Privilege is a social theory that special rights or advantages are available only to a particular person or group of people. The term is commonly used in the context of social inequality, particularly in regard to age, disability, ethnic or racial category, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and/or social class. Two common examples may include having access to a higher education and housing. Privilege can also be emotional or psychological, regarding comfort and personal self-confidence, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society. It began as an academic concept, but has since become popular outside of academia.
In legal ethics, a privilege is a certain entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. Land-titles and taxi medallions are pronounced examples of transferable privilege. These can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth. Various examples of old common law privilege still exist, to title deeds, for example. Etymologically, a privilege (privilegium) means a "private law", or rule relating to a specific individual or institution.
- Let us award a just, a brilliant homage to those rare men whom nature has endowed with the precious privilege of arranging a thousand isolated facts, of making seductive theories spring from them; but let us not forget to state, that the scythe of the reaper had cut the stalks before one had thought of uniting them into sheaves!
- François Arago, Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Joseph Fourier, p. 409.
- Tel est le privilége du génie : il aperçoit, il saisit des rapports, là où des yeux vulgaires lie voient que des faits isolés.
- Such is the privilege of genius; it perceives, it seizes relations where vulgar eyes see only isolated facts.
- François Arago, Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Joseph Fourier, p. 412.
- A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
- It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the inheritance which awaits them. In this beneficent work, sections and races should be forgotten and partisanship should be unknown. Let our people find a new meaning in the divine oracle which declares that "a little child shall lead them," for our own little children will soon control the destinies of the Republic.
- Men differ in … social status. … Simple observation shows that in every such situation he who is more favored feels the never ceasing need to look upon his position as in some way “legitimate,” upon his advantage as “deserved,” and the other’s disadvantage as being brought about by the latter’s “fault.” That the purely accidental causes of the difference may be ever so obvious makes no difference.
- Every highly privileged group develops the myth of its natural, especially its blood, superiority. Under conditions of stable distribution of power and, consequently, of status order, that myth is accepted by the negatively privileged strata. Such a situation exists as long as the masses continue in that natural state of theirs in which thought about the order of domination remains but little developed, which means, as long as no urgent needs render the state of affairs “problematical.” But in times in which the class situation has become unambiguously and openly visible to everyone as the factor determining every man’s individual fate, that very myth of the highly privileged about everyone having deserved his particular lot has often become one of the most passionately hated objects of attack.