The societies and states that have been formed in today’s world, though have evolved with the passage of time, still possess dominant shortcomings. These shortcomings if not met on time, the discrepancies and discontentment would keep on rising and disturbing the human beings, societies and the governments. If we analyze today’s societies, we come to know that there are some very basic requirements that are missing. Among those requirements, justice, equality and rights are the most essential ones. And it is important to note that these elements are interdependent.
Though there have been many endeavors in human society to acquire justice equality and liberty, the French Revolution of 1789 was largely a protest against the prevailing inequalities and the Revolutionaries adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) asserting, “Men are born and always continue to be free and equal in respect of their rights.” But, it was only in the present century that effort was made to eliminate inequalities in the economic and social sphere and necessary laws were enacted to protect the interests of the workers.
It was emphasized that equality in the economic sphere was more important than equality in the civil and political spheres. It was asserted that political liberty without economic equality was a myth. The decline of imperialism and colonialism and the emergence of a large number of independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America gave a further impetus to the principle of equality.
All the states began to be treated as equals at the international levels irrespective of their size, resources and importance. The war against racial discrimination and the introduction of universal franchise further strengthened the doctrine of equality. Most of the modern states devoted great attention to the improvement of economic lot of the deprived ones to bring about economic equality. Yet, there are serious matters to be resolved in this regard.
Laski has said, “Political equality is never real unless it is accompanied by virtual economic equality; political power, otherwise, is bound to be handmade of economic power.” Definitely, in the absence of economic equality it is difficult to imagine a just political system.
It is important to remember that economic equality does not imply that there should be equal distribution of wealth, because this sort of equality is incapable of realization. On the other hand it means that there should not be concentration of wealth in few hands only and certain minimum standards of income should be assured to all before anyone can be allowed to have more.
In other words, the basic needs of all should be met before some people are permitted to lead a luxurious life. Prof. Laski expresses this point, “I have no right to take cakes when my neighbor is compelled to go without bread.” Unfortunately, these concepts are being neglected in today’s world.
A very intimate relationship exists between political liberty and economic equality. It has been asserted that there cannot be any political liberty without economic equality. This assertion contains a great amount of truth because the political liberties like right to vote, right to contest election, right to hold public office etc. cannot be genuine unless there is economic equality in the state. As the successful working of the present democratic system depends on the active and effective participation of the people, it is indeed difficult to envisage that such participation can be possible in a society suffering from economic inequalities.
Further, as the public opinion is greatly molded by media like press, radio, films etc. the capitalist classes who own these media are able to use them for furthering their own interests. As a result the poor people are not able to make an honest use of their political liberty. Hence, political freedom becomes meaningless in the absence of economic equality. Laski says that ‘either the state must dominate the property or the property will dominate the state. For proper liberty it is essential that there should be democratic setup both in the administration of justice and industry. Political liberty in reality can only be real when there is social and economic liberty’.
It is widely accepted phenomenon that only when the people have reasonable economic opportunities, like employment, reasonable wages, adequate leisure, etc. they can develop themselves properly in a society where some people starve while the others have things in abundance, the weaker sections are inevitably denied these opportunities and hence cannot make a genuine use of their political liberty. For an effective use of political liberty it is desirable that the economic inequalities should be removed. Even other kinds of liberties, like civil liberty are meaningless without economic equality.
The intimate relationship between economic equality and liberty has been brought out by Prof. Cole: “it is not possible for men to be socially or politically equal as long as there exist among them differences of wealth and income so great as to divide them into distinct economic classes with widely differing opportunities in childhood to become healthy, educated, travelled and used to regard the world as a place made to suit their convenience. The slum child is not as healthy as the child whose parents can afford to give it the privileges of good food and sunlight. In school, the children of the poorest classes lag behind those who come from better equipped homes. Secondly, education is still a privilege for a minority selected mainly on economic grounds. And there is a difference, for the most part, between the few who are taught from childhood the arts of command and the many whose lessons are intended to inculcate rather the duties of obedience and respect for their betters.”
In conclusion, the words of Hebert A. Deare can be quoted: “Liberty and equality are neither in conflict nor even separate but are different facets of the same ideal … indeed since they are identical, there can be no problem of law or to what extent they are or can be related, this is surely the nearest, if not the most satisfactory solution even devised for a perennial problem in political philosophy”. In fact, as Tawny has put it, “A large measure of equality, so far from being inimical to liberty, is essential to it”.