History of egalitarianism
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14-06-2014, 08:00 PM
RE: History of egalitarianism
(14-06-2014 05:54 PM)Stevil Wrote:  
(28-04-2014 05:46 AM)Juv Wrote:  The idea that all humans are "born equal" is clearly nonsense. We have equal rights under law in the western world
From what point do people consider everyone being born equal?

So you two agree, I think.

I don't see anyone arguing that we are born equal. I think it's a matter of 'ought' not 'is'.


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15-06-2014, 05:11 AM
RE: History of egalitarianism
The Athenian Greeks talked about "isonomia" - often translated as "equal law", though this is disputed - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isonomia . This was the word that the supporters of democracy gave to to their form of government, the word "democracy" originally being an insult - "mob rule" - given by it's opponents.

Of course ancient Athens was not egalitarian, and only male citizens voted - women, slaves and foreigners, who made up the vast majority of the population, being excluded, but the idea was picked up during the renaissance and modified into the concept we have now during the Enlightenment. It became a central rallying cry of the French Revolution - "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

The concept of equal laws (however poorly executed in practice) has always been the corner stone of democracy. The opposite is when a persons social position or race would determine which law would apply - seen at its most extreme in forms of slavery where the owner can kill his slave with impunity.

I doubt that the Athenians invented the idea, they just wrote it down first. We share a common ancestor with bonobos and chimpanzees, and people argue over which we most resemble. The truth is we share characteristics with both.

My own feeling is that there is a constant tension in humankind between cooperating for mutual benefit and competing between ourselves for personal advantage. This is reflected in egalitarianism - the more equal the reward the more likely it is to encourage cooperation, and in hierarchy - if you have gained advantage over another group, you want to keep it.

It seems obvious to me that the success of humanity is more through cooperation than competition (male lions compete fiercely, but they do not build skyscrapers) - I personally think that this means that broad egalitarian ideals are a better basis for society that hierarchal ones, even though people are not equal and tend to create hierarchies in groups.

I also think that currently egalitarian ideals are being eroded in Western society and we are returning to a situation of aristocracy through inherited wealth (with unusual individuals being the exception) and that this is reflected in practical inequality in access to law, which depends on wealth rather than merit. It always has, to an extent, but I think it is getting worse. I can offer no evidence of that though... what does anyone else think?
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18-06-2014, 04:52 PM
RE: History of egalitarianism
Until a short few centuries ago, saying that all people were equal would have been about as well received as saying that all numbers were equal. But long before then, as far back as Hammurabi, humans had the idea of laws that applied to everyone in the same way. However, that mattered only in courts; governments didn't have to obey any law.

The concept of governments being made up of people who had to obey the law when they did the governing was honoured (though often in the breach) by classical Athens and Rome, but was never widely accepted in much of the rest of the world, and indeed still isn't. Governments, by which I include monarchs and aristocracies, could more or less do as they liked to anyone they didn't like. However, that mattered only when you actually ran into a monarch or an aristocrat, which was rare.

With the recent vast increase in the size, reach, power, and wealth of governments, it matters a great deal what the government does and whether any laws constrain it. So some countries have tried to limit the behaviour of their governments, and to make better use of the available brains by allowing good people to rise to the top, which means forbidding governments from discriminating against good people on silly grounds like who their parents are. A simple and easily understandable way to do this is to mandate equal treatment.

The rest, as they say, is history.
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20-06-2014, 07:49 AM
Re: History of egalitarianism
Well the concept of it being self evident was laid out in the declaration of independence but I don't consider it something we believe...

I think the phrase chosen as, we hold these truths... To be significant. It doesn't say we believe or know it. I think of it that we want it to be true, assert it's true even though we know it's not.

As far as the history, I'm not well aware but I thought after stifled after Athens sorta concepts of this, it didn't really flourish until it began to merge in post renaissance philosophers such as Hume and Locke.

"Allow there to be a spectrum in all that you see" - Neil Degrasse Tyson
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