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Egalitarianism is any belief that emphasizes some form of equality between morally-significant beings (usually meaning humans, but sometimes expanded to include certain animals as well). Such views hold that political, economic, social, or civil equality should prevail throughout human society. One can best understand various types of egalitarianism by asking, "Who is supposed to be equal?" and "In what respect are they supposed to be equal?"

Common forms of egalitarianism include economic egalitarianism (also known as material egalitarianism), moral egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial egalitarianism, libertarianism, and opportunity egalitarianism.

  • Material egalitarianism stresses equality with respect to material possessions.
  • Moral egalitarianism stresses equality in moral worth.
  • Legal egalitarianism stresses equality under the law.
  • Luck egalitarianism holds that inequalities in well being should only result from the free choices of individuals and not from their unchosen circumstances.
  • Political egalitarianism stresses equality in political power.
  • Gender egalitarianism refers to equality of the genders.
  • Racial egalitarianism stresses the biological equality of the races.
  • Libertarians are concerned with inequalities of political power.
  • Opportunity egalitarianism stresses equality in economic and social opportunity.

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, democracy, 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.

The United States Declaration of Independence included a kind of moral and legal egalitarianism. Because "all men are created equal", each person is to be treated equally under the law. Originally this statement excluded women, slaves and other groups, but, over time, universal egalitarianism has won wide adherence and is a core component of modern civil rights policies.

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 is pervasive in the current 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. But if the coercive powers of redistribution are vested in some people and not in others, a conflict of interest will take place, and inequalities of political power would emerge. History has shown, in the former Soviet Union for instance, that people who are granted coercive redistributive powers often abuse them. Indeed, those with political power were known to redistribute vastly unequal shares of material resources to themselves, thereby completely confounding the justification for their unequal political status. Therefore, 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. 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, which does not advocate the transitional use of the state as a means of redistribution.

The English word egalitarianism is derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level.

[edit] See also

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.

[edit] External links

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