Undoubtedly, questions connected with inequality are central in Sociology, as they have been the primary source of various social problems for centuries. Therefore, the roots of the inequality phenomenon have been under discussion for as long as it exists. Private property was considered one of the most high-powered reasons for inequality for a long time. Thus the solutions to social injustice were looked for in creating new property relations. Moreover, with the development of the democracy ideas, new projects on organizing social interactions have emerged, leading to various views on a perfect social structure. Contrary to elitarianism, egalitarianism is the concept of a society in which all the members have equal social and civil rights and, as a result, opportunities in all aspects of human life. Such concepts of better ways of maintaining society organization appear to be a reaction to the exacerbation of social inequality and aim to change the situation for the better. Regarding egalitarianism, material and ideological factors of equality support each other and are tightly interrelated, being just different aspects of the same concept.
The existence of inequality as a commonly assumed problem in society has led to different ways of perceiving it and its connection to the history of humanity. For example, Rousseau reckoned that inequality almost did not exist in the state of nature (Widlok & Tadesse, 2006). Considering private property as the origin of social problems, he, however, stated that socialism in a matter of changing the private property to the shared one is not practical because it does not result in the elimination of inequality. On the other hand, Dahrendorf claimed that inequality was a universal feature of human society, which appeared as a necessary result of implementing different norms into society’s life (Widlok & Tadesse, 2006). From this perspective, inequality is natural due to the need to regulate the rules and their observance, which is why an authority with a right to sanction those who violate is required. Whether any of these theories are true or not, the fact that inequality is concerned with the cause of social problems is indisputable.
Considering the ideological side of the issue, numerous factors are supporting the egalitarian outlook. For instance, the central ideas of this state of mind are freedom and autonomy, which are reflected in the absence of control and the total margin of discretion and result in the desirable equality. In this regard, private property is considered a thoroughly negative factor that automatically makes people’s intentions unclear and impedes the simplification of social communications. The ideas of freedom and independence support the process of disengagement of people from the property. Egalitarian ideology highlights the importance of the liberty of choice on any level, which is complicated by the traditional capitalist approach due to the aggravating of choices that private property causes.
Instead of this rather unattractive form of property, the egalitarian concept offers a solution, implying the necessity of each member of the society to share the property and keep nothing in personal possession constantly. This obligation to share is based on the principle of unrestricted access to resources with restrictions concerning the limits of usage of these rights. The aim is to avoid inequality along with providing the needed amount of resources for each person. Thus, the ideological notion of the immorality of the accumulation of resources is connected with the material rules of property disposal and is responsible for the proper performance of the economy’s response to alterations in people’s behavior.
One more aspect of ideological concepts is that egalitarian societies actively promoted equality while resisting and discouraging inequality. This kind of approach aims to spread the influence of a new idea as widely as possible so that the maximum number of people gets involved in its implementation. In addition, there is an idea of de-legitimizing inequality, the opposite side of which means that those who go against the norm of equality are discarded socially. Such an example of discouraging people who do not support the majority’s opinion also portrays how ideology contributes to maintaining equality in egalitarian societies. By normalizing the crucial priority inversion in the eyes of the public and disseminating fundamental principles of the new way of life, they enshrine in the society’s common consciousness and stay for a long time.
Regarding the material aspect of equality within the scope of egalitarianism, it is impossible not to mention Immediate-Return Systems consisting of three main elements, partly described above. The first condition of creating equality is direct access to resources, both material and non-material, combined with the second one, personal and social autonomy, which is shrined in the states’ legislation. However, these material points are limited by the third element, an obligation to share one’s possessions. Being both an ideological assumption and the material factor of the functioning of the economy’s mechanisms, this statement contains the main idea of egalitarianism as a whole. It is about abandoning private property not to limit people’s success to goods but to create a new way of thinking, which would provide a new society with comfortable conditions for further development and prosperity.
The idea of sharing is more extensive and more profound on the inside. Immediate-Return Systems of societies mean the preference for using the resources immediately rather than investing or accumulating them. As a consequence of this kind of economic behavior, a society of equals is created. The members of this society are equal in their opportunities and rights, but more important and primary is their equality in wealth, power, and status. These three points predetermine the further spreading of equality in more and more aspects of a person’s social life. Although they seem solely material, there is an ideological side to them, which can be explained by implementing measures, which would assure the maintenance of those equality criteria.
To conclude, the idea of equality pursued by the ideologists of egalitarianism was based on abandoning private property and creating a new system of constant sharing of goods between the members of the society. Together with changing the attitude towards possessing things from positive to sharply negative, egalitarian views aim to create a newly-thinking society, which could provide inspiration and resources for constant improvement. Due to the close connection between any economic changes and social context, the concept of egalitarianism required both ideological and material foundations to exist. Thus, these phenomena were both sufficient sides of a bigger idea of egalitarianism, and it cannot be considered without noting any of them. Combining these factors provides and ensures the connection of ideas with reality and the possibility of bringing theoretical concepts to life.
Widlok, T. & Tadesse, W. G. (Eds.). (2006). Property and equality: ritualisation, sharing egalitarianism. Berghahn Books.