AskDefine | Define egalitarianism

Dictionary Definition

egalitarianism n : the doctrine of the equality of mankind and the desirability of political and economic and social equality [syn: equalitarianism]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. The political doctrine that holds that all people in a society should have equal rights from birth.



Extensive Definition

Egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal) is a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals from birth. 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. For example, one might support equal rights in race matters but not in gender issues, or vice versa.

Applications of egalitarianism

Egalitarianism is a philosophy of considerable variety or diversity in the many ways it has been applied in society. Common forms of egalitarianism include economic egalitarianism (also known as material egalitarianism), moral egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, opportunity 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 person 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 policies.

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, Communism, Anarchism, and Human Rights, which promote economic, political, 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.

Communism, Marxism

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, 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 must exist in the transition period before communism. Most Marxists now agree 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. This by definition was the basis for the creation of the committees of planners. Committee as a word is in Russian the word Soviet. In other words, they argue that political egalitarianism is indispensable to material egalitarianism. Meanwhile, other defenders of material egalitarianism have rejected Marxist 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 individuals 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.

Opposing views

Typical anti-egalitarian views hold that egalitarianism is based primarily upon politically-correct foundations, and that egalitarian philosophies have some kind of negative impact, either on specific groups of individuals or on society as a whole. Anti-egalitarians theorize that genetic differences within the population justify the view that some people are naturally superior to others in some important way, and therefore egalitarianism is fallacious.
Various anti-egalitarian views have been brought forward, among others in the discussion on the distribution of income. For example, John Rawls argued that those who have least, should benefit most from changes in policy.


External links

egalitarianism in Bulgarian: Егалитаризъм
egalitarianism in Bosnian: Egalitarizam
egalitarianism in Danish: Egalitarisme
egalitarianism in German: Egalitarismus
egalitarianism in Estonian: Egalitarism
egalitarianism in Finnish: Egalitarismi
egalitarianism in French: Égalitarisme
egalitarianism in Italian: Egualitarismo
egalitarianism in Georgian: ეგალიტარიზმი
egalitarianism in Dutch: Egalitarisme
egalitarianism in Norwegian: Egalitarisme
egalitarianism in Polish: Egalitaryzm
egalitarianism in Portuguese: Igualitarismo
egalitarianism in Russian: Эгалитаризм
egalitarianism in Simple English: Egalitarianism
egalitarianism in Swedish: Egalitarism
egalitarianism in Turkish: Eşitlikçilik
egalitarianism in Ukrainian: Егалітаризм
egalitarianism in Chinese: 平等原則
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