Egalitarianism: Definition, Types & Example

Egalitarianism: Definition, Types & Example

egalitarianism definition

What is Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism is the philosophic idea that all individuals are born equal and should be treated in such a way. In economics, societies are known as ‘egalitarian’ if the income and wealth levels between citizens are equal. Some nations are more egalitarian than others. For example, according to the Gini Coefficient, a measure of income inequality, Denmark has a score of 27, whilst the US scores 41.1 (100 being full unequal and 0 being perfect equality).

Egalitarianism derives from the French word ‘égal’, meaning equal. In the economic sphere, it means not only are people given the same opportunities, but the economic results are the same too. From a social perspective, egalitarianism is seen as fairness. For example, it is seen as unfair by many that footballers get paid millions, whilst nurses and doctors earn but a fraction.

In an egalitarian society, doctors would earn a fair amount, whilst footballers would see their salaries fall significantly. At the same time, CEO’s salaries would also fall significantly as many earn hundreds of times the wage of an average worker – which is seen as an unfair outcome.

Key Points
  1. Egalitarianism is based on the view that all individuals are created and should be treated equally.
  2. Economic Egalitarianism is based on the view that individuals should have similar or equal levels of wealth and income.
  3. Social Egalitarianism is based on the view that each individual should have the same rights as one another.

The issue with social egalitarianism is that the definition of fairness is dependent on the individual. For example, one person may think it is fair that footballers get paid millions. They have a short career and have to make significant sacrifices. However, another person may disagree and think it is unfair for footballers to get paid millions whilst teachers and nurses get paid a fraction.

Types of Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism is fundamentally founded upon the principle that all individuals should be treated equally. However, there are many types which can be seen below:

1. Economic Egalitarianism

Advocates of economic egalitarianism believe that all wealth and income should be allocated evenly throughout society. Rather than just advocating equal opportunities, it promotes equality of outcomes. For example, footballers should not be paid more than nurses and minimum wage workers should receive pay in line with average pay.

Economic egalitarianism has given birth to the idea of socialism which goes further and dictates that the means of production should be controlled by government. This has grown in popularity because the capitalist structure is seen to promote inequality and do the opposite of economic egalitarianism.

2. Legal Egalitarianism

This is the idea that all men and women should be equal in the eyes of the law. This means equal representation and fair punishment. Legal egalitarianism would dictate that those who have deep pockets should not be able to gain an advantage. Those who are of modest means should be able to receive legal representation no matter their background or income level.

At the same time, it aims to achieve equal results as well as an equal starting position. All parties should be entitled to legal representation, but they should also receive similar sentences. This means that a criminal is sentenced to a universal period of time, no matter their age, gender, or race.

3. Political Egalitarianism

This refers to the ideal that each individual has the same social power or influence. For example, most CEOs have the executive authority to make decisions. However, political egalitarianism would grant the same level of authority to each employee. Those decisions will affect each and every employee, so it is seen as fair for them to also have a say. This is one of the founding principles of democracy.

4. Social Egalitarianism

This follows the other forms of egalitarianism and stipulates equally between all humans. More specifically, it means equal opportunities between groups no matter the gender, age, race, or religion. These are characteristics that should not mean an individual is treated differently or unfairly. This covers areas such as civil rights and gay marriage, and other forms of discrimination. Social egalitarianism refers to the idea that each individual should have social dignity and opportunities no matter their protected characteristics.

Importance of Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism is an important topic because it strikes at the heart of human nature. The vast majority of individuals want society and the economy to be fair. Unfair outcomes are often met with fierce anger and resentment. For example, many deem CEO salaries excessive, and has led to a number of protests such as Occupy Wall Street – although its purpose was more wide reaching than just CEO salaries.

Egalitarianism is a way to make society fairer and reduce the tension between individuals in society. For example, is it fair that one person is born to a rich family whilst another is born to a poor family? The life chances are already diminished at birth. This ideology looks at the inequalities in the world and has been analyzed through many viewpoints.

The egalitarian outlook has helped lead to significant social and economic change in the form of civil rights, gay marriage, and in some countries, universal healthcare. The changes that have been made in response to creating an egalitarian society have largely been good. However, there are a number of economic changes towards egalitarianism which overlap with socialism.

Depending on each individual’s point of view, these changes can be seen as either positive or negative. For example, the minimum wage and regulatory controls are two egalitarian measures that are hotly debated between both sides of the economic debate.

Nevertheless, egalitarianism has led to a number of advances to reduce inequalities. It has helped end racist segregation laws, grant individuals the legal right of representation, and expanded the voting rights to women and those of all races.

Egalitarianism vs Socialism

Egalitarianism and socialism have many overlaps. Both believe that society should be equal and all individuals should be treated such. However, egalitarianism is a broad concept, whilst socialism is specific in how it goes about those aims. Egalitarianism is an ideal or concept which seeks to maximize equality in society. Yet this can be done through a number of various means. Socialism is one such means which it can arguably be achieved.

Socialism is somewhat of a sub-concept – providing a more specific way by which egalitarianism can be achieved. Through the common ownership of the means of production, it is argued that an egalitarian society would result. Everyone would receive according to their need and wealth would be distributed equally. This would be done through public control of resources through a governmental entity.

By contrast, egalitarianism does not stipulate that socialism is the best way to achieve such a goal. In fact, it can be seen as a desired destination. There are many ways to get there and socialism is just one of those.


What is egalitarianism?

Egalitarianism is a philosophical belief in the equal worth and rights of all individuals, regardless of their social, economic, or political status. It seeks to reduce inequalities and promote fairness and justice in society.

What is an example of egalitarianism?

Egalitarianism is the equal treatment of all in society no matter their gender, age, race, or beliefs. One example of a proponent of egalitarianism is Martin Luther King Jr who avodacted for civil rights in America.

Is egalitarianism the same as socialism?

Socialism is a branch of egalitarianism in the fact that it is a specific set of ideas by which to achieve egalitarianism. By contrast, egalitarianism is a general concept that all people should be equal. It is not an ideaology which dictates how this should be achieved.

What countries are egalitarian?

No country is egalitarian in the sense that all people are equal, but some countries have greater equality than others. Examples include the likes of Norway and Sweden.

About Paul

Paul Boyce is an economics editor with over 10 years experience in the industry. Currently working as a consultant within the financial services sector, Paul is the CEO and chief editor of BoyceWire. He has written publications for FEE, the Mises Institute, and many others.

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