Egalitarianism is a worldview that advocates for the equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of social, economic, gender, racial, or other differences.
A scholarly definition from James Clark (2008) is provided below:
“A belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic rights and privileges; a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.”
The problem with defining egalitarianism is that many different social and political philosophies claim to be egalitarian, but depending on their perspectives, prosecute it in different ways. Everyone from libertarians to Marxists can claim to be egalitarianism. This often comes down to the age-old equality versus equity argument, which I detail here.
So, while the ideal of egalitarianism sounds logical, the devil is in the details – what does it really look like? Below is a range of examples reflecting a range of angles for looking at the topic.
1. Universal Suffrage
Universal suffrage refers to the right of all adult citizens, regardless of race, gender, income, social status, or education, to vote in elections (Duong, 2020).
Historically, many groups were excluded from voting, including women, people of color, and those without property. Through various social and political movements, the principle of egalitarianism was applied to voting rights, leading to the extension of the franchise to all adult citizens in many countries.
This practice embodies the egalitarian belief that every individual should have an equal say in the governance of their country.
2. Equal Pay for Equal Work
This concept advocates that individuals should receive the same compensation for performing the same job, regardless of their gender, race, age, or any other characteristic.
Historically, and even today, there can be wage disparities between men and women or among different racial and ethnic groups for the same work.
Here, we can see egalitarianism at work, as this perspective demands that disparities be eliminated and that everyone is treated the same in the workplace, highlighting the equal value and worth of every worker.
Anti-monarchism is the opposition to monarchical rule, where a single family or individual holds hereditary political power, often for life or until abdication.
Advocates of anti-monarchism believe in the elimination of monarchies in favor of a more egalitarian form of governance, such as a republic, where leaders are elected and power is not concentrated in hereditary positions.
This viewpoint, for example, was central in the American war of independence.
Here, we can see egalitarianism at work: no individual or family should inherently possess political power based on birthright, and leadership roles should be accessible to all based on merit and democratic processes.
4. One Person One Vote Democracy
The principle of “one person, one vote” asserts that each citizen’s vote should carry the same weight in an election.
This ensures that every individual has an equal say in the democratic process, and no group or individual can have an undue influence over electoral outcomes.
Egalitarianism in this scenario emphasizes that all citizens, irrespective of their social, economic, or racial background, should have an equal role in determining their country’s leadership and direction.
5. Marxist Anti-classist Ideology
Marxist ideology critiques the class structures inherent in capitalist societies, where a small bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) controls the means of production and amasses wealth at the expense of the proletariat (or working class).
Marxism advocates for the abolition of class distinctions and the establishment of a classless society where resources and power are distributed equitably among all members.
Egalitarianism within the Marxist framework calls for the dismantling of economic systems that perpetuate class inequalities and the creation of structures that ensure equal access to resources, opportunities, and rights for all.
See Also: Free Enterprise Examples
6. Universal Education
Universal education promotes the idea that every individual, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, or location, should have equal access to quality education.
This concept is rooted in the belief that knowledge and education are fundamental rights and should not be limited to a privileged few.
By ensuring that everyone has equal educational opportunities, societies can work towards eliminating knowledge and skill disparities, ultimately leading to a more equal and just society.
7. Universal Healthcare
Universal healthcare is the belief that every individual, regardless of their income, age, gender, or health status, should have equal access to healthcare services.
Such a system ensures that medical treatment and preventive care are available to all, reducing health disparities among different groups.
Egalitarianism in this context emphasizes the intrinsic value of every individual and the belief that good health is a fundamental right, not a privilege based on one’s ability to pay or socioeconomic status.
8. Land Reform
Land reform initiatives redistribute land, especially agricultural land, from large landowners to those without land or with less land.
Historically, in many countries, vast tracts of land have been owned by a small percentage of the population.
Egalitarian-driven land reforms aim to rectify this imbalance, ensuring that more people can own and cultivate land, leading to economic self-sufficiency and reducing wealth disparities. It underscores the principle that access to essential resources, like land, should be equitable.
This is, clearly, controversial as the pursuit of egalitarian land ownership may mean the loss of land by people who lawfully obtained it previously.
9. Equal Representation in Media
This advocates for the portrayal of diverse groups of people (in terms of gender, race, age, ability, sexual orientation, etc.) in media, including television, film, advertising, and news.
Historically, certain groups have been underrepresented or stereotypically portrayed in media.
Egalitarianism in media representation emphasizes that all groups should be equally and accurately represented, reflecting the true diversity of society. This not only ensures fairness but also helps in breaking down stereotypes and prejudices.
10. Equal Opportunity Employment
Equal opportunity employment policies ensure that job applicants and employees are not discriminated against based on non-job-related factors such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.
By implementing such policies, organizations aim to create a workforce that is diverse and representative of the broader population.
Here, we see egalitarianism because this model promotes the idea that everyone, regardless of their background, should have an equal chance at employment and advancement based on their skills, qualifications, and performance.
11. Fair Trade Practices
Fair trade is an approach to business and trade that emphasizes equity in international commerce.
This ensures that producers in developing countries receive a fair price for their goods, promoting sustainable livelihoods and ethical labor practices.
Here, we see egalitarianism championing the idea that all participants in the global market, regardless of their country of origin or size of their enterprise, should have equitable opportunities and be rewarded fairly for their work.
12. Inclusive Education
Inclusive education is the practice of integrating students with special needs or disabilities into mainstream classrooms, rather than segregating them.
This approach ensures that all students, regardless of their abilities or challenges, have equal access to quality education and the chance to learn alongside their peers.
Egalitarianism in this setting underscores the belief that every child has the right to education and should be provided with the necessary support to succeed in a standard learning environment.
Types of Egalitarianism
The Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society (Kolb, 2008) identifies a range of types of egalitarianism:
- Economic Egalitarianism: This “refers to the notion that people should be and/or are equal with regard to material possessions” (Kolb, 2008). Such a perspective is evident in communist and Marxist movements which hold that economic profits should be distributed evenly to all, leading to social control of the means of production and oftentimes a command economy (Umapathi, 2016).
- Moral Egalitarianism: A moral egalitarian believes that all people have the same “intrinsic moral worth” (Kolb, 2008), meaning all human life is precious (Leiter, 2019). This worldview is seen in most of the major world religions and would require us to afford all people equal respect regardless of their own beliefs, religion, culture, gender, race, and so forth.
- Legal Egalitarianism: This view, put forth by enlightenment thinkers such as Locke, assumes that all people should be provided the same legal right and protections regardless of their status or background. Such a worldview is evident in movements for the abolishment of a protected gentry class or monarchy which is seen as above the regular people.
- Political Egalitarianism: This view argues that all people should and/or do inherently have equal political worth and power. In its most basic form, it underpins the democratic idea of one person, one vote (Varal, 2023). A political egalitarian may, for example, challenge the idea that small states like North Dakota get 2 US senators while large states like California also get 2, because this means North Dakotans get a stronger vote than Californians in the US Senate.
- Gender Egalitarianism: This view asserts that men and women are of equal worth and deserve the exact same powers and rights in the public sphere (McDaniel, 2008). It challenges notions that women and men are innately born with different roles in society, and instead would claim men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to run for office, operate a business, apply for a job on merit, and so forth. This is most clearly reflected in the women’s suffrage movement.
- Racial Egalitarianism: Evident in the civil rights struggles in the United States, this perspective holds that all people of all races and ethnicities are of equal moral worth, and should be afforded equal status and rights in public life. It would challenge segregation of all kinds, and seek to dispel any policies or situations in which a person gets an advantage or disadvantage based on race or ethnicity.
Note that there are many other interesting models, such as the luck egalitarianism philosophy.
Clark, J. (2011). Democrat World 2008-10. Lulu Com.
Duong, K. (2020). What Was Universal Suffrage?. Theory & Event, 23(1), 29-65. (Source)
Kolb, R. W. (Ed.). (2008). Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society (Vol. 1). SAGE Publications.
Leiter, B. (2019). The death of god and the death of morality. The Monist, 102(3), 386-402. (Source)
McDaniel, A. E. (2008). Measuring gender egalitarianism: The attitudinal difference between men and women. International journal of sociology, 38(1), 58-80. (Source)
Umapathi, A. (2016). On Inequality: A Critical Review. ZENITH International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 6(3), 118-129.
Varal, S. (2023). Two Sides of Egalitarianism: William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Folklor/Edebiyat, 29(113), 271-286. (Source)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]