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To what extend do liberals support the principle of equality. Discuss.
First and foremost, the liberal principle of equality is that human beings are of an `identical
worth'. Every individual is entitled to be treated in the same way. The Classical Liberals of the
19th century proposed a society in which individuals were largely free from restraint.
Therefore, in a free society people are `free to be unequal' and the consequence of such
society would be that some would succeed while some fail. The game of life must thus be
played on an even playing field.
Liberals theory of justice is based on a belief in equality. Individualism, which is the central
value for all liberals, implied a commitment to Foundation Equality. This is where each
human being are seen to be `born' equal in the sense that each individual is of equal moral
worth, an idea embodied in the notion of natural rights or human rights. Foundation equality
implies a belief in Formal Equality, an idea that individuals should enjoy the same FORMAL
STATUS in society.
The significance of the principle of equality in liberal values is highlighted in their disapproval
of any social privileges or advantages that are enjoyed by some but denied to on others on
the basis of factors such as gender, race, colour, screed, religion or social background. In
this sense, liberalism is difference blind which is a concept based on the belief that
everyone is treated the same regardless of any feature specific to him or her. However, it
seems self-defeating in that to treat everyone identically would have an unequal impact on
different cultures thus neglecting its own purpose. By treating everyone the same, some are
The two most forms of formal equality are legal equality and political equality which
guaranteed `equality before the law' and a system of one person, one vote at election
time for all individuals. Nonetheless, by the end of the 19th century Modern Liberals
recognised that some individuals were born with disadvantages which could not be
overcome by their own efforts. Many members of society through unfortunate
circumstances of birth, through no fault of their own, were not blessed with equal
opportunity to benefit from the `free society' proposed by the classical liberals.
Liberals strongly believed that all distinct groups in society nevertheless should be entitled
to equal life chances. To overcome such inequalities, William Gladstone, the leader of the
liberal party, espoused greater equality of opportunity as one of its goals. Equality of
opportunity meant that each individual should have the same chance to rise or fall in society.
It can be promoted through universal education while ordering the state to remove any
artificial obstacles and other social problem that could hold an individual back.
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These were small advances in equality of opportunity but it indicated the extent to which
liberals support the principle of equality. The next great advance was promoted by William
Beveridge who created the welfare state in UK. He proposed that the availability of welfare
for all, notably education, healthcare and social security would expand opportunity for all, no
matter what their circumstances of birth. This showed liberals full support for equality of