Equality is a somewhat modern concept. Not always has humanity felt the need for equality between men as at present. In the western world kings and monarchs had a divine right to rule and so did feudal lords in the areas under their rule and priests and the clergy often assumed to know the best on most matters. Everybody else was there to serve the king and the church.
(In our country the brahmin was at the top of the heap and had the sole right to lay down the ultimate wisdom on all matters, the kshatriya had the sole right to armed military might and the vaishya enjoyed a monopoly of making money and accumulating wealth through trade and money lending. The dalit or the shudra had no superior rights, only a monopoly similarly, on all the inferior rights and jobs of society. And this continued for thousands of years.)

In the Greek period there was a feeble rather limited attempt made at establishing equality but it was only the in the 17th century in Europe that demands for rights and liberty began to be raised and only in the 18th and 19th century that equality was demanded.

The initial demands were raised by the newly rich among traders and businessmen, or bourgeois, who questioned why was it that while both they and the feudal lords and monarchs had wealth and economic status but the legal status was not the same. In England for instance, as Tawny puts it:
‘Since most conspicuous of them in equalities were juristic not economic, it was in the first place legal privilege, not inequality of wealth, which was the object of attack….The primary aim of reformers was the achievement of the first (legal equality), since once the first was established, the second (economic equality), in so far as it was desirable, would, it was thought establish itself’ . Similarly in France, the issue was not economic equality but the uniformity of legal rights, and the struggle for equality ‘set the new aristocracy of wealth on a footing of parity with the old aristocracy of land’20.

While in the 18th century the voice for legal and political equality was raised mainly, it was in the 19th century that a more vigorous demand for social-economic equality was made as a result of the rise of a new working class. The march of lazes faire capitalism in the 19th century while creating great wealth for some families on one side also created great poverty and economic inequality on the other. Hence the demand for economic equality arose and was raised by humanists, utopian socialists, Marxists and positive liberals. This demand for economic equality was not for negative political and legal equality but a demand for positive equality and it implied a check on private property, a check on exploitation of the poor by rich, and it implied a positive role of the State with regard to the overall economic system of society.

3 thoughts on “Equality”

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