Ideology and Equality

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Ideology and Equality


Before we can analyse liberal, conservative and socialist attitudes to “equality” we must first distinguish between different kinds of equality: foundational equality, formal equality, equality of opportunity and economic equality of outcome distinguishing in this later case between absolute and relative equality.


By foundational equality we mean the idea that all people are created equal not in the sense that they have equal talents and abilities but that as a result of their own common humanity they have equal moral worth. This notion of foundational equality can be seen in the American Declaration of Independence statement that “All men are created equal and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen that “men are born free and remain equal in rights” although the precise meanings of both of these statements are ambiguous in several respects.


Classical Liberal critics of excessive and possibly tyrannical governments came to argue hat all citizens should experience formal equality meaning that they are entitled to equal treatment before the law and that the institutions of the state should also be subject to the rule of law as one means of defence against the possible tyranny of the state.


In the course of the 19th Century many liberals and conservatives to oppose universal suffrage arguing for example that the limited education and/or dangerously radical views of the working classes combined with the possible tyranny of the majority undermined the case for radical changes to the suffrage. However by the C20th liberals, conservatives and evolutionary socialists all came to accept the principles of modern liberal democracy which imply that all adult citizens equally [but with a few exceptions] have the right to vote in fair elections, to join political parties and stand as candidates for election, to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly and freedom of religious belief. These political rights apply equally to all citizens irrespective of their social class, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.


However there remain very significant ideological differences between socialists, liberals and conservatives regarding attitudes to economic equality of outcome and equality of opportunity. It is, of course socialists who are most likely to