The introduction to Michael J. Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit – What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020) begins with a discussion of the recent college admissions scandals. Actress Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky in the TV series Full House, spent 2 months in jail for cheating to get her daughter into a prestigious university. Sandel points out the irony of coveting displayed merit from a fancy college degree by those who pursue admission without merit – fraudulently.
British sociologist Michael Young wrote The Rise of Meritocracy (1958) coining the term meritocracy in a mocking, pejorative manner – warning of a future dystopian society that will be bad for everyone. He argued against meritocracy until his death in 2002. His ideas are discussed at length in Sandel’s book. Incidentally, Michael Young’s son, Toby Young, was one of the cancelled writers from our last project, Panics and Persecutions (2020), and is now an editor for Quillette.com. Toby’s ideas on meritocracy were discussed in Helen Andrew’s Hedge Hog Review anti-meritocracy article, which I mentioned last week.
Sandel writes in The Tyranny of Merit:
College admission is not the only occasion for arguments about merit. Debates about who deserves what abound in contemporary politics. On the surface, these debates are about fairness: Does everyone have a truly equal opportunity to compete for desirable goods and social positions?
But our disagreements about merit are not only about fairness. They are also about how we define success and failure, winning and losing – and about the attitudes the winners should hold toward those less successful than themselves. These are highly charged questions, and we try to avoid them until they force themselves upon us.
Let’s force these questions upon us for the next 2 months! We’ll dig deep down into this harsh aspects of humanity. We’ll see that human reality is not very nice. …But it’s all we got – despite lamentations from Ivy League professors. Maybe Aunt Becky should have contemplated meritocratic moral philosophy during her 2 months in prison?
Stay tuned – things are heating up: