One of most controversial socio-political ideas, which advocators of social change want to incorporate within the context of society, is egalitarianism. Egalitarianism aims to ensure that equality is being observed among men. Equality is viewed in egalitarian stance, in the sense that each individual must be treated equally and fairly wherein economic opportunities are available to all and wealth is distributed evenly. Hence, egalitarianism presupposes that each individual should have an equal social worth and moral status.
John Locke posits the basic tenets of egalitarianism, which explicitly state that the validation of our natural rights will lead to the realization of social change. First, each individual has the right to do everything she chooses; in so far that he/she will not infringe other’s rights, in forms of fraud, force, violence, and the likes. Second, each individual has the right to ensure his/her safety, except if she gave up this right or transfer to others or to the government.
And most importantly, each and everyone is the owner of themselves and all infants must be nurtured properly until they reach their adulthood by those who biologically create them. Thus, Locke’s concept of egalitarianism is focus on self-ownership.
In this milieu, we can infer that egalitarianism proposed by Locke is geared towards social change because even if it gives so much stress on self-ownership, it can never denied that the validation of one’s natural rights is the primary step for equality among men, which happens to be the epicenter of man’s struggle. Justice is served when there is equality.
The basic drive of egalitarianism springs from the contrast between the claim of every human being to an equal status, in respect simply of our common humanity, and the inequality of income and wealth. That equality of status is expressed in our notion of rights inherent in every human being, by reason only of his or her sentient existence.
We speak of ‘human rights’, and expect them to be recognized in every land, whatever the structure of its society or the policy of its government, simply because the inhabitants are human beings as are we. Every person who shares with us the experience of voyaging on this planet between birth and death is in like case with us, and in some respects is entitled to an equal consideration. Those respects appear in civic rights, such as free speech, access to justice, the vote, and protection of property.
They appear also where duties are imposed, such as conscription, or jury service; even taxation is required to lay an equal burden on households’ ability to pay. In all these and other respects, we feel it wrong to accord or deny rights to people according to their parentage, their abilities, their attainments and even (except in extreme cases) their conduct. Increasingly in recent years it has been held that we should make no distinction by gender. We rate the standing of a country in the scale of civilization by the extent to which it observes these rights.
Yet even where they are observed most fully, and the people pride themselves on their civic equality, they are divided from one another by great differences in their income and wealth, with all the consequent differences in their way of life. The spirit of humanity works in one way, the market economy in quite another. To many people who look for no revolutionary change, this disparity is shocking.
Contrariwise, egalitarianism for Karl Marx is necessary for as long as it is construed that capitalism is eliminated altogether, in which the existence of inequalities among men in the arena of economic market will not be ruled by capitalist establishments. Marx argues that it is permissible to distribute economic goods based on the criterion emphasized by norms, and not by capitalists. Norm is the basis for equal rights because people will not be exploited since the economic earnings that a person will be getting is justified by his/her labor contribution, or as the catchphrase, “to each according to his contribution”.
But since this kind of reasoning is still problematic, Marx posits that this will only be a stepping stone, until a society reaches a higher communist status wherein the law will be “to each according to his needs”. Marx furthers that a society, in order to acquire a just society, must not equate norms to any moral principle because incorporating such concept emanates an attitude of enforcement.
If Locke claims that self-ownership is the key in actualizing egalitarian perspective, Marx, on the one hand, construes that is the realization of a utopian society. Self-ownership is lacking for Marx because a person is still vulnerable to any kind of exploitations, especially in economic market and labor, wherein those who cannot claim their self will be left to be exploited.
He postulates that exploitation (in terms of labor, economic distribution, etc.) will only be annihilated if the society will reach its utopian status because for this status to be realized, it is a principal prerequisite that every member of a society participates in a societal operation that gives value to one’s ability, and with regards to what the individual can contribute in that society it should not be attacked by any prejudices and biases. Everyone is equal even if there is a diversity of abilities or contributions.
If equality exists within one’s society, then social change is achievable. It must be noted that social change asks for the re-landscaping of society’s status quo. And in present times, the distribution of wealth and equal opportunities is of major concern.
Henry, B. P. (1991). Egalitarianism and the Generation of Inequality (Reprint ed.): Oxford University Press, USA.
 Henry, B.P. Egalitarianism and the Generation of Inequality. Oxford Univ. Press, p. 122.