Equal Rights Libertarian

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20220521 – The Tyranny of Merit




The book defines its crucial point: “In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners must believe they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.” Then it proceeds to review how people become winners or losers in the competition for a better life in a meritocratic society, which becomes less and less meritocratic over time. A significant part plays credentialism when formal testing and educational credentials rather than actual work results define winners. Finally, after reviewing all issues related to meritocracy from all conceivable angles, the book concludes:” Equality of opportunity is a morally necessary corrective to injustice. But it is a remedial principle, not an adequate ideal for a good society.” And even more:” But if the common good can be arrived at only by deliberating with our fellow citizens about the purposes and ends worthy of our political community, then democracy cannot be indifferent to the character of the common life. It does not require perfect equality. But it does require that citizens from different walks of life encounter one another in common spaces and public places. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences. And this is how we come to care for the common good. The meritocratic conviction that people deserve whatever riches the market bestows on their talents makes solidarity an almost impossible project. For why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due.”


From my point of view, the whole discussion of meritocracy, equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome, and so on is specific to the Hierarchy. It refers to how individuals would obtain places in this Hierarchy. Whether it occurs by the grace of God and good inheritance, either social – aristocracy or biological – DNA and hard work, does not matter. I believe that the Hierarchy as the method of societal organization has a very limited range of effective use: when there is a need to sacrifice some people to benefit others, such as in war. In normal life, when everybody has sufficient, albeit unequal amounts of resources, the Ownership method would do much better. However, contemporary technology created opportunities for establishing the Ownership method as dominant. When this happened, the meritocracy would become as outdated for human flourishing as inheriting an aristocratic title from parents.   

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