Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability. Equality recognises that historically certain groups of people with protected characteristics such as race, disability, sex and sexual orientation have experienced discrimination.
Laski, the most influential positive liberal thinker, set down the following conditions of equality:
- End of special privileges in society.
- Adequate opportunities to all for developing the full potential of their personalities.
- Access to social benefits for all with no restrictions on any ground like family position or wealth, heredity etc.
- Absence of economic and social exploitation.
Four main dimensions of equality
It refers to equality before the law and equal protection of the law. The concept is all people are created equal and hence deserve the same status before the law. The law is blind and will make no allowance for the person being dealt with.
It basically refers to universal suffrage and representative government. Universal suffrage means the right to vote to all adults and one-man-one-vote. Representative government means all have the right to contest elections without distinction and contest for public service.
Early liberals meant by economic equality merely the right of choosing one's trade or profession irrespective of family position or economic status and the right or freedom to contract so that everybody in the land is treated equally as far as contractual obligations or concerned. Gradually the position began to change towards a notion of equality of opportunity for everyone to live the life of a full human being. Equality means no one in society should be so poor that he or she lacks the basic needs and the basic opportunities for mental and physical development.
It refers to the absence of discriminations on the basis of colour, gender, caste, sexual orientation etc. It has been realized the residual social discriminations that have existed for thousands of years in some societies can be very difficult to undermine even with a rapid march of constitutional political and legal rights and economic development and removal of economic inequalities.
Concept of Liberty
Liberty is the ability to do as one pleases. In modern politics, liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behaviour, or political views. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of sin, spiritual servitude, or worldly ties.
Contradiction between Equality and Liberty
Neo-Liberal thinking, profounded in particular by thinkers like economists Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek that holds such great sway on policy formulation worldwide at present, particularly at international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, believe Liberty and equality are fundamentally opposed to each other and hence inequality has to be tolerated for the sake of liberty.
The main features of this new-liberal belief system are:
- Liberty is natural and so is inequality. So it is ordained by nature that liberty and inequality are not compatible.
- Liberty principally means the absence of any restraint or coercion, but establishing equality would mean some leaving which is fundamentally against the idea of liberty. Also, the economic well being of an individual is dependent on his personal efforts and ability rather than on society. The liberty to own private property without any restriction is a natural liberty and should not be restricted in the interest of equality.
- When in an effort to establish equality, the powers of the state are increased as they must be, to whatever level, that is a threat to liberty by definition. Equality needs a positive interventionist state whereas Liberty needs a negative and minimized State.
- Without free-market capitalism, the power of the State cannot be checked and without such a check liberty is always incomplete and under threat. Thus Liberty and Capitalism complement each other but Equality and Capitalism are fundamentally in conflict.
- The Elitist Theory of Democracy which must be regarded as part f the neo-liberal tradition, advocate the presence of an economic and political elite without which according to them democracy descends into a mobocracy and populism, and liberty ceases to be available eventually in such a system. Since without an elite there can be no liberty or democracy, establishing equality by eliminating elites, destroys liberty. Hence Equality and Liberty are opposed to each other.