THE SOCIAL ROOTS OF EGALITARIANISM
This paper starts out from the observation that amongst all the complex and well-organized societies, modern industrial society seems unique in possessing a strong drive towards equality. Egalitarianism, which in other societies is seldom recognized as an ideal at all, constitutes a powerful ideological current in industrial society, and one which cuts across differences in political system. In history, a trend towards increasing inequality seems to have reversed itself with the coming of industrialism; there is now, in fact and in aspiration, a drive towards an at least relative equalization of conditions. The paper suggests that it is unlikely that this great change – which has not yet received its due share of attention – has purely ideological causes, and it proceeds to offer a list of its probable causes, in modem social organization, and discusses the manner in which they have operated. The list includes: the occupational mobility which technical innovation imposes on all industrial societies, and which makes heredity unsuitable as the principle of recruitment and allocation to social roles; the need for cultural homogeneity and universal literacy, imposed once again by modern economic organization, and the need for rapid and easy communication, and incompatible with sharp cultural discontinuities; the need to make full use of rare human talents; the nature both of wealth and of power under conditions of industrial affluence. The paper concludes by suggesting that unless we understand these socially specific roots of our own egalitarianism (so eccentric when seen in a broad historical perspective) our working out of social or moral philosophies, which simply treats the ideal of egalitarianism as self-evident, are likely to remain superficial.