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Egalitarianism (from French égal, meaning "equal")—or, rarely, equalitarianism—is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English. It is defined either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralisation of power. Some sources define egalitarianism as the point of view that equality reflects the natural state of humanity.
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Some specifically focused egalitarian concerns include economic egalitarianism, legal egalitarianism, luck egalitarianism, political egalitarianism, gender egalitarianism, racial equality, asset-based egalitarianism, and Christian egalitarianism. Common forms of egalitarianism include political and philosophical.
Egalitarianism in economics is a controversial phrase with conflicting potential meanings. It may refer either to equality of opportunity, the view that the government ought not to discriminate against citizens or hinder opportunities for them to prosper, or the quite different notion of equality of outcome, a state of economic affairs in which the government promotes equal prosperity for all citizens.
An early example of equality-of-outcome economic egalitarianism is Xu Xing, a scholar of the Chinese philosophy of Agriculturalism, who supported the fixing of prices, in which all similar goods and services, regardless of differences in quality and demand, are set at exactly the same, unchanging price.
Egalitarianism in politics can be of at least two forms. One form is equality of persons in right, sometimes referred to as natural rights; John Locke is sometimes considered the founder of this form. The slogan "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" was used during the French Revolution and is still used as an official slogan of the French government.
Social ownership of means of production so that the surplus product produced accrues to society as a whole as opposed to private owners is sometimes considered to be a form of economic egalitarianism. Although Karl Marx is sometimes mistaken to be an egalitarian, Marx eschewed normative theorizing on moral principles. Marx did, however, have a theory of the evolution of moral principles in relation to specific economic systems.
Karl Marx was a pro ponent of two principles, the first applied to socialism and the second to an advanced communist society: "To each according to his contribution" and "from each according to their ability; to each according to their need". Marx's position is often confused or conflated with distributive egalitarianism, in which only the goods and services resulting from production are distributed according to a notional equality; but in reality Marx eschewed the entire concept of equality as abstract and bourgeois in nature, focusing instead on more concrete principles such as opposition to exploitation on materialist and economic logic.
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, social anarchism, libertarian socialism, left-libertarianism, social liberalism and progressivism, all of which propound economic, political, and legal egalitarianism. 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.
One argument is that liberalism provides democracy with the experience of civic reformism. Without it, democracy loses any tie—argumentative or practical─to a coherent design of public policy endeavoring to provide the resources for the realization of democratic citizenship. For instance, some argue that modern representative democracy is a realization of political egalitarianism, while in reality, most political power still resides in the hands of a ruling class, rather than in the hands of the people.
The cultural theory of risk holds egalitarianism as defined by (1) a negative attitude towards rules and principles, and (2) a positive attitude towards group decision-making, with fatalism termed as its opposite.
The Christian egalitarian view holds that the Bible teaches the fundamental equality of women and men of all racial and ethnic mixes, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and the overarching principles of scripture. However, within the wide range of Christianity, there are dissenting views from opposing groups, some of which are Complementarians and Patriarchalists. There are also those who may say that, whilst the Bible encourages equality, it also encourages law and order and social structure (parents having authority over their children; the view that those who work evils are generally lower down the social scale than those who practise good, etc.); these ideas are considered by most to be contrary to the ideals of egalitarianism. At its foundational level, Christian thought holds that "... in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman", defining all as equal in the sight of God in relationship to faith in Jesus Christ. Various Christian groups have attempted to hold to this view and develop Christian oriented communities. One of the most notable of these are the Hutterite groups of Europe and North America, living in agricultural and collective communities.
Judaism posits that all humans are essentially created equal and in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This recognises that regardless of gender, ethnicity and race all humans contain the spark of the divine within them and as a result must be treated with human dignity.
Islam also advocates for equality. Buddhism preaches equality Hinduism as well.
Military egalitarianism has been noted since ancient times, such as with Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day Speech. This occurs in spite of the distinctions military forces attempt to make between officers and enlisted men. For example Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. says that United States Air Force culture includes an egalitarianism bred from officers as warriors who work with small groups of enlisted airmen either as the service crew or onboard crew of their aircraft.
An essay by Gary Hull (Ayn Rand Institute) in Capitalism magazine criticizes:
Egalitarianism, which claims only to want an 'equality' in end results, hates the exceptional man who, through his own mental effort, achieves that which others cannot... In an attempt to 'dumb down' all students to the lowest common denominator, today's educators no longer promote excellence and students of superior ability... Imagine the following Academy Award ceremony. There are no awards for best picture or best actor. Instead, every picture gets a certificate and every actor receives a prize. That is not an awards ceremony, you say? So it isn't. But it is an egalitarian's dream -- and an achiever's torment. Talent and ability create inequality... To rectify this supposed injustice, we are told to sacrifice the able to the unable. Egalitarianism demands the punishment and envy of anyone who is better than someone else at anything. We must tear down the competent and the strong -- raze them to the level of the incompetent and the weak... What would happen to a Thomas Edison today? If he survived school with his mind intact, he would be shackled by government regulators. His wealth would be confiscated by the IRS. He would be accused of 'unfair competition' for inventing so many more products than his competitors.
On the other hand, Alexander Berkman suggests:
...equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity... Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse in fact... Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality... Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse.
The Cultural Theory of Risk distinguishes between hierarchists, who are positive towards both rules and groups, and egalitarianists, who are positive towards groups but negative towards rules. This is by definition a form of "anarchist equality" as referred to by Berkman. The fabric of an "egalitarianist society" is thus held together by cooperation and implicit peer pressure rather than by explicit rules and punishment. However, Thompson et al. theorise that any society consisting of only one perspective, be it egalitarianist, hierarchist, individualist, fatalist or autonomist, will be inherently unstable: the claim is that an interplay between all these perspectives are required if each perspective is to be fulfilling. For instance, although an individualist according to Cultural Theory is aversive towards both principles and groups, individualism is not fulfilling if individual brilliance cannot be recognised by groups, or if individual brilliance cannot be made permanent in the form of principles. Accordingly, egalitarianists have no power except through their presence, unless they (by definition, reluctantly) embrace principles which enable them to cooperate with fatalists and hierarchists. They will also have no individual sense of direction in the absence of a group. This could be mitigated by following individuals outside their group: autonomists or individualists.
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