entrepreneurial efforts, or income from employment, and that this should translate into everyone having similar levels of income and money. This line of thinking forms the basis for Marxism and socialism.

Starting a business can be attempted by anyone and represents an opportunity to make money. The entrepreneur will typically seek financing and invest the capital in a business enterprise. Customers, meanwhile, have an equal opportunity to buy the company's products or services. They 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 economic activity for people who lack wealth. Legal constraints also affect economic egalitarianism.

Economic egalitarianism in a free market is the belief that everyone should have an equal opportunity to become wealthy by investing in and supporting entrepreneurship and employment.

Legal egalitarianism

Legal egalitarianism is the principle that everyone is subject to the same laws, meaning no group has unique legal protections over another.

Moral egalitarianism

Moral egalitarianism is the idea that all human beings must have equal respect and concern for everyone else. It is the idea that humanity is connected and that everyone deserves human rights. Of course, the definition of equal respect or fairness may vary and depend on individuals, making it hard to enforce true egalitarianism.

Political egalitarianism

People who believe in political egalitarianism espouse democracy, demanding that every person has equal standing concerning governmental power.

Political egalitarianism posits that each individual has the same social power or influence over politics in work, government, and daily life. For example, principals have the authority over their teachers and staff to make choices for the school and grade. However, under political egalitarianism, every educator at the school would have the same level of authority and power.

Racial egalitarianism

Racial egalitarianism is the idea that everyone should have equal respect for one another no matter their race or ethnicity.

Gender egalitarianism

Gender egalitarianism believes that men and women, no matter their gender, are equal and must be treated as such.

Gender egalitarianism supports equal rights, roles, and responsibilities for men and women. It does not support the idea that there is "women's work" and "men's work" or gender-specific roles in business and the home. In a society where there is gender egalitarianism in families, parents play equal parts within the family structure.

Is Egalitarianism the Same as Socialism?

Not exactly. Socialism is an economic and political system that, in short, offers a specific set of ideas on how society can achieve egalitarianism.

What Is an Egalitarian Society?

In an egalitarian society, all are considered equal, regardless of gender, race, religion, or age. There is not a class system in an egalitarian society but relatively equal access to income and wealth. Some societies are more egalitarian than others, and some areas of egalitarianism are part of economies, politics, and laws.

What Is the Most Egalitarian Society?

There isn't data for "the most egalitarian society" in the world, but in terms of economic inequality, European countries Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia rank as having the least wealth inequality in 2022.

Are Equality and Equity the Same Thing?

No. Equality means giving everyone exactly the same resources or opportunities. Equity involves giving each person the resources and opportunities they need to achieve an equal outcome for everyone.

How Is Feminism Different From Egalitarianism?

Feminism and egalitarianism have shared aspects, but they are not the same thing. Feminism is the belief that gender discrimination has to be eliminated for men and women to be considered equal. Egalitarianism is the idea that everyone is created equal and deserves equal rights.

Article Sources
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  1. World Population Review. "Wealth Inequality by Country 2022."

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