Meaning and Definition:
Equality originates from aequalis, aequus and aequalitas. These are all old French or Latin words. These French/Latin words mean even, level and equal. Thus the meaning of the word equality used in political science corresponds to the meaning from which it originates.
The term equality used in political science differs from uniformity, identity and sameness. Some people, of course, want to use it to denote uniformity. But this does not convey the meaning when it is used by political scientists. Equality does not mean obliteration of diversity.
Number of political scientists has defined the concept and Prof. Laski is one of them. We shall mention his definition because of its special approach. According to Laski equality means “coherence of ideas”.
In the treatment meted out to different individuals there shall persist coherence. While privileges are distributed among the individuals justice and reason must be maintained so that no individual can think that he is neglected or is deprived of his due share. In the distribution of privileges attention shall be paid to the development of personality.
This definition leads us to find out another meaning (definition) of equality. It means the absence of special privileges. Individual’s claim for the privileges rests on the ground that without it he cannot develop his personality and because of this reason an individual’s claim for something is logical and legitimate.
In that case, if some individuals are deliberately made to suffer that will be a gross violation of equality. Of course, the deprived person must prove that others have been given more than what is reasonably his due.
Mere providing privileges or opportunities is not all. This does not bear the complete meaning of equality. Laski further says that privileges provided by the authority must be adequate. Individuals, with the help of inadequate opportunities, cannot develop personality. It is difficult to ascertain what is exactly meant by the term adequate. What is adequate to one may be inadequate to other and we all admit this.
Still we hold the view that adequacy will be determined by the person claiming opportunities. And at the same time that state must have the capability to provide opportunities. It may not be possible for the government of a poor country to provide all the requirements for the research of atomic energy. Again, providing privileges depends upon the mentality of the party in power.
All these factors enter into the consideration while analysing the term adequate. But this controversy need not be an obstacle for the authority in charge of distributing opportunities (we use opportunities and privileges alternatively though there is a very subtle difference).
We collect three different meanings of equality from D. D. Raphael’s analysis:
The first is equal consideration. There is a second meaning and it is equal opportunities. Finally, equal satisfaction of basic needs. The term equal considerations is not satisfactory because it may not always be justified. Equal opportunities, in the opinion of Raphael, are an acceptable term but it is cautioned here that it should not lead one to conclude that it is identical opportunity.
Basic needs are a good term and everybody wants its fulfillment. Here the problem is what is actually basic needs differs from person to person. The criterion of basic needs is to be determined at first. The different senses of equality designated by Raphael, though controversial, are meaningful and many subscribe to these meanings.
Instead of attributing any clear meaning to the concept of equality Dorothy Pickles (Introduction to Politics) draws our attention to the fact that it is used in most of the cases ambiguously. To the French revolutionaries it was meant equality before law. Irrespective of any differences all classes and groups of persons are to be treated equally by law. Nobody is above law and outside the purview of law.
Equality has another meaning and this is everybody can claim equal protection of law. Law will protect all persons equally and it will make no discrimination. Some people still hold the view that equality denotes equal economic opportunities. There is still another meaning of equality which means property should be distributed equally among all persons. These are the different connotations attributed to the concept of equality.
Analysis of Equality:
We now turn to a detailed analysis of the various aspects of equality:
1. Everybody admits that equality is a very complex notion; there is no single meaning and no single notion about equality. We here note some well-known meanings or notions such as political equality, economic equality, social equality, racial equality and sexual equality or equality in respect of gender. All these forms are important and they have relevance in the social and political structures.
2. Benn and Peters have said that the concept is more often prescriptive than descriptive. The exponents of the doctrine, through the idea of equality, want to prescribe some norms or ideals. For example, they want to say that there shall be political or racial or economic equality or it is suggested that both women and men shall be on equal footing. While prescribing something in the form of equality it is generally addressed to the persons in power, policy-makers and general public that the principle of equality should be strictly adhered to.
3. In the analysis of equality we very often refer to egalitarianism, and in political theory both equality and egalitarianism are profusely used. Egalitarianism refers to the belief in the principle that all men are equal because they are created by God equal and, therefore, they deserve equal rights and opportunities. No discrimination is allowed. Particularly Christianity worked behind the propagation of this concept.
It is also defined as a theory or practice based on the desire to promote equality or the belief that establishment of equality is the primary objective of any society, Egalitarianism, we can say, aims at extreme or strict equality. It says that in all spheres of social, political cultural, economic and other fields there shall exist equality.
It thinks of no concession or relaxation of equality principle—viewed thus, equality, at least in some respects, differs from egalitarianism. It believes that all men are created equal. But that does not mean that the differences in intelligence, ability etc. cannot be recognised. It is believed by some that the maximisation of equality will result in egalitarianism. Egalitarianism has for long canvassed in favour of equalities in income, wealth, opportunities etc. It has been asserted that without all these equalities the inherent qualities of men cannot thrive at all.
4. The progress towards attainment of equality has not been uniform in all states. For example, in the USA the legislature and the judiciary have been found very active in the fields of social and political equality; it has been less active in economic equality. Not only the USA, in other liberal democracies more stress is given to political equality and less to economic equality. Whereas in socialist countries much importance is paid to economic equality. But egalitarianism calls it a violation that all types of equality are to be treated adequately.
Nowadays a term is frequently used and it is formal equality. The political scientists do not especially use this term but it is manifest from their analysis that the idea of formal equality is quite fresh in their minds. It is believed that formal equality is legal equality. The inner idea is that every citizen is a legal member of the state which is a legal association.
As a legal member of the legal association every person has certain claims to equality. There are two very important forms of legal or formal equality. One is equality before law and equal protection of law. We have already mentioned these two. What is to be noted here is that the legal member of the legal association (Barker calls a state a legal association) can legitimately claim that all the citizens (including him) must be treated equally by law and no discrimination is to be allowed. In the British system of administration and politics this was especially emphasised and Dicey spoke a lot about it. Violation of this principle will be treated as violation of equality.
There is another type of formal equality and it is equal protection of law. It is the primary function of law to give protection to all citizens and while doing this it makes no distinction between rank, position and wealth. Legal or formal equality, to speak the truth, constitutes the very core of rule of law. In this sense the formal equality comes to be associated with equality.
It has been pointed out by Heywood that the formal equality is basically negative because the state authority takes special care in regard to the distribution of opportunities. The objective shall always be not to allow awarding special privileges to few persons.
Naturally to attain this goal the state must impose restriction in one form or other upon the distributing machinery or the state must take policy to that extent. We have already noted that Laski has observed that equality means the absence of ‘special privileges.
Formal or legal equality has received almost universal approval from conservatives, liberals and even socialists. It is absolutely irrational, unjustified and even bigotry to deprive some persons of their legitimate share in wealth, income and manifold privileges on the ground of accidental birth in poor families or in so called neglected religious groups.
The white rulers of South Africa adopted a policy of segregation or apartheid for the black people who were the original inhabitants of the land. Even in the USA the Negroes were not allowed to sit with the white students in public schools or to dine in the famous restaurants.
The blacks were not even allowed to enjoy other privileges which the white people had the right to enjoy. This type of discrimination was irrational and against equality, liberty and justice. It is ridiculous to think of the rule of law in a society which gleefully practices all forms of discriminations.
Equality and Justice:
Equality is the Principle of Justice:
In our analysis of Rawls’ theory of justice we have noted that he treats attainment of equality in the distribution of rights as a basic principle of justice. He writes “Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive scheme of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar scheme of liberties of others”.
Every individual has the right to claim equal liberties with others and when the state authority can ensure this, it will be assumed that justice will no longer be far away. The state must see that in regard to the allotment of rights and liberties the principle of equality has been most scrupulously observed. If equality is violated justice will not be achieved. Justice is always hand in glove with equality.
Rawls further maintains that for the sake of justice inequalities may be allowed to reign in society. Rawls writes, “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage”. In a state all the opportunities and position shall be opened to all. There shall be no place of discrimination. Rawls also says that even the inequalities shall create no disadvantage to anybody.
In this way Rawls has suggested that equalities and inequalities will build up a foundation for justice. Distribution of all values, rights and liberties will be based on the above principles and all institutions shall be modelled on the same principles.
Liberal Equality, Democratic Equality and Justice:
Liberal equality, democratic equality and justice all are closely linked. Rawls says formal equality, through the distribution of all opportunities to all eligible persons, shall be ascertained. Rawls admits that in almost all societies there are misdistribution of opportunities and advantages at the initial stages and that must be rectified through deliberate efforts.
This should be done in such a manner as it will enable to flourish and utilise their talents properly. But Rawls points out a condition. Formal declaration of policies or processes is not sufficient; care should be taken as to the fact that all are capable of attaining the opportunities. If necessary the structural changes of the society are to be effected. “Free market arrangements must be set within a framework of political and legal institution”.
Rawls suggests that democratic equality is achieved by combining the means of the principle of fair equality of opportunity with the difference principle. Let us explain it. We have already noted that whatever opportunities are available, that must be fairly distributed among the legitimate claimants.
In the process of distribution, if necessary, difference is to be accepted. That is, unequal distribution of opportunities is to be admitted. He says that behind this policy there shall be consent of the society and it shall aim at the advantage or benefit or welfare of all. Even the expectations of the least advantaged shall find realisation.
Basis of Equality and Justice:
How justice is related to equality or vice versa will be explained in the following way: Rawls says that the relation between these two concepts can be explained from various standpoints. In the first place, the administration of public institutions is to be so arranged as to ensure both equality and justice. All the rules of the society are to be applied impartially and the rule of law shall prevail in every sphere of human life and society.
The rights of persons are to be protected by the rule of law. The citizens will be able to realise that rule of law is not violated. The rule of law and equality travel side by side and both help the realisation of justice. We here find that Rawls was immensely influenced by the British systems of rule of law and he considered it as the basis of justice and equality.
Rawls mentions about the ”substantive structure” of institutions. He repeatedly emphasises the restructuring of institutions because of the fact that, in democracy people’s rights, liberties and equalities are realised mainly through these institutions. These are not generally controlled by the state. But mere non-interference with the functioning of institutions is not enough.
The structure must be helpful for equality and justice. The structures of institutions will have no function for discriminating among the citizens and thereby devaluing justice. It is the duty of institutions to impart justice and ensure equality. Thus, Rawls concludes that justice and equality are not separate concepts.
Marxist Theory of Equality:
Part of Marx’s Political Philosophy:
Like his other political concepts, equality is also a part of his entire .political philosophy which is primarily linked with the unmasking the real nature of capitalist system, its abolition and emancipation of working class. From the study of various aspects of society Marx concluded that there were number of inequalities in capitalist system.
For example, social, political, economic etc.; and these were due to the bourgeois structure. In any capitalist state there were inequalities between men and women, rich and poor, there were discriminations among various religious groups.
Even the inequalities were institutionalised by the capitalists. Theoretically the bourgeois scholars and political scientists propagate for equality and strongly argue for formal or legal equality. Even the bourgeois constitutions (constitutions framed by the bourgeois scholars to meet the needs of a particular class) pontifically announce the inclusions of rights, liberties and equalities as parts of the constitution and also make provision for their protection.
But in actual situation most of the rights, liberties and equalities remain unfulfilled. Marxists claim that all “these allegations against the bourgeois society are not based on any concoction or emotion. It is their claim that Marx and Engels studied the capitalist society from a very close distance.” In the second half of the nineteenth century the capitalist systems of Britain, Germany and France were matured.
How to Achieve Equality?
On the Jewish Question Marx dealt with several issues and one of these is equality. He had said that it was mere farce to think of emancipation of all exploited people through the declaration of equal civil rights and liberties. To Marx such declaration amounted to political emancipation.
But people’s equal rights and privileges could never be obtained through the announcement of political emancipation. According to Marx it was merely partial emancipation. For achievement of all forms of equality (also of rights and liberties) human emancipation was necessary. By human emancipation he meant emancipation of all men and women from every type of bondage created and imposed by the capitalists. Emancipation only of the Jews could not achieve that ambitious objective.
So Marx on the Jewish Question ridiculed the emancipation only of the Jews. Marx believed that the institution of private property was the chief evil and it always acted for the creation of inequalities and differences among people. For this reason he recommended the abolition of private property through the seizure of political power. Prevalence of market economy was another factor for the growing menace of inequality and exploitation.
The weaker sections of the body politic were gradually being eliminated from the market because of money power exercised by the capitalists. Therefore, the abolition of capitalism was the first precondition for the attainment of universal political values such as equality, right and liberty, also justice.
Two Principles of Equality:
A serious analysis of Marxist thought reveals that Marx had two types of equality in his mind though an unambiguous conclusion cannot be drawn. The writer of the essay published in Dictionary of Marxist Thought has said that the two principles of equality are—”From each according to his abilities, to each according to the amount of work performed”.
There is another principle: “Each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. This principle indicates that each person in the society will perform his duties as far as his abilities permit him to do. That is, none will be asked to do any work beyond his capacity.
On the basis of these two criteria the remuneration will be decided. It is believed by the Marxists that if this criterion is strictly adhered to that will lay the foundation of equality because none will be deprived of his due share of wealth. But the Marxists believe that only in a post-revolutionary society such an aim can be realised.
In the first stage of the post-revolutionary society, Marx claimed, this objective or principle could be achieved. Marxists did not treat this stage as the stage of just equality. It was apprehended that due to differences in ability and talent there might appear differences among men in many respects. Nevertheless, this principle might be regarded as the stepping stone to equality.
There is another principle delineated by Marxists: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. Marxists (including Lenin) stressed this principle and held that only in a communist society this principle could be achieved. Explaining this principle the author of the above-noted article has said, “This principle corresponds with the higher communist phase of post-revolutionary society. Under communism will there be equal treatment of unequal human beings with all their necessarily unequal needs”.
A musician needs musical instruments for the performance of music. A physicist requires huge amount of money to purchase sophisticated instruments for his research. All these are not always for the large scale public benefit. However, these expenditures are to be met. Some people call it Utopian approach to the concept of equality because all the legitimate and rational requirements cannot be met by the society. Naturally the system of private property is essential.
But the Marxists do not share this view. They are of opinion that when everybody in the society is assured of satisfactory activities and requirements there shall not arise the urge for private property. This will clear the way for the emergence of equality. A good social relation will develop among all persons in the body-politic. Marxists have further said that, in communism, when such a situation will arise, nobody will try to acquire private property because that will appear to them a useless venture.