Like liberty the concept of equality, too, has inspired men to revolt against injustice and misrule.
According to Barker, “Equality is a protean notion: it changes its shape and assumes new forms with a ready facility”.
Meaning of Equality
Apparently, equality means that all the equal. But in Political Science, as Laski observes, equality does not mean total lack of distinction or sameness. According to him equality means (i) the absence of special privilege and (ii) provision for adequate opportunities to all. The first one is the negative aspect while the second one is the positive aspect of equality.
Men are different in their demands, capacities and needs. Hence Laski says that so long as men continue to be different in their wants, capacities and needs, there cannot be total similarity in their treatment. A mason cannot be placed on the same footing as an engineer or doctor. If both are accorded the same status or equal recognition, talents will not be rewarded and the progress of society will be retarded. Thus, it becomes quite evident from an analysis of the definition of equality that equality does not mean equal or identical treatment. As men differ in their capacities, skills and power, they can never claim equal treatment or recognition from the state or society.
Nature of Equality
Equality in the negative sense:
Prof. Laski has determined the definition and nature of equality from both the negative and the positive aspects. In the negative sense, equality means the absence of discrimination on ground of religion, race, caste, wealth, sex etc. for, such discrimination’s obstruct the development of the latent talents of the individual. For example, equality would mean that there must be equality of opportunity for everybody in the matter of appointment to a government post according to his merit and qualifications. Thus, appointment to a post on the hereditary basis is repugnant to the principle of equality.
However, though equality would demand the existence of equality of opportunity in the matter of appointment on the basis of merit and qualification for all – irrespective of men or women, discrimination may reasonably be permissible in certain special cases. For example women may be considered to be better fitted for the job of a nurse while men may be preferred to women for employment in the police force or the army. Such type of appointment is not opposed to the principle of equality.
Equality in the positive sense:
In the positive sense equality means provision for ‘adequate opportunities.’ But the phrase ‘adequate opportunities’ does not mean ‘equal opportunities.’ As the needs and demands of the individuals and the efforts made by them are not identical, they require different types of opportunity for the development of their personality. For this reason Ben and Peters commented that positive equality signifies appropriate opportunities for self-development to each citizen.
By equality Barker also does not mean identical treatment. According to Barker, identical treatment creates hindrances for free development of the individual’s talent. Barker elaborates his argument with an example. All the competitors are arranged in a level line at the starting of the race that lies ahead. Likewise, with equal conditions guaranteed by the state to each for making the best of himself, all the individuals have to start from the level line for the development of their personality.
Equality, thus, is the start, not the finish. For, everybody cannot make the best use of the conditions provided to him. In this case, if everybody is given equal status or recognition, it will certainly be incompatible with the principle of equality.
The Marxist point of view:
The Marxists analyze equality from a completely different angle. By equality Marx never meant leveling down the distinct life and needs of the individual. According to him, equality means abolition of class division from the womb of the society. It implies four things:
- (i) After the destruction of capitalism all sections of the working class people will be free.
- (ii) Private property will disappear.
- (iii) Everyone will do his work according to his ability and every one will get proper wages according to the nature of his work.
- (iv) To work according to one’s ability will be regarded as one’s duty. The Marxists argue that in a class-divided society, establishment of real equality is an impossible task.
Different Forms of Equality
Equality is a multidimensional concept. Naturally it has many forms. However, for the sake of clarity we can classify equality into four categories:
Natural equality:The protagonists of natural equality think that ‘Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights’. The Stoic philosophers of the ancient Greece, the Roman thinkers like Cicero and Polybious, the Christian fathers of the later period and Rousseau laid special emphasis on such equality.
Social equality: Social equality means equality between man and man in the social sphere. When no discrimination is made between man and man on such grounds as religion, race, caste, birth, wealth and power, it is called social equality. According to Barker, the contents of social equality are equality of culture and economic equality. Such equality was non-existent in the slave and the feudal societies. But, with the establishment of the capitalist society, the concept of social equality spread.
Legal equality: The exponents of liberal democracy gave a special focus on the establishment of legal equality in the 19th and 20th century. Legal equality implies two things:
- (i) Equality before the law and
- (ii) Right to equal protection of law.
Legal equality can be divided into three categories:
- (a) Personal equality,
- (b) Political equality and
- (c) Economic equality.
a) Personal equality: When all the individuals are able to enjoy equal opportunities of social rights, it is called personal equality.
b) Political equality: Political equality implies the right to equal participation of all citizens in the process of formation and management of the government. The concept stands against artificial distinctions among the citizen based on sex, class, caste, religion etc. The concrete expression of political equality is the conferment on all adult citizens of the right to take part in the election, the right to petition against the government and the equal right to criticize governmental activities without any distinction of religion, race, caste, sex, birth and wealth.
c) Economic equality: The bourgeois theorists regard the equal right to income and wealth as economic equality. But such right brings about inequality rather than equality in the economic sphere. Laski opines that economic equality means equality in economic power which implies something more than approximate equality of wealth. By economic equality he means availability of adequate economic opportunities to all.
International equality: When the principle of equality is applied to the international society, it is called international equality. If we recognize equal status of all nation-states irrespective of their size, military and economic power, we can establish this type of equality.
– Rahul Chopra.