Equality is an important socio-political idea. It is modern and progressive, and is one of the defining features of modern day political thought. Society contains inequality ; so it is must for society to reform and made more equal.
In Ancient Greek city, the dominant philosophers were against the notion of equality. Plato while formulating the concept/theory of justice divided the society into three classes and demanded unequal rights for the different people from different classes. Aristotle gave the argument in favor of slavery which was based on inequality.
The idea of equality in the modern age came in prominence after revolutions in Britain (1649) and USA (1776) and in France (1789), which made right to equality by birth as their central plank.
In 19th century, Marxist and Socialist Philosophers emphasised on economic equality. The demand for equality is to mitigate the large number of existing economic, social and cultural inequalities and to bring in social improvement without created differences between the people. Equality is hence a perspective rather than descriptive value. The concern of most political theories is how to create equality while accepting inequality and to what extent can the state apparatus promote equality without violating or infringing liberty and individuality.
Meaning of Equality : It doesn’t mean uniformity. Its essence lies in absence of unfair and unreasonable discrimination between individuals on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth etc. Therefore equality means absence of inequality. Inequality is of two types : NATURAL inequality and Conventional Inequality. Equality aims at abolishing conventional inequalities or discrimination which are irrational and illogical.
Like liberty, equality can also be understood in its positive and negative aspects. In the positive sense, it meant “the availability of opportunity” so that everybody could have equal chance to develop his personality. It implies creation of adequate opportunities for the self development of all. In negative sense, it implies absence of privileges for anyone. Each person must be recognized as equal to every other and so nobody should be denied adequate opportunities for his self development. Equal treatment doesn’t mean similar treatment. Differences in treatment can be permitted within the concept of equality but the differences must be based on the differing needs of the individuals.
Explaining the meaning of equality, Laski writes that equality means :
a) Absence of special privileges : The will of one is equal to the will of others.
b) Equality means provision for adequate opportunities for all : Opportunities be given to everyone.
c) All must have access to social benefits and no one should be restricted on any ground. The things without which life is meaningless must be accessible to all.
d) Absence of economic and social exploitation
All these meanings suggest that equality is a positive thing, it can be understood in relation with the society and it needs certain leveling processes in the society. Equality doesn’t mean perfect or absolute equality, it neither means equality of treatment. But it definitely means equality of rights and duties, equality before law and equal protection of law. Absence of exploitation – social and economic – and absence of economic inequality – abolition of private property – are preconditions for any kind of equality in society.
The Indian Constitution is the best example of the modern concept of equality :
a) Article 14 of the Constitution of India provides for equality before the law & equal protection within the territory of India.
b) Article 15 (1) and (2) prohibit the state from discriminating any citizen on ground of any religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
c) Article 16 says that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
d) Article 17 says that Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offense punishable by law.
e) Article 18 (Abolition of titles):
– Article 18 says that no title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State. No citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign state.
– The awards, Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhuhan, Padma Bhusan and Padma Shri, called as The National Awards would not amount to title within the meaning of Article 18(i)
At the same time, reasonable restrictions have been placed which provides for special provisions for women and children (- Under Article 15 (3) & (4), the government can make special provisions for women & children and for a group of citizens who are economically and socially backward.)
Constitution also provides for DPSP’s in which state has been directed to work in such a way so as the citizens of India really become equal and the objective of welfare state is attained.
The Constitution of India treats everyone alike, but it treats some specially. These are the socially, economically and politically backward classes.
Normative and Descriptive Concepts
Normative concept is about intrinsic value, right and wrong, and/or virtues. The following are claims concerning normative ethics:
1. It is wrong to kill people just because they make you angry.
2. We should fight to free slaves when necessary, even when doing so is illegal.
3. Pain is intrinsically bad—we ought not cause pain without a good reason to do so.
4. It is reasonable for a person to give charity to those in need, even if no reciprocation should be expected.
Normative concepts thus ladens in itself wide range of socio-political concepts like “Justice”, “Liberty”, “Equality”, “Secularism” and “Humanism”.
Descriptive concepts on the other hand presents facts, which supposedly have an objective and a demonstrable existence. “Power”, Authority, Order, Law” are in this sense descriptive rather than normative.
Distinction between facts and values is often regarded as a necessary precondition for clear thinking. Where are values may be opinions, facts can be proved to be either true or false. Descriptive concepts hence become neutral.
Kinds of Equality
a) Legal Equality : Legal Equality stands for equality before law, equal subjection of all to the same legal code and equal opportunity for all to secure legal protection of their rights and freedom. There should rule of law and laws must be equally binding for all. In every society equality must be ensured in all these forms.
b) Political Equality : It stands for equal opportunities for participation of all in the political process. This involves
* Right to vote
* Right to contest elections
* Right to hold public office
* Right to criticize the government
c) Economic Equality : Economic equality does not mean equal treatment or equal reward or equal wages for all. It stands for fair and adequate opportunities to all for work and for earning of their livelihoods. It also means that primary needs of all should be met before the special needs of few are satisfied. The gap between rich and poor should be minimum. There should be equitable distribution of wealth and resources in the society.
Earlier liberals meant economic equality as choosing one’s trade or profession irrespective of his caste, creed or economic status. Today, it has a wider meaning :
* Economic resources shouldn’t be concentrated in a few hands which allow them to exploit the others.
* There shouldn’t be a wide difference between wages. Equal work should ensure equal pay.
* Right to work and right against unemployment.
* State should ensure enough public welfare measures to prevent people from becoming prey to dominant economic interests.
d) Social Equality : It stands for equal rights and opportunities for development for all classes of people without any discrimination.
Specifically, it stands for:
* Absence of special privileges for any class or caste or religions group or an ethnic group;
* Prohibition of discrimination against any one on the basis of caste, colour, creed, religion, sex and place of birth;
* Free access to public places for all the people, i.e. no social segregation; and
* Equality of opportunity for all people. It however accepts the concept of protective discrimination in favour of all weaker sections of society.
A modern central theme of social equality is to end gender inequality, to ensure equal status and opportunities to the women and to ensure equal rights of male and female children to live and develop.
e) Natural Equality : Natural equality is another type of equality. It implies that all men are born free and equal and are endowed with equal gifts and talents. It also means that the State should try to reduce inequality, rather than perpetuate it. The State should provide those social and economic opportunities that offer equal chances. Natural equality is rather an ideal and not an immediate reality. This ideal should be attained in a society as far as possible.
Marxist view of Equality : Marxism maintains that inequalities emerged with the emergence of private property and equality can be there only when private property is abolished. Marxism scientifically analyzes the issue of equality and property and associates it with the abolition of classes and establishment of a classless society. Only in a classless society can the egalitarian principle can be practiced. Lenin says that “We want to abolish the class and in this sense we are for equality”.
Marx maintains economic equality as the most fundamental and all other equalities are based on this. It doesn’t agree that the State can create equality in a class-divided society through welfare measures and economic policies.
Arguments in favor of social or material equality :
a) Strengthens social cohesion and community by creating a common identity and shared interests.
b) Enlarges freedom in the sense that it safeguards people from poverty and satisfies basic needs, enabling them to achieve fulfillment.
c) It is only meaningful form of equality in that all other equalities rest upon it : Genuine legal and political equality require that people have access to equal social resources.
Arguments against social equality :
a) Unjust because it treats unequals equally and therefore fails to reward people in line with their talents and capabilities.
b) It results in economic stagnation in that it removes incentives and caps aspirations, amounting to a process of “levelling down”.
c) It can be achieved only through state intervention, and a system called “Social Engineering”, meaning that it always infringes upon individual liberty.
d) It results in drab/dull uniformity, diversity is crushed and the vigor to grow as a society is lost.
Relationship between Liberty and Equality
Western Liberal political thought two contradictory positions can be seen :
* Liberty and Equality are antithetical or incompatible
* Liberty and Equality are complementary or compatible to each other.
According to first position (supported by Lord Acton, Hayek), human beings differ in theirs set of skills and abilities. Therefore, even if the same opportunities are provided, some will be more successful than others. The trend towards inequality can be countered only by suppression of talents and aspirations or by a comprehensive and continuous state intervention to equalize artificially the gifted and the ordinary. Both the measures are inimical to liberty :
a) Liberty and inequality are nature. Therefore, by nature liberty and equality are contradictory.
b) Liberty means negative liberty or absence of any restraint or coercion, whereas equality needs some restraints of some leveling, which is against the principles of liberty.
c) In order to create equality in society the powers of the State are to be increased and increase in the powers of the state will threaten liberty. Here liberty and authority are seen as opposed to each other. The argument gets support from political practice too. Many states have unnecessarily increase their powers and attacked the rights and liberities of citizens. Thus, liberity is opposed to equality on the ground that equality needs a positive state whereas liberty needs a negative or minimal state.
d) It is sometimes said that without capitalism, the power of the State cannot be checked and without this type of check. liberty is always in danger. Thus, capitalism is helpful to liberty.
On the other hand, equality and capitalism doesn’t go side by side. Liberty needs maintainence of capitalism and equality needs overthrow of capitalism. Thus, both are opposed (Concept by Milton Friedman)
Liberty and Equality are Compatible : Supported by Hume, Rousseau, Baker, Laski
a) Both have a common end : promotion of individual personality and to create a better social order.
b) Democracy is believed to be best way to protect liberty of the people but on the other hand, basic philosophical idea on which democracy rests is equality which can be seen in practice in the form of one person one vote.
Political liberty without economic equality is a myth : G.D.H Cole
Laski : Political liberty without economic equality is meaningless.