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Egalitarianism is a personality trait characterised by the tendeny to hold to the political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals, and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights.[1] 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.

Applications of egalitarianism

Egalitarianism is considered a protean doctrine, as a social philosophy it has been applied to society in a wide variety of different ways. Common forms of egalitarianism include economic egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, asset-based 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 man 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text] However, because material inequality has always existed to some extent in domestic and international economy, communists argue that 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. 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 individual's 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.[2]


A society that meets the meritocratic goal of equal opportunity might still be a harsh environment for those who lack the physical or mental capabilities to compete. It has been argued that policies that go beyond the meritocratic ideals are ineffective. [3]

Various other anti-egalitarian views have been brought forward, among others in the discussion on the distribution of income. Contrary, John Rawls has argued that the welfare of a society depends on the welfare of the worst-off individual because society is better off if you improve the welfare of others. [4]

See also


  1. The American Heritage (2003). egalitarianism.
  2. Erdal, D. & Whiten, A. (1996) "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution" in Mellars, P. & Gibson, K. (eds) Modelling the Early Human Mind. Cambridge Macdonald Monograph Series
  3. John Schar (1967) "Equality of Opportunity--and Beyond"
  4. Joseph E. Stiglitz (2000) "Frontiers of Development Economics: The Future in Perspective"


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