Chapter 7 of The Decadent Society (2020) “Waiting for the Barbarians” teaches us that meritocracy will never be overthrown because it co-opts the kind of people who might do the overthrowing. The word meritocracy was coined in Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958). It was a fictional account of a future society that drains talent from the provinces and peripheries, depriving potential rivals and rebels of the leaders who otherwise might challenge the elite’s hegemony. Today, smart, talented people outside Western elite circles are naturally recruited into them. Intelligent high achievers in the Islamic world, India, Africa, etc. move to the Western world where their talents are more “valuable” in an ongoing brain drain. Did you know there are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than in Ethiopia?
Consequently, we now have “a cognitive elite whose arrogance and insularity match the pedigreed aristocrats of old, but who are graced with populist enemies too disorganized, self-defeating, and easily deceived to do more than riot and react.” Populist championing Michael Lind worries “that today’s class war will come to an end when the managerial minority, with its near monopoly of wealth, political power, expertise and media influence, completely and successfully represses the numerically greater but politically weaker working-class majority.”
On 7/24/17 Scott Alexander cited multiple articles complaining about meritocracy, concluding that they were all wrong. Meritocracy works and is the best way to organize society. He was dumbfounded by those who disagree with him, so he followed up with “Addendum to Targeting Meritocracy” on 2/14/20, which reasoned that what he was missing was:
For conflict theory people, it’s us vs. them – logic and rationality be damned. Some people really don’t like our hereditary aristocracy/meritocracy. I’ve cited this article before:
The problem is that grousing about it or feeling guilty (if you’re wealthy or a writer for The Atlantic) is not a cogent argument. Some of the comments on Scott’s blog make this amusingly clear: “Sure, if your complaint about the ruling class is that you aren’t in it, then being explicit about that won’t get you much sympathy.” And “if that’s what people mean when they object to meritocracy, why don’t they just say so? The first rule of promoting your class interests is to never admit that you’re promoting your class interests… [except] when you’re rallying your own people … conflict theory just can’t produce an actual argument, at all. So all arguments you make must be necessarily mistake theory arguments.”
Next week, we get to the last of Douthat’s 4 chapters on why decadence is here to stay.