Summary-The Aristocracy of Talent - Adrian Wooldridge

Summary-The Aristocracy of Talent - Adrian Wooldridge

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Here's a summary of Adrian Wooldridge's The Aristocracy of Talent:

  • Meritocracy is the idea that people's positions in society should depend on their talent and effort. It is one of the most popular ideologies today, crossing ideological, cultural and geographical boundaries. Politicians of all stripes, from Margaret Thatcher to Bill Clinton to Xi Jinping, have embraced meritocracy.

  • Meritocracy combines four ideals: recognizing natural talent, providing equal opportunity through education, forbidding discrimination, and awarding jobs based on merit rather than connections.

  • Meritocracy is reshaping society. The wealthy are increasingly the highly educated. College graduates earn much more and have lower unemployment. IQ and education determine where the talented live, concentrating them in cities and college towns.

  • Parents around the world push their children hard to achieve based on meritocracy. They spend heavily on tutoring and test preparation to give their kids a chance to rise through merit.

  • Critics argue meritocracy can be corrupted, prioritizing test scores over true ability and work. It can also create resentment among those left behind. But meritocracy also has benefits, allowing people to achieve based on their talents and efforts.

  • Asia, and China in particular, see meritocracy as key to their success. They point to their ability to promote leaders based on merit as a reason for their competence and advancement.

  • The book explores the historical roots of meritocracy, its rise over the last few centuries, its spread around the world, and debates over its pros and cons. Overall, meritocracy has been revolutionary, remaking society in modern times. But it also faces challenges that will shape its future.

  • Meritocracy, the idea that people should advance in society based on their individual talents and efforts, is coming under increasing criticism. Critics argue it is an illusion, a trap, and an instrument of oppression.

  • The Black Lives Matter movement and critical race theory argue that meritocracy perpetuates racism. They say society and institutions are structurally racist, tests and assessments are biased, and meritocracy justifies inequality. They point out early proponents of meritocracy were racists.

  • Conservative populists argue meritocrats are smug, self-righteous, and have failed at running society, causing crises like the financial crisis and Iraq war. They say meritocracy leads to a lack of empathy by funneling elite people into bubbles.

  • Even some meritocrats criticize the system. Daniel Markovits says merit is a “sham” and meritocracy transmits privilege, crushing people with overwork. Michael Sandel says meritocracy is “toxic,” diminishing those at the bottom and empowering a technocratic elite disconnected from ordinary people.

  • The critics make some good points. Meritocracy often disguises class privilege as children of the elite get advantages and opportunities not available to poor children. Black people face disadvantages that make meritocracy seem like oppression. The distinction between winners and losers can be too harsh. And meritocracy demands constant work and achievement.

  • However, popular opinion remains loyal to meritocracy. The criticism is gaining traction but has not yet shifted mainstream views.

  • People spend 25-30 years of their lives trying to get promotions, please their bosses and achieve success in their careers. As they get older, they push their children to achieve in the same way. Today's parents worship elite universities with the same devotion that earlier generations showed for God.

  • We should be cautious about rejecting meritocracy completely. Criticizing ideas like liberalism or democracy has led to negative consequences in the past. Critiquing meritocracy could lead to similar problems, especially after Trump's presidency which has rejected meritocratic principles.

  • There are questions about what exactly is wrong with meritocracy and whether there are better alternatives. Is the problem that it supports the status quo or causes anxiety? Are the issues inherent or due to imperfect implementation? Is there a compromise between extremes? While meritocracy may cause pressure to succeed, there are other factors like slow economic growth and increasing knowledge demands. The key question is whether meritocracy has fewer faults than other systems.

  • Meritocracy has evolved over time in response to economic and political factors. It replaced feudal concepts of priority, degree and place. We need historical context to judge whether it is a mistake or can still be progressive. There is little historical analysis of meritocracy despite its importance in shaping the modern world.

  • Meritocracy was revolutionary and radically changed society. For millennia, most societies inherited positions and status was fixed. Upward mobility was limited. Meritocracy was key to the French, American, Industrial and liberal revolutions. It transformed the elite and education by focusing on intellectual ability over birth. It redefined social structure around the mind rather than hereditary factors.

  • Meritocracy involves a new worldview. People are individuals responsible for their own success. Family background and connections matter less. People are judged based on their qualities and talents, not their relationships or social position. Coming from nowhere is a virtue while privilege is a disadvantage. This contrasts with more traditional aristocratic values where status derives from family, land and influence. Established elites looked down upon the newly successful.

In summary, meritocracy was a revolutionary concept that shaped modern society by disrupting traditional aristocratic values. However, there are open questions about its downsides and alternatives that require historical context to evaluate fully. Though imperfect, meritocracy may still compare favorably to other systems if its faults can be addressed.

  • Meritocracy values intelligence and hard work over family pedigree and connections. Meritocratic societies emphasize credentials like university degrees.

  • Aristocratic societies valued birth over intelligence. They saw too much cleverness with suspicion and valued leisure over hard work.

  • The idea of meritocracy was initially championed by marginalized groups like feminists, the working class, and socialists. They used it to argue that they deserved equal opportunities and to challenge the existing social order. In contrast, conservatives saw meritocracy as threatening the social order.

  • The meaning of meritocracy has changed over time. Originally, "talent" referred to both intelligence and character. Today, it mostly refers to measurable intelligence and technical skills. The scope of "allowing people to rise as far as their talents will take them" has also expanded to include things like universal education and affirmative action.

  • There are many types of meritocracy, including political meritocracy (the most talented should rule), technocratic meritocracy (valuing technical expertise above all else), the business view of meritocracy (success in the market as the measure of merit), and the academic view of meritocracy (valuing academic success). Different types have been prominent at different times.

  • Because the idea of meritocracy is both revolutionary and protean, it is capable of correcting itself. For example, originally meritocracy valued moral character and judgment in addition to intelligence. There have been times when meritocracy seemed to just defend the status quo, but it has proven able to renew its radical and egalitarian promise.

So in summary, meritocracy is a powerful but complex idea that has changed in meaning over time. Though championed by progressives, it is open to various interpretations, some of which defend the status quo. But at its best, it is a radical and egalitarian notion that challenges social hierarchies and demands equal opportunities and just rewards based on ability and effort.

In the mid-19th century, the American elite, descended from the Founding Fathers, was being displaced by new forces like the Jacksonian Democrats and immigrant groups. A new business elite emerged in the Gilded Age, but reforms and renewed egalitarianism challenged them.

Many critics today see meritocracy as unreformable and argue for explicitly non-meritocratic principles like race quotas. But history shows meritocracy is reformable. Marginalized groups have used meritocracy to demand opportunity, and reformers have shown how institutions fail to fulfill meritocratic ideals.

However, today’s meritocratic elite risks becoming a self-perpetuating aristocracy by using wealth to buy their children privileges like elite education. Upward mobility is declining. ‘The Aristocracy of Talent’ highlights this risk while recognizing meritocracy’s potential.

Part 1 examines the pre-modern world where status was fixed by birth. Poets saw ambition as sin. Governments sold public offices. Dullards got college posts through family connections. Still, some mobility existed, e.g. through the Church or royal service.

Part 2 explores precursors like Plato’s philosopher-kings, China’s examination system, and Judaism’s emphasis on scholarly achievement. These provided limited ‘sponsored mobility’.

Part 3 studies how the Enlightenment fueled revolutions in France, America, and Britain to replace aristocracy with natural aristocracy or meritocracy. The US aimed for equality of opportunity and success based on ability. France abolished feudalism but restored some privileges. Britain’s elite peacefully reformed institutions through open competition and uplifted some lower-class men.

Part 4 examines the rise of IQ testing, which addressed whether intelligence is inherited, how to measure innate ability, and how much social mobility to expect.

Part 5 shows post-WWII meritocracy spreading opportunity through education and white-collar work, celebrating intelligence and progress. But the left soon challenged IQ tests and meritocracy. In the US, critics argued it justified inequality. In Britain, academia attacked the class-dividing 11-plus exam.

Overall, the book argues meritocracy has enabled mobility but also threatens to calcify class power. Reform is needed to fulfill the promise of rewarding ability, not just privilege. But meritocracy remains indispensable to progress and justice. The alternative is rule by birthright.

Here is a summary of the intellectual currents described in the passage:

  • Egalitarians argued against meritocracy and in favor of equal outcomes for all. They believed prizes and rewards should be distributed equally regardless of merit or achievement.

  • Communitarians argued that meritocracy divided communities and was harmful. They believed it created divisions between groups based on education and achievement.

  • Radical intellectuals like Michel Foucault argued against dividing people into categories based on merit or achievement. They believed these divisions reflected the power structures of bourgeois society.

  • There was a debate between egalitarians who wanted equal outcomes for all and radical egalitarians who believed prizes and rewards themselves reflected bourgeois power structures.

  • There has also been a recent populist rejection of meritocracy, driven by less educated groups resenting the privileged position of the educated elite. This populist view sees the elite as owing their position to a rigged system rather than merit or hard work.

  • In contrast, Singapore and China have embraced meritocracy and used it to drive economic growth and prosperity. They represent a contrast with the West's movement away from meritocracy.

  • There is a question of how to reinvigorate meritocracy in the West and make it work, given its drift toward plutocracy. Resolving this is seen as key to competing with the rise of China.

So in summary, the key intellectual currents center around debates over meritocracy - with some rejecting it entirely in favor of radical equality, others seeing it as dividing society, and still others seeing it as key to prosperity if it can be made to work properly. The passage outlines these contrasting views on meritocracy and its pros and cons.

Society in Tudor and Stuart England was based on a complicated belief in natural hierarchies that was hard to define precisely. Status and opportunity were determined more by customs and connections than by merit. This view was backed by Aristotelian philosophy and biblical passages emphasizing obedience and the divine right of rulers.

The social hierarchy was seen as mirroring the natural order and the chain of being from God down to inanimate objects. Disturbing the social order was seen as chaos that disrupted the universe. While this view was more an ideal than always matched reality, it did shape society.

The landed aristocracy was the most powerful class, controlling the main economic resource of land. They had invested heavily in war and violence but by the Tudor era were more focused on managing estates and gaining power at court. Hierarchy governed all relationships, with strict rules of deference determining behavior. Society was focused on family and tradition, not individuals. Claims were based on inheritance and custom, not reason or utility.

Stability was valued and change justified by appeals to tradition, even invented tradition. As new groups gained wealth, they tried to buy their way into the aristocracy through marriage or purchasing noble titles and coats of arms. Deference to hierarchy and tradition was the ideal, even if social changes were happening in reality.

In summary, Tudor and Stuart English society was built around a belief in divinely-ordained hierarchies, deference to tradition and social custom, and the power of the landed aristocratic families that controlled most of the wealth and resources. An organic, rather than individualist, view of society prevailed.

Pre-modern societies were deeply conservative and suspicious of change. They adhered to strict social hierarchies and believed that people should not transcend the station they were born into. Upward mobility was frowned upon.

Aristocrats demonstrated their status through conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption. They avoided all forms of labor and manual work, which they saw as degrading. They believed that ambition was a vice that threatened social order. Education was discouraged for some aristocrats.

Families formed the basic social and political units of pre-modern societies. Dynasties controlled most institutions of power. Royal successions and marriages were crucial for stability. Although most modern societies have moved away from dynastic rule, dynasties dominated most of human history across the world. Different cultures practiced different succession laws, with polygamy more common outside the West.

Overall, pre-modern societies were deeply inegalitarian, static, and rooted in family power and dynastic inheritance of status and position. Social mobility and ambition were seen as threats rather than virtues. Change was slow and most power was concentrated among ruling families.

Despite their differences, dynasties shared some key attributes:

  • They presented themselves as guarantors of social order and links between heaven and earth.

  • They were part of wider aristocratic networks focused on transferring power and genes.

  • They promoted similar behaviors like patronage, deference, intrigue, etc.

  • They blurred public and private, and treated countries like family estates.


  • They put the physical monarch at the center of power. Closeness to the king meant more influence and power.

  • The king's daily routines, like getting dressed or eating, were public ceremonies for courting favor.

  • Their courts included aristocrats, but also fools, dwarves, concubines, artists, hunters, etc. to serve the king's needs.

  • The dynastic system was based on biology. Producing a healthy male heir was crucial and celebrated. The facts of biology shaped successions.

  • The physical person of the king was a "pop star" to be admired and even touched, not just a decision-maker.

In summary, dynasties were centered on the physical monarch and his needs, wants, and biology. Despite differences, they shared a tendency to blur public and private in favor of family interests.

Here's a summary:

  • Dynastic politics placed a huge emphasis on reproduction and fertility. Failure to produce children, especially male heirs, could plunge a dynasty into crisis.

  • The intimate lives of monarchs were a public issue as their ability to produce heirs was crucial for political stability.

  • Both infertility and extreme fecundity brought problems. Infertility could lead to succession crises and collapse of empires. Too many children could lead to civil war over inheritance.

  • Minority rule (when a child inherited the throne) and rule by aged, senile monarchs often led to political instability and manipulation by court factions.

  • Adult heirs often grew impatient waiting to inherit the throne from their fathers. Some even tried to depose them.

  • Life was particularly difficult for female monarchs. They faced more challenges to their authority and independence. Daughters were often used as political pawns in diplomacy.

  • Foreign dynastic alliances were made for political reasons, not love, and could make queens miserable.

  • Mistresses and illegitimate children also played a role in dynastic politics, sometimes becoming powerful figures or the focus of rival factions.

  • The Habsburg dynasty is an extreme example of dynasty-focused rule. Through strategic marriage and succession, they went from minor German counts to rulers of a huge, multinational empire. They ruled their diverse lands through blood and marriage alone, with no common nationality.

So in summary, reproduction, succession, marriage alliances, and family politics were central to how dynasties maintained and expanded their power. But they also frequently led to instability, conflict, and human misery.

  • Royal dynasties rewarded social position over ability, leading to many incapable rulers. Inbreeding was common and caused genetic problems. Some examples are Henry VI of England, George III, Charles V of Spain, and Charles II of Spain.

  • Nepotism, patronage, and venality were common in pre-modern societies. Nepotism refers to giving positions to relatives. The term comes from the Catholic Church, where Popes gave positions to their illegitimate children. Patronage means giving positions to those who have earned favor, often through loyalty or friendship. Venality means the selling of positions for money. These practices were pervasive and seen as normal by most.

  • Louis XIV's court is a prime example. Courtiers had to constantly flatter Louis XIV in hopes of gaining positions, money, or gifts. Louis XIV redistributed money from taxes to his courtiers through jobs, pensions, and gifts. There was constant jockeying for new positions. Getting a position from a patron meant you could do what you want with it, like sell it or hire someone else to do the work.

  • These practices show how pre-modern societies valued property, inheritance, and social hierarchy over merit or ability. Positions and offices were seen as the property of rulers and aristocrats to distribute as they wished. There was little notion of qualifications or competence for most positions. Family, loyalty, friendship, and money were the primary routes to obtaining a position, not ability or skill.

  • The old regime in Europe depended heavily on patronage and nepotism. Getting jobs, titles, and positions depended more on who you knew and your family connections than on merit or qualifications.

  • Louis XIV of France centralized power around himself and turned the French aristocracy into obedient followers who had to petition him for everything. Some courtiers, especially women, became powerful brokers who could influence the king to provide jobs, titles, and favors.

  • In Britain, there were two centers of power - the king and Parliament. Both used patronage to maintain control. Powerful politicians like Robert Walpole openly used their positions to provide jobs and money to friends and family. Many rich nobles had dozens of "offices" with high salaries and no real duties.

  • The patronage system benefited the elite who controlled the jobs and titles, but also trickled down to others. Many meaningless or unnecessary offices provided incomes for people with connections. Some people even received pay for offices that no longer existed or that they never actually performed.

  • Governments would also sometimes sell offices, titles, and positions to raise money. People would pay large amounts up front for lifetime salaries, tax exemptions, and the status of the office. In France, many aristocrats actually bought their titles. By some estimates, thousands of people rose from the bourgeoisie to the nobility by purchasing venal offices.

  • The patronage system was antithetical to the idea of a merit-based bureaucracy. Reformers pushed for a system based on "offices" rather than "people" who might show favoritism.

  • In Britain, the military was run largely based on purchased commissions for a long time. Ranks, commands, and promotions were sold at market prices to whoever could pay, with little regard for ability or experience. Reform did not come until the 19th century.

The summary highlights how entrenched practices like nepotism, patronage, and the sale of offices and titles were during the old regime in Europe. These practices undermined meritocracy and bureaucracy in favor of connections, influence, and money. They primarily benefited elites who controlled access to power and status.

  • Plato outlined his vision of an ideal just society in The Republic. He believed society should be ruled by an intellectual elite selected based on merit rather than birth.

  • Plato divided society into three classes based on natural ability: the rulers (men of gold), the auxiliaries (men of silver), and the producers (men of bronze). Though people were born into a class, they could move between classes based on ability. This was an early vision of equality of opportunity.

  • The rulers, or "philosopher kings," were selected from the men of gold based on intellectual ability and trained rigorously. They ruled justly because they could grasp eternal and absolute truths. The auxiliaries maintained order, and the producers performed manual labor and commerce.

  • Plato's vision has been influential but also controversial. Some see it as an inspiration for meritocracy and education. Others criticize it as a totalitarian vision that restricts freedom and diversity. However, all discussions of meritocracy descend from Plato's philosophy.

  • Plato proposed radical ideas for his time, including communal living, the abolition of private property and family among the rulers, and the strict censorship of arts. His goal was to prevent corruption of the soul and ensure just rule.

  • The key question is why Plato thought intellectual ability alone qualified someone to rule justly. Plato believed philosophers had access to eternal, absolute moral truths, so they would not be swayed by personal interests, passions, or public opinion. Of course, in reality, intelligence does not necessarily correlate with virtue or guarantee good governance.

  • Though Plato's specific proposals are controversial, his vision introduced the revolutionary idea that society should be ordered based on ability and merit rather than birth. This ideal has enduring power and influence.

In summary, Plato outlined a controversial yet influential vision of a just meritocracy ruled by intellectually elite philosopher kings with radical proposals for realizing that vision. His ideas introduced the notion that society should be ordered based on ability rather than birthright.

Plato believed that individuals have innate natures that are more significant than their social backgrounds or upbringing. He pointed out that in Greek society, the children of prominent men often turned out ordinary, while the children of ordinary men sometimes became great.

According to Plato, God gave different people different innate abilities: the ability to rule (gold), the ability to be auxiliaries (silver), the ability to be farmers or craftsmen (iron and copper). While children often share their parents' nature, sometimes gold can come from silver, or silver from gold. Therefore, the rulers must carefully observe children to determine their innate natures and ensure they end up in the right social class. If copper or iron ends up among the rulers, it must be removed. And if gold or silver ends up among the farmers or craftsmen, they must be elevated. A city will be ruined if iron or copper is guarding it.

Plato believed that both men and women could be capable of ruling. He thought the most important thing was individuals' innate natures, not their sex. His main concern with including women among the rulers was that since the rulers exercised naked together, this could lead to impropriety.

According to Plato, the role of the state is to place individuals into the social class that suits their innate nature. This means reorganizing society in each generation and shaping people's expectations to match their abilities. To facilitate this, Plato argued that potential rulers should be taken from their parents at birth and raised communally. This would free women of gold from child-rearing, provide equal opportunity regardless of parents' wealth, and ensure the rulers put the community before their families.

Plato laid out an intensive education program for the potential rulers that would shape them morally and intellectually. The education would teach them self-control so they could properly rule over the lower classes. It would also aim to teach them to love truth, wisdom and justice for their own sakes. The goal was to produce philosopher-kings who could lead the Republic to truth and justice.

Plato acknowledged his vision required austerity and subordination. The lower classes would have to accept rule by their superiors. The rulers would have to forgo private property, families, and pleasure. But Plato argued this system was better than the alternatives, like oligarchy (rule by the wealthy) or democracy. He thought democracy seemed attractive but would ultimately lead to disorder and tyranny. The people lacked knowledge to rule well, would elect poor leaders, emphasized freedom and lacked restraint. Democracy would lead to anarchy, class struggle, war and tyranny.

  • Plato believed philosopher kings, not tyrants, should rule. Tyrants are governed by their passions, not reason. Though they have absolute power over others, they have no self-control. In a tyranny, everyone is trapped in the tyrant’s out-of-control ego.

  • The Republic expresses Plato’s anger at Athenian society and democracy as well as his philosophical ideas. Plato believed there were two worlds: the visible world of appearances and the intellectual world of forms. Only philosophers can see the higher world of forms. The Republic explains how to create philosopher kings who can lead society to wisdom.

  • The Republic seems very impractical, focusing on ideals not practical governance. But it was also meant as a guide for Plato’s leadership school, the Academy. Plato tried but failed to turn the ruler of Syracuse, Dionysius II, into a philosopher king. A few later rulers, like Marcus Aurelius, modeled themselves on philosopher kings.

  • Plato’s idea of philosopher kings influenced many later thinkers. Renaissance humanists tried to educate leaders in classical wisdom. Enlightenment thinkers instructed rulers in reason. Victorians greatly admired ancient Greece and especially Plato. Philosophers and intellectuals were the greatest proponents of philosopher kings.

  • Summary: Plato’s concept of philosopher kings expresses his belief that only reason and wisdom, not tyrannical ego or passion, should govern society. Though the idea was influential, attempts to put it into practice rarely succeeded. But it represents an ideal of enlightened, just leadership that continues to inspire.

  • The British ruling class in the 19th century embraced Plato’s ideas of shaping character and promoting group loyalty over individualism. They focused education on classics and philosophy.

  • Benjamin Jowett, master of Balliol College, Oxford, aimed to produce members of the ruling class. His students included future political leaders. He believed in educating talented individuals from all classes.

  • Plato’s ideas appealed to both left-wing Fabians and right-wing imperialists. Fabians liked Plato’s view of empowering the state. Imperialists liked his vision of an intellectual elite ruling over less civilized peoples.

  • The American establishment also adopted British models of education based on classics and public service. Yale became like Oxbridge. Establishment figures like McGeorge Bundy studied Plato.

  • Platonism declined as democracy and egalitarianism grew. Critics saw Plato’s vision as too elitist. Plato is still relevant in identifying problems of meritocracy and populism. But his solutions were unrealistic.

  • China developed its own tradition of meritocracy based on Confucianism rather than Platonism. Matteo Ricci spent decades learning about China to spread Christianity there. He gained access to the imperial court but failed to spur mass conversion. He is respected for understanding Chinese culture.

  • In summary, both Western and Eastern ruling classes have drawn on ancient philosophies of meritocracy, but adapted them to their own traditions. Plato's vision was more elitist, while Confucianism stressed morality and public duty.

  • Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary in China during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was struck by the similarity between China’s mandarins (scholar-officials) and Plato’s guardians. He noted that China’s elite owed their position to merit and learning rather than inherited wealth or political connections. He believed China's meritocratic system prepared the country for Christianity.

  • The mandarins were selected through a rigorous examination system. They had to pass a series of tests at the local, provincial and national level. The exams focused on Confucian classics and were extremely competitive, with very low pass rates. Those who succeeded gained social and political privileges. The highest- ranking mandarins advised the emperor in Beijing or governed provinces.

  • The exams required years of studying classical Chinese, which was very different from the vernacular languages. Candidates had to memorize thousands of characters and master archaic grammar. They often spent decades studying and taking the exams, sometimes into their 50s and 60s. Success brought lavish rewards but the path was long and arduous.

  • The examination system was inspired by Confucius, who believed scholar-officials had a duty to rule based on moral principles. Confucianism focused on knowledge as the essence of power, the duty of rulers to serve the people, and self-cultivation through immersion in classical culture. The Confucian texts outlined a theory of meritocracy to produce moral leaders.

  • The examination system produced China’s first intellectual aristocracy. For much of Chinese history, the country was jointly ruled by emperors, who inherited power, and scholar-officials, who gained authority through knowledge. The system sought to curb the worst excesses of autocracy and make government more public-spirited.

In summary, China developed a rigorous system of examinations to select scholar-officials based on merit. The system was inspired by Confucianism and aimed to curb autocracy by producing moral leaders focused on serving the public good.

The imperial examination system in China lasted for over 2,000 years, from the 7th century to the early 20th century. It allowed the Chinese government to recruit and promote officials based on their intellectual merit instead of their social status.

The system originated during the Sui dynasty (581-618 CE) as a way for the emperor to gain more control over the civil service and curb the power of aristocratic families. Over time, the system became more meritocratic and objective, focusing on candidates' intellectual abilities rather than their moral character or family background. The system reached its height during the Song (960-1279 CE) and Ming (1368-1644 CE) dynasties.

The imperial examination system served several purposes:

  1. It allowed the central government to co-opt provincial elites and empower scholar-officials loyal to the emperor. This helped counter the centrifugal forces that threatened to tear the empire apart.

  2. It gave people from humble backgrounds a chance to rise in social status by succeeding in the exams. About a third of high-level degree holders came from families without a long history of success in the exams or government service.

  3. It promoted education across China by giving families an incentive to invest in their sons' education. Even those who failed the exams could become teachers, lawyers, or notaries.

  4. It instilled conservative Confucian values like filial piety that emphasized social harmony and order. The exams focused on Confucian texts that celebrated these values.

  5. It gave the ruling class a shared philosophy of governance based on Confucian self-restraint and self-cultivation. Mastery of Confucian classics was required for government service.

So in summary, the imperial examination system strengthened the Chinese state for over 2,000 years by promoting meritocracy, education, shared values, and a sense of national identity among scholar-officials. Despite its imperfections, the system was instrumental to China's political and cultural continuity.

  • The Chinese civil service examinations served to select and educate officials to represent the interests of the state. Only those versed in Confucian classics were deemed suitable.

  • The Confucian texts provided a theory of meritocracy where an educated elite governed based on talent, not birth. The exams tested for talent and educated candidates in proper conduct.

  • The Chinese mandarins were admired by many Western thinkers as models of good governance. They saw the exams as promoting merit over birth and the mandarins as “philosopher kings.”

  • However, the exam system also imposed great strain, was subject to criticism in Chinese literature, and may have contributed to rebellions. It focused on a narrow set of texts and trapped China in stagnation as the world modernized.

  • The Chinese system prized stability over dynamism. In contrast, later Western meritocratic traditions emphasized mobility and dynamism.

  • The Chinese believed they already possessed all knowledge and technology, so were uninterested in Western inventions or learning. While Japan rapidly modernized, China only did so after abolishing the mandarin system in 1905.

  • In summary, the Chinese civil service exams and mandarin system were initially admired but ultimately trapped China in stagnation, only ending with the system’s abolition. A new, dynamic meritocracy was needed to propel China into the modern world.

  • Jews make up a small fraction of the world’s population but have achieved an extraordinary level of intellectual success. Some examples:

  • In the 20th century, Jews won a disproportionate share of Nobel prizes and other major scientific awards despite facing discrimination.

  • Jews are overrepresented in intellectually demanding professions across many societies. For example, in the U.S. in 2010, Jews made up 2% of the population but won 21% of Ivy League places and 51% of Pulitzer prizes. A similar pattern held in the former Soviet Union.

  • Both supporters and critics of Jews agree on their intellectual success. Antisemites like Hitler feared Jewish achievement while some Jews celebrated their group's intellectual talents.

  • Two factors have driven Jewish intellectual achievement:

  1. The Jewish religion demands a high degree of intellectual commitment. The Torah and other Jewish scriptures contain a vast body of complex laws, history, and traditions that observant Jews spend their lives studying. Rabbis and scholars play a central role in Jewish society. And Judaism has long emphasized mass literacy and education.

  2. Jews developed a sense of themselves as a special people with a unique covenant with God. Despite centuries of persecution, this gave Jews an enduring collective identity and self-confidence that fueled their intellectual success.

  • In a sense, Jews were at the forefront of developing a mobile, globally focused meritocracy. While other traditions like Confucianism aimed to cultivate scholars to rule a particular nation or place, Jewish intellectual life was more portable and transcended place. Jews embraced intellectual achievement as a key to group survival, not just civic responsibility.

So in summary, Jewish religion and culture have long emphasized intellectual achievement, learning, and scholarship. Despite facing discrimination, this emphasis has allowed Jews to thrive intellectually across many societies. Jews helped pioneer a kind of cosmopolitan, achievement-based meritocracy.

  • Jews have a long tradition of valuing learning and education. This dates back to at least the Middle Ages, when Jews saw heaven as a great library and believed that increasing books increased wisdom.

  • Literacy and education were highly valued in Jewish culture. Rabbis were highly educated and multilingual. Hebrew had many words relating to intellectual activities. The Torah demanded complex calculations.

  • This reverence for learning manifested across Jewish communities, from rural Eastern Europe to cosmopolitan cities. Synagogues were called “schools,” and intellect was highly valued.

  • Exams and education were seen as paths to success and acceptance in the wider world. Passing exams was a source of pride and seen as a triumph over enemies.

  • Strong family bonds and high expectations fueled Jewish achievement. Families launched children to success but also imposed heavy burdens.

  • Jews were systematically excluded from land ownership, universities, and many professions. So they focused on skills like commerce, finance, and cognitive abilities. They had to work harder to achieve the same level of success.

  • Exclusion and cognition reinforced each other. Lacking a state, Jews celebrated intellectual life. But Jews also frequently provided vital economic services, like moneylending, and were courted by rulers for their skills.

  • Whenever Jews were expelled, the regions that expelled them suffered economically. Places that welcomed Jews, like Amsterdam and the U.S., thrived.

  • Some argue that religion, not just persecution, explains Jews’ focus on education. After the Second Temple's destruction, Judaism shifted focus from priests to rabbis and scholars. This new focus on study and debate led Jews to value education and intellect.

In summary, Jewish culture and history cultivated a strong emphasis on learning, education, literacy, and cognitive achievement. Both religious values and a long history of exclusion and persecution reinforced this emphasis on the life of the mind.

The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE led to a transformation of Judaism from a place-based religion to a text-based one. Jewish priests wrote down their religious knowledge and Jews focused on reading and studying these texts. Rabbis and scholars became leaders and education became central to worship.

This new focus on education and literacy created a system of natural selection within Judaism. Many peasants left the religion because the educational demands were too great. Those who remained tended to take on higher-paying jobs that made use of their education, like crafts, trade, and money-lending.

The emancipation of Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed them to participate more in the outside world. This led to an explosion of intellectual creativity and accomplishment among Jews. Emancipated Jews embraced both liberalism and their host nations' cultures. They contributed greatly to their societies, in fields like business, politics, science, philosophy, and the arts.

Other wandering or minority groups, like the Parsis in India and the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, have also contributed disproportionately to their societies. They are both insiders and outsiders, focusing on education and building connections. However, their insularity and low birth rates have caused their populations to decline.

These mobile and minority groups are likely to become more significant as globalization continues but also more threatened by inequality, globalization backlash, and ethnic hatred. Overall, the West was more receptive to combining meritocracy, science, capitalism, and individualism. In contrast, China's mandarin system was too rigid to adapt in this way.

The key factors that have enabled certain minority groups to thrive in meritocratic societies are:

  1. A focus on education and literacy.

  2. Occupying a middleman role that utilizes connections inside and outside the group.

  3. Embracing liberalism and the culture of their host society.

  4. Maintaining a distinct identity through insularity and intermarriage.

  5. A receptiveness to science, capitalism, and dynamism in the host society.

The chapter examines three historical mechanisms that enabled social mobility and challenged the hierarchical nature of medieval European society:

  1. Sponsored mobility through aristocratic households: Talented servants and stewards in aristocratic households could rise through the ranks and gain elite status. As these households grew into complex administrative centers, they provided opportunities for upward mobility.

  2. The Church: The Christian church promoted ideals of equality and meritocracy that contradicted the hierarchical social order. It also regularly recruited talent from outside the elite, as its leaders were celibate and could not pass on positions through inheritance. Talented individuals of humble birth could rise to high ranks in the church.

  3. Educational institutions: Public schools and universities were founded to educate poor but promising students, especially in England. Students gained opportunities for social mobility through education, often in return for service to the state or church.

These three mechanisms, though limited, helped erode the rigid class system of medieval Europe and paved the way for the rise of meritocracy. They allowed some mobility and opportunity outside of inheritance and kinship.

The summary gives an overview of the main ways social mobility was enabled and the hierarchical social order was challenged in medieval Europe, especially through the activity of the Christian church and the founding of schools and universities to educate talented youth of humble birth.

  • e was born poor but was noticed for his intelligence by William of Wykeham who sponsored his education.

  • e attended New College, Oxford and had a successful career in the church as a lawyer and diplomat.

  • He served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1414 to 1443. Despite rising to a position of power and prestige, he did not forget his humble origins. He founded a school in his hometown to provide education for poor children.

  • Universities in Europe at the time used a system of sliding scale fees to enable poor but intelligent students to attend. They provided exemptions and scholarships for those who could not afford the fees.

  • There was growing demand for government administrators and bureaucrats during this period, enabling some social mobility. Individuals like Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, though from humble backgrounds, rose to positions of power and influence.

  • There was a burst of school foundations in England during the Tudor and Stuart period to produce more public servants, accountants, preachers, and local government officials. Some schools like Westminster openly recruited poor but intelligent students.

  • City-states like Venice pioneered self-government in Europe at the time, though they were ruled by merchant oligarchies, not democracies. Venice in particular was a center of trade and commerce, with a strong navy and extensive trade networks. They established an institutional check on autocracy and rotated new members into the ruling council.

  • The concept of aristocracy was changing to emphasize merit and virtue over just inheritance. Renaissance thinkers argued that true nobility came from virtue, education and service, not just birth. They reformed education for the elite to emphasize classical studies as necessary to learn virtue and skill in governing.

  • Various thinkers distinguished between true natural aristocrats and conventional hereditary nobles. They argued republics should choose leaders based on learning, wisdom and virtue, not family connections. The most qualified individuals from all ranks of society should be chosen to rule.

  • Biondo Flavio (1392–1463), an Italian historian, argued that ancient Rome’s success was due to recruiting talented individuals regardless of social class or nationality.

  • Giovanni Nesi (1456–1506), a Florentine philosopher, believed that in a just society “offices should be determined and ranks conferred in proportion to the merits and virtues of individual citizens”.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) thought the most important political quality was virtu, which meant the resolute exercise of talents like courage and fortitude to master fortuna (luck/circumstance). He believed open republics were better able to cultivate virtu than dynasties.

  • Machiavelli argued that open republics could replace leaders to suit changing times, unlike dynasties stuck with hereditary rulers. He said a modern state needed universal laws, political debate, and meritocracy.

  • Although Machiavelli praised dynasties, most humanists focused on educating the elite rather than restructuring society. Some British statesmen urged using eloquence over force. Francis Bacon told nobles that learning, not war, would advance them.

  • Erasmus used his learning to spread humanism and Christianity. In The Education of a Christian Prince, he said rulers should serve the people and be educated in classics and Christianity to tame passion and cultivate virtue. He differed from Machiavelli, saying princes should be loved, not feared.

  • Humanism advanced meritocracy, restrained the old elite, legitimized the rise of “new men,” and fostered a transnational scholarly elite.

  • The Protestant Reformation, launched by Martin Luther, dissolved tradition by saying each person could interpret God’s word. Though elitist in expecting leadership by the elect, it was egalitarian in freeing people from hierarchy. It spurred studying the Bible and testing institutions by faith. Protestant states founded universities to educate the spiritually elect.

  • The French Revolution promoted the idea that people should be appointed to positions based on their merit and talents, not based on their birth or social class.

  • The revolution abolished the feudal system based on land ownership and the dynastic system based on family rule. Instead, it established the idea that individuals have equal and inalienable rights.

  • There was debate about how much equality and meritocracy to implement. Some wanted to abolish hierarchy altogether. Others believed positions should be awarded based on ability and talent, but there were questions about how to define and measure ability and talent. Some believed in a "natural aristocracy" based on merit to replace the old aristocracy based on birth.

  • Two key factors that enabled the rise of meritocratic ideas were:

  1. The Enlightenment philosophers debated human nature and reason, arguing that society should be based on reason and merit rather than tradition and birth.

  2. The French absolutist state was logically contradictory and collapsed, opening the door for the revolution.

  • The revolutionaries celebrated concepts like "intelligence", "genius", and "talent" in place of kings and queens. But there were still open questions about how to define, identify, and cultivate intelligence, genius, and talent.

In summary, the French Revolution articulated and promoted meritocratic ideals, but there remained open questions about how to put those ideals into practice. The revolution ushered in a debate that would continue for generations.

  • The philosophes believed there was a distinction between natural aristocrats of talent and artificial aristocrats of breeding. They ridiculed the hereditary aristocracy and believed society should be run by the naturally talented.

  • There was debate over whether natural talent was the result of nature or nurture. Some believed talent was shaped by environment and experience (nurture). Others believed natural talent was innate (nature).

  • Those who believed nurture shaped talent, like Locke and Helvetius, argued that with the right policies and education, anyone could reach a high level of talent and intellect. Their opponents, like Voltaire and Diderot, argued this view was absurd and that natural differences in talent were evident.

  • Rousseau acknowledged natural inequalities in talent but believed artificial inequalities should be removed. He thought education should suit individuals' natural abilities. He believed a few natural leaders and visionaries would emerge in a just society.

  • There was particular interest in the origin of genius. Some saw genius as a divine gift. The philosophes studied genius and concluded it could only be explained by nature. They saw genius as the engine of progress, with figures like Newton and Descartes advancing humanity.

  • The debate over talent was also driven by a belief that the state's resources included the natural talents of citizens. Some argued rulers should identify and cultivate the talents of all subjects. This view was popular among Cameralists who saw the state as a machine made up of parts that should perform their proper functions.

  • In summary, the philosophes were interested in the source and nature of talent, especially genius. Most believed in natural, innate differences in talent that society and rulers should identify and cultivate. They distinguished this natural aristocracy of talent from the artificial aristocracy of hereditary privilege.

  • Christian Wolff, a leading 18th-century German philosopher, argued that increasing a society’s wealth involved more than just promoting commerce and technology. It required channeling intellectual and moral energies into creative and productive activities.

  • Enlightenment thinkers believed that in an enlightened society, a person’s social position should depend on merit and talents rather than birth or accident. They advocated reorganizing society and the system of ranks to reward useful work and talents.

  • Enlightenment philosophes cultivated relationships with enlightened monarchs like Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia to advance their vision of a society based on merit and talent. They supported dismantling traditional institutions like churches, guilds, and local councils to make way for their vision.

  • The absolutist state was contradictory. While based on hereditary rule and privilege, it also employed rational and meritocratic means out of necessity. Absolutist monarchs recruited talented commoners as bureaucrats and military officers but ultimately aimed to preserve the aristocratic system.

  • In France, the Bourbon monarchy lavished money on court life and war but also employed rational administrators like Richelieu and Colbert. Theorists argued the king had two bodies: a physical one that ruled whimsically, and an “artificial” one that ruled rationally. In practice, the physical body dominated.

  • The concept of “merit” was debated. Some argued the nobility should demonstrate merit through service. But nobles also used “merit” to argue they deserved army positions over wealthy commoners. France’s military school admitted only those with four generations of nobility but promoted based on merit.

  • Prussia’s rulers built a strong state and military but needed efficient means to fund them. They reformed the civil service but aimed to preserve their own power and the aristocracy’s. They typified the contradiction of relying on both hereditary privilege and rational meritocracy.

  • The hereditary aristocracy in Prussia believed they alone were capable of putting honor above self-interest and controlling the masses. However, Prussia’s state institutions like universities and schools took on a life of their own and moved beyond the control of the aristocracy.

  • The Habsburg empire faced similar contradictions between its hereditary institutions and attempts at reform. Maria Theresa and Joseph II tried to introduce merit-based policies but the empire was still held together primarily by the dynasty itself.

  • Russia struggled even more in reconciling feudalism and meritocracy. Peter the Great tried to modernize Russia but reform was limited. Catherine the Great strengthened the nobility. Russia remained a society where status and activity depended on estate and government permission, not individual initiative.

  • The French Revolution aimed to address the contradictions of absolutism by challenging privileges and estates in favor of merit and reason. The revolution fueled debates over human nature and the role of the state in cultivating talent. The revolutionaries believed education was key to building a new society.

  • The revolution declared war on tyrants and hereditary rulers across Europe, spreading its ideals globally. Napoleon embodied the revolutionary desire for reform and imperial ambition, spreading the Napoleonic Code across Europe.

  • In summary, absolutist states tried to centralize authority but struggled to reconcile this with hereditary institutions like the aristocracy. Attempts at merit-based reform were limited. The French Revolution more radically challenged the hereditary principle but also fueled imperial expansion. Napoleon spread revolutionary reforms across Europe through military conquest.

• Napoleon established a legal code that treated citizens as individuals based on merit rather than as members of rigid social groups defined by birth.

• He reformed French education to be based on merit and advancement through examinations. This allowed for social mobility but also helped him control the revolutionary zeal in France.

• Napoleon envisioned a new aristocracy based on merit and service to the state rather than birth. He recruited government officials and military leaders from all social backgrounds based on their abilities.

• Initially, Napoleon was opposed to hereditary titles and feudalism. But over time, he allowed hereditary titles and reconciled with the old aristocracy to provide stability. He gave out titles to his family members and supporters and allowed titles to be inherited.

• Napoleon’s attempts to secure his rule through alliances with the old aristocracy ultimately failed, and his reign was followed by the Bourbon Restoration which restored the old order.

• However, the Bourbon regime adopted many of Napoleon’s policies fusing the new merit-based aristocracy with the old hereditary aristocracy. The grandes écoles and the examination system remained central to French education and governance.

• The French state and society invested heavily in education to promote nation-building, social order, and economic prosperity. The examination system became very demanding and competitive, allowing the top students to rise to positions of influence and power.

• French education was defined by a national curriculum, competition, and an emphasis on mathematics, classics and philosophy. Students were constantly assessed, ranked, and rewarded based on both academic and moral criteria.

• The baccalaureate exam established by Napoleon remained central to the French education system, becoming more rigorous over time.

That covers the key highlights from the summary on Napoleon’s vision of a meritocracy, its influence on governance and education in France, and its complex relationship with traditional hereditary aristocracy. Let me know if you would like me to explain any part of the summary in more detail.

  • After the French Revolution, the newly restored French monarchy instituted a rigorous system of competitive examinations to select candidates for the civil service and professions.

  • In 1830, the oral entrance exam for universities became a written one. This led to the rise of cram schools to prepare students for these difficult exams. Students complained about the difficulty.

  • The top of France’s educational system was occupied by elite grandes écoles like the École Normale Supérieure and École Polytechnique, which controlled access to the best government jobs. Entrance was highly competitive.

  • The system was criticized as overly elitist, relying too much on exams, and for the uneven quality of lower schools. However, it was also seen as a meritocratic way to recruit top talent for the government.

  • Thinkers like Saint-Simon and Durkheim saw the system as a way to distribute roles and opportunities based on talent and merit, which they saw as the basis for a productive society and social cohesion.

  • After being defeated by Napoleon, Prussian reformers saw that they needed to adopt more meritocratic policies to compete, abandoning rigid social hierarchies based primarily on birth.

  • In summary, the French developed a rigorous meritocratic system of education and recruitment, despite some criticisms. It was seen as a way to balance democracy and social order. The model influenced other countries like Prussia.

  • After Prussia's defeat by Napoleon in 1807, Baron Karl vom Stein initiated reforms to modernize Prussia.

  • The reforms abolished aristocratic privileges, ended serfdom, opened up government jobs to commoners based on merit, reformed education, and strengthened universities.

  • These reforms helped create a new educated middle class in Prussia and turned Prussian schools into models of excellence.

  • The French Revolution and Romanticism celebrated emotion, individual uniqueness, and genius. Thinkers like Kant, Goethe, and Beethoven celebrated individual talent and genius over aristocratic birth.

  • The French Revolution popularized the idea of careers open to talent. This meant that people could achieve success based on their merit and talents rather than their birth.

  • The Industrial Revolution and rise of liberalism also celebrated open competition and upward mobility. Writers like Stendhal, Balzac, and Thomas Mann portrayed self-made protagonists achieving success through their talents and hard work.

  • Britain's Puritan Revolution of the 1640s introduced some merit-based government appointments. Oliver Cromwell appointed and promoted people based on their abilities and talents.

  • In the 19th century, Britain developed an "intellectual aristocracy" of cultured and educated people. Thinkers like Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Huxley believed education and culture, not birth, should determine social status.

  • The Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854 reformed the British civil service to make appointments based on merit through open competitive examinations. This helped open up government service to the middle classes.

The summary highlights how the Enlightenment, French Revolution, and Industrial Revolution in Europe ushered in an emphasis on merit, talent, education, and careers open to talent rather than birth and status. Reforms in countries like Britain and Prussia helped turn these new ideas into reality by opening up government and education to people based on their abilities.

• The government and appointing bodies in the 17th century placed a lot of emphasis on loyalty, morality and actual competence for jobs. This could mean specialized skills or general abilities.

• After the Commonwealth period, patronage and nepotism again flourished in Britain. The shift to a meritocracy did not occur until the late 18th and 19th centuries.

• The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century created new wealth and a new class of self-made men. These new industrialists believed people should be judged based on their accomplishments, not their birth. They were hard on aristocrats and their own workers.

• 18th-century Britain also saw the rise of liberal philosophy. Key ideas included: society as a contract between individuals, not the result of divine will; opposition to the aristocracy and privilege; support for free trade and free competition; belief in the power of the human intellect and reason.

• Utilitarians believed morality should aim for the greatest good of the greatest number, calculated rationally. Economists like Adam Smith argued free self-interest and competition benefited society.

• Radicals like Thomas Paine, William Cobbett and John Wade attacked hierarchy, privilege and “Old Corruption” in the system. They saw aristocrats as "bastards in high places" who benefited from unearned status and corrupted society.

• Literature and poetry of the time, especially in Scotland, celebrated the common man and attacked aristocratic privilege and uselessness.

• In summary, new industrial wealth, liberal philosophy and radical critics challenged the traditional aristocratic order in Britain, paving the way for a modern meritocracy.

  • The extract discusses the rise of meritocracy in Britain, focusing on the emergence of examinations, and the role of the intellectual aristocracy.

  • Traditionally, British society was dominated by the aristocracy, who gained positions through connections rather than merit. Writers like Henry Fielding and Anthony Trollope satirized the boorish, backward-looking landed gentry.

  • There were calls for more merit-based systems, but they were vague. Cambridge University pioneered the use of competitive examinations, starting in the 1740s. By the early 1800s, the Cambridge mathematics and classics examinations were intensely competitive, with students ranked in a strict order of merit. Although mainly benefited a small elite, it showed the possibility of merit-based systems.

  • The British government remained dominated by patronage. In the mid-19th century, most positions were gained through personal connections, not merit.

  • The ‘intellectual aristocracy’ aimed to promote meritocracy. They were from various religious and philosophical backgrounds, united by a belief in social reform and reason. Key figures included the historian Thomas Macaulay, whose parents were evangelical reformers. The intellectual aristocracy tried to reform society so that intelligent and virtuous people could rule. They aimed to define and measure merit, and justify the gradual replacement of the traditional aristocracy.

  • Rather than radically attacking the establishment, the intellectual aristocracy believed in gradually reforming institutions and redefining ideas of status and hierarchy. They transformed the idea of inherited honor into that of earned merit and achievement.

  • Thomas Babington Macaulay was a prominent British historian and politician in the 19th century.

  • He advocated for political reform and the abolition of slavery. He served in Parliament and held positions in government like Secretary at War and Paymaster General.

  • Macaulay spent four years in India, from 1834 to 1838. There, he developed a framework for educating Indians to become interpreters between the British and the local population. His “Minute on Indian Education” replaced Sanskrit with English in Indian education. Though controversial, Macaulay believed this would create an elite Indian class with English tastes and intellect.

  • Macaulay believed in meritocracy and that people have innate differences in talent and diligence. Examinations could identify talent, and people who performed well on them would succeed in life. He believed examinations also showed moral character.

  • Macaulay's brother-in-law Charles Trevelyan helped apply meritocratic principles to the British civil service. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854 attacked the patronage system in the civil service and argued for open competition and promotion based on merit.

  • The report advocated admitting and promoting civil servants based on merit and performance, identified through competitive exams testing intelligence and ability. This would reform the civil service from a parasite of the aristocracy into a genuine public service.

  • The report’s proposals were controversial but gained support after failures in the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny showed the need to reform the civil service. The report aimed to promote self-reliance and end government corruption and favoritism.

  • In summary, Macaulay and Trevelyan were instrumental in importing meritocratic principles into the British government in India and at home. Though their specific policies were controversial, they helped move Britain toward a system of governance based on talent over birthright.

Here is a summary of the passage:

  • The Northcote-Trevelyan report recommended open competition for civil service positions to prevent corruption and improve efficiency. However, reform was slow due to opposition. Competitive exams were first only used to narrow down candidates, and the civil service was still inefficient.

  • Reformers believed open competition would improve education. Patronage and corruption were common in schools and universities. Some reform had started in the 1830s, but more was needed. Royal commissions found many Oxford fellowships were restricted by birth, not merit. Cambridge was slightly better. Legislation in the 1870s opened universities to non-Anglicans and instituted open competition.

  • The Crimean War showed the need for army reform. Commissions were bought, leading to incompetent leaders. A 1857 report condemned the system. Reform took time due to resistance but eventually instituted open competition for the officer corps based on exams.

  • Open competition and exams became more prominent in society. Characters in novels referenced the spread of competitive exams. Oxford and Cambridge promoted external exams for schoolchildren to improve secondary schools, though some debated whether the difficult exams really tested ability.

  • In summary, reformers pushed for open competition and exams to counter corruption and improve state institutions. Change was slow, but spread to the civil service, education at all levels, and the military. Competitive exams became an important part of British society, though their value was debated. Overall, the reforms aimed to create a new merit-based ruling class.

  • The adoption of open competitive examinations for the civil service in the mid-19th century was seen as a radical move towards meritocracy by many liberals. However, some questioned whether it would actually favor the aristocracy who could afford better education.

  • The main impact of the examinations was that it changed the nature of the civil service from a "rent-seeking regime" to a "problem-solving" one. The old upper class had to work harder to compete, while opportunities opened up for the intellectual middle class. In the long run, it provided more opportunity for talented poorer children as well.

  • However, there were debates over how much more should be done to promote meritocracy and opportunity. Some argued the system was already meritocratic enough, while others argued more should be done through public education to find untapped talent.

  • There were also dilemmas over reconciling meritocracy and democracy. Many liberals worried democracy could threaten individual liberty and freedom of thought. But most realized they had to accept democracy, and looked for ways to balance it with meritocracy, e.g. giving more power/votes to the educated, or promoting high culture.

  • Additional arguments for meritocracy later focused on efficiency (to compete internationally) and compassion (to help disadvantaged geniuses). A novel like Jude the Obscure illustrated the difficulties faced by a poor but brilliant man.

  • In summary, while open competition was an important first step, there were many debates over how to build an education system that was both meritocratic and democratic. Finding the right balance of opportunity and efficiency with limited government intervention was a key issue.

  • There were growing concerns in 19th-century Britain that talent was being wasted due to lack of opportunity for able but poor children.

  • In response, the government established scholarships and exhibitions to allow bright children to progress through the education system regardless of their family's means. The goal was to allow "boys of rare capacity" to rise to the top.

  • These scholarships were awarded based on a child's intellectual ability and potential, not based on their family's wealth or their current attainments. The aim was to identify "promise" and "capacity" rather than reward those who had advantages due to their family's means.

  • This established the principle that a child's opportunities should depend on their ability, not their family's wealth. The 1918 Education Act enshrined the idea that no child should be barred from education they were capable of benefiting from due to inability to pay fees.

  • The story of Ernest Barker shows how this allowed bright but poor children to rise to success. Barker won scholarships to attend school and university, overcoming poverty, and became an acclaimed academic.

  • The idea of meritocracy also appealed to socialist thinkers as a way to counter arguments that state control would lead to inefficiency. Promoting people based on ability and achievement would ensure the best people rose to positions of power and responsibility.

  • The Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb were strong proponents of meritocracy. They believed power should be given to an elite of the able and expert, not the "average sensual man." They saw meritocracy and bureaucracy as the means to achieve an efficient socialist society.

The Webbs and other left-wing intellectuals in early 20th-century Britain believed strongly in meritocracy - the idea that people should advance in society based on their abilities and talents rather than their social class or family connections. They saw this as essential for national prosperity and efficiency. They advocated policies like free public education, scholarships for bright students from poor backgrounds, and universities that recruited based on merit rather than social class.

However, many working-class people were self-educated rather than university-educated. They educated themselves through libraries, reading groups, night schools, and workers' education associations. Some became very learned, reading classics like Shakespeare, Milton, and Carlyle. Though largely self-taught, some went on to become leaders in the labor movement.

Prominent Labour leaders like Herbert Morrison, Ernest Bevin, and Aneurin Bevan believed in meritocracy and upward mobility. They came from working-class backgrounds but saw themselves as especially talented. Bevan in particular saw himself as an “aristocrat” by nature. They believed socialism should provide equal opportunity so that the naturally most talented could rise to the top, though they recognized this would lead to inequality.

In the post-WWII years, the Labour Party promoted meritocratic policies like comprehensive schools. But in the late 20th century, the party turned against meritocracy in favor of mixed-ability education. Meanwhile, Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party took up the mantle of meritocracy, seeing market competition rather than government policy as the mechanism for allowing the talented to advance.

So in summary, early 20th-century British socialism was very supportive of meritocracy and upward mobility, but the Labour Party's view evolved over the course of the century. Meritocracy was a complex idea that intersected with class in multifaceted ways.

  • The American Revolution was as much an intellectual revolution as a military one. Americans rejected the aristocratic ideas of "degree, priority and place" in favor of a society based on merit and opportunity.

  • The settlers who came to America were trying to escape the rigid class systems of Europe. The vast, sparsely populated land and lack of an entrenched aristocracy encouraged mobility and self-reliance.

  • American culture valued hard work, self-reliance, and independence. There was little deference to authority. The Protestant faiths that dominated promoted these values. The Enlightenment also instilled faith in reason and opposition to aristocracy.

  • The Revolution and founding of America reinforced these meritocratic values. Hereditary offices were banned. "All men are created equal" meant all had equal opportunity based on merit, not that all were literally equal in ability. America was meant to allow the free exercise of talent.

  • However, the meritocratic values were not consistently applied. Slavery and the poor treatment of blacks contradicted the notion that opportunity should be based on merit alone. This contradiction would go on to tear the country apart.

  • In summary, America saw itself as a republic of merit and opportunity, where natural talent and hard work were rewarded, not family connections. But race and slavery undermined that vision.

The Founding Fathers proclaimed that 'all men are created equal' in the Declaration of Independence. However, many of them including Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. This contradiction showed the hypocrisy of the founding fathers who denied slaves basic rights while championing republicanism and meritocracy.

Thomas Jefferson was a strong proponent of the 'natural aristocracy', where people rose to the top based on their virtue and talents, not their birth. He wanted to abolish the aristocracy of wealth and replace it with an aristocracy of merit. To achieve this, Jefferson proposed expanding education to identify and promote talented individuals. He also believed that an agrarian lifestyle would cultivate virtue and wisdom in leaders. However, Jefferson's views contradicted with his own practice of owning slaves.

John Adams also supported meritocracy but had more complicated views. He disliked the hereditary aristocracy and believed people should be judged based on their own merits, not their ancestors'. Adams denounced hereditary privilege and divine right of kings. However, his views were sometimes self-contradictory.

In summary, while the Founding Fathers championed republicanism and meritocracy, they failed to reconcile these ideals with the institution of slavery. Their views on equality and meritocracy only seemed to apply to free white men, not the slaves who made up a large portion of the population.

The early leaders of the United States, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, grappled with the ideals of meritocracy, even as they embodied the rise of "men of merit."

Adams agonized over the tensions between equality and inequality. On the one hand, he believed in equal rights and opportunity. On the other, he recognized that people are born with unequal abilities and advantages. He worried that a natural aristocracy of talent could threaten democracy if not properly restrained. However, he also saw that hereditary aristocracies could provide stability. His views were complex and self-contradictory.

Jefferson was more optimistic about meritocracy. He believed educated citizens and leaders could be selected based on virtue and talent, not birth. However, Adams argued that "talent" was ambiguous and could refer to morally neutral or even immoral attributes. Intelligence was not the same as virtue. Jefferson's vision required more nuance.

Hamilton embodied the ideal of the self-made man. He rose from humble origins to prominence through hard work and skill. He believed liberty and commerce could unleash human potential by giving talent opportunities to develop and shine through. However, Hamilton focused more on talent and less on virtue. His vision of meritocracy was more open but less morally grounded than Jefferson's.

In the early 19th century, the debate shifted. With the rise of mass politics under Andrew Jackson, the question became whether common citizens were capable of self-government and meritocracy. Lincoln and others argued that they were, given access to education and opportunity. However, others were more pessimistic about the capacities of ordinary people.

So in summary, the founders established America as a land of opportunity based on merit, not birth. But they disagreed on how to reconcile meritocracy with democracy and on the role of virtue. Subsequent leaders debated whether and how the common person could achieve merit and self-government. The tensions in these debates continue to shape arguments over meritocracy today.

  • The founding fathers occupied the senior positions in the new American society through their talents. No other country produced such a talented group of politicians in one generation. However, America declined significantly from the time of Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump.

  • Some worried that the ‘natural aristocracy’ was just a code for a self-interested elite who wanted to replace British rule with their own rule. The anti-federalists were suspicious that the founding fathers would form a self-perpetuating ruling class. They promoted individualism and egalitarianism against the 'natural aristocracy'.

  • The rise of political parties complicated things by introducing party loyalty. Party machines gave jobs based on loyalty rather than merit. This questioned whether appointees got jobs due to merit or deals with the president.

  • Andrew Jackson tried to combine belief in a natural aristocracy and suspicion of ruling cliques. He gave Jefferson's view of elevating a few geniuses a democratic twist of the best rising through open competition. He attacked the northeastern elite as accustomed to power through family connections. He wanted to end life tenure and open competition for office. Public office was a public trust, not property. Rotation of office perpetuated liberty. Open competition should extend to corporations, voting, and presidential candidates.

  • Jacksonians believed people differed in natural ability but artificial distinctions should not perpetuate power across generations. Government should protect equal opportunity and reward merit and hard work, not favor the already powerful. However, Jacksonians tolerated political corruption and Jackson pursued self-interest.

  • The Jacksonian vision aligned with seeing economic success as demonstrating merit. America celebrated self-made men who rose through hard work. Wealth and money were the measures of merit and distinction. Directories celebrating the wealthy argued anyone could achieve wealth and social mobility in America.

  • Alexis de Tocqueville saw America as demonstrating a new society of social mobility and opportunity for merit to rise. However, he worried inequality and individualism could lead to tyranny of the majority. Overall, he viewed America optimistically as a place for natural aristocracy to emerge through liberty and competition.

In summary, the early American Republic wrestled with how to reconcile liberty, equality, and merit. The founding fathers and Jacksonians aimed for a natural aristocracy to gain power through merit and competition rather than birth. However, there were concerns this could justify a tyrannical ruling class. The rise of political parties and corruption challenged idealistic notions of pure meritocracy. De Tocqueville optimistically saw America as experimenting with how to achieve an egalitarian society where the naturally talented could rise through liberty.

Graphically and socially, Alexis de Tocqueville observed a nation filled with people seeking to improve their station in life. However, there was one major exception: the slave-holding South, which contradicted the principles of equality and opportunity. Slavery posed an existential threat to America’s democratic values.

Abraham Lincoln embodied the democratic spirit of social mobility and equal opportunity. He worked to extend these values to African Americans by pushing for emancipation. Though emancipation succeeded in marginalizing the plantation system and establishing equality before the law, racial inequalities and discrimination persisted.

In the late 19th century, massive inequality emerged with the rise of industrial “robber barons.” Though themselves embodiments of the American dream, these tycoons amassed huge fortunes and power, crushing competitors and reducing social mobility. They came to resemble a hereditary aristocracy, mimicking the manners of elites, joining exclusive social clubs, and sending their children to elite schools. These schools were ostensibly meritocratic but came to be dominated by the children of privilege.

The threat of aristocracy also came from old, established families like the Boston Brahmins. Though they had a history of philanthropy and founding institutions like Harvard, they were prone to insularity, prejudice in favor of their own, and valuing family status over ability.

Political “machines” and patronage posed another challenge to meritocracy. The political bosses who ran these machines amassed power by trading government jobs and opportunities for votes and support. They filled government positions with unqualified cronies, neglected basic governance, and prioritized spoils over problem-solving.

In sum, while America was founded on democratic principles of equal opportunity, the 19th century saw the rise of powerful social and political forces that severely undermined these ideals. Economic inequality, entrenched privilege, and political patronage threatened to make a mockery of the American dream.

  • The U.S. political system became increasingly corrupt in the Gilded Age, with politicians creating unnecessary government positions and handing them out in exchange for votes and political support. This undermined the meritocratic ideal of rewarding positions based on ability and qualifications.

  • However, reforms were introduced to address these challenges, including progressive taxes on wealth and inheritance to break up concentrations of wealth, and the wealthy gave large amounts to public institutions promoting merit like libraries and universities. Corporations also had to rely more on professional managers, spurring business schools to train them.

  • University presidents like Charles Eliot of Harvard tried to update the ideal of a "natural aristocracy" for a democratic age by admitting more students based on merit. Elite high schools were also established, like Stuyvesant in New York City, that identified and developed talented students.

  • W.E.B. Du Bois and the black self-help movement tried to restore a sense of agency and self-worth to African-Americans through education and developing a "talented tenth" of black leaders. Du Bois believed liberally educating the most talented blacks was key to advancing the race. His disagreement with Booker T. Washington centered on whether the primary goal of education should be producing black business leaders or intellectual leaders.

  • In summary, while the Gilded Age saw challenges to meritocracy and equality of opportunity, reformers introduced measures to preserve and update these ideals, from progressive taxation to elite education to the black self-help movement. The key was identifying and developing talent, whether through schools, universities, or within communities.

  • Du Bois argued that the black leadership class was especially important because slavery had uprooted black Americans from their traditions. He believed in top-down reform and paternalism.

  • Some progressives fought against corruption in the government. The assassination of President Garfield led to the Pendleton Act of 1883, which established the Civil Service Commission. This moved more government jobs to a merit-based system and away from the spoils system.

  • Intellectuals like Wilson, Croly, and Lippmann argued for more power for experts and intellectuals in government. However, Americans were traditionally suspicious of too much centralized power and disdainful government officials. The Pendleton Act was limited, aiming to reduce patronage only for lower-level jobs.

  • In the early 20th century, a group of psychologists claimed that merit was equal to intelligence, that intelligence could be measured with IQ tests, and that intelligence was largely innate. This view was controversial and faced much criticism, including from Walter Lippmann. However, the psychometrists promoted their view and gained influence, especially in education.

  • The psychologists identified three key ideas:

  1. Merit = mental ability = intelligence = general cognitive ability (g)

  2. Intelligence is innate, not the result of effort

  3. IQ tests could measure intelligence scientifically

  • Critics argued that:
  1. Intelligence was too vague a concept

  2. IQ tests were flawed

  3. There was no evidence that intelligence was fixed

  4. Intelligence correlated poorly with life success

  5. The psychometrists had too much power and influence

The summary touches on the key people, events, ideas, and arguments around meritocracy and intelligence testing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand the summary in any way.

  • Early theorists believed there was a direct relationship between head size/shape and intelligence. They collected skulls and brains to prove theories about racial hierarchies and genius.

  • Their theories were disproven and seen as repugnant, but they helped advance the idea that intelligence varies along a continuum.

  • Alfred Binet created the first modern intelligence tests to identify learning disabilities in children. His tests were adapted into IQ tests that ranked intelligence.

  • Francis Galton studied how abilities are inherited and distributed in a population. Though his methods were flawed, he helped popularize the idea that intelligence is normally distributed and inherited.

  • Galton proposed radical social reforms to encourage the breeding of intelligent people. Though his theories were warped by his support for eugenics, he influenced how intelligence and talent were understood.

  • Galton and others laid the groundwork for the widespread acceptance and use of IQ testing and similar ability/achievement tests. Their theories seemed to provide answers about how to identify “real” talent and ability.

In summary, the early development of intelligence testing was closely tied to now-discredited beliefs in the inheritance of ability, racial hierarchies, and eugenics. But these flawed theories helped popularize and justify the use of standardized testing to rank and classify people based on intelligence and talent.

  • Francis Galton argued that mental abilities are largely inherited and vary greatly between individuals. He spent his life studying inheritance and championing eugenics.

  • Galton's work influenced the development of intelligence testing. Charles Spearman argued that intelligence could be measured and conceived of a "general intelligence" factor that all mental abilities draw on.

  • Intelligence testing gained mainstream popularity in the early 20th century. Psychologists adapted army intelligence tests for schools and businesses. Intelligence testing was seen as a way to create opportunity while also recognizing natural human inequality.

  • Progressives in the US and UK believed intelligence testing could help create a "natural aristocracy" or "aristocracy of brains" based on talent rather than birth. Intelligence was seen as increasingly important in modern civilization.

  • However, intelligence testing was also used to justify eugenicist worries about "racial degeneration" from the lower classes outbreeding the upper classes.

  • In summary, early intelligence testing reflected both optimistic and pessimistic strains of progressive thinking in the early 20th century. It was seen as a way to increase opportunity and improve society using science, but also as a way to categorize and control populations.

• Cyril Burt was the most influential psychologist in Britain in the 20th century. He promoted the use of intelligence tests, especially in education. He was a strong proponent of the idea that intelligence is largely inherited and can be measured.

• Burt believed in the existence of a general intelligence factor (‘g’) that could be measured and was highly heritable. He argued for this view throughout his long career, despite criticism from other psychologists. His views provided support for selective education and promoting social mobility based on merit.

• Burt studied the relationship between occupation and intelligence. He argued that while there was some correlation between a person’s intelligence and their social class, there was also considerable mobility. He believed that many people were in the “wrong” social class based on their intelligence, and that society was inefficient in allocating people to jobs.

• Burt’s views were a synthesis of ideas from Charles Spearman, who proposed the theory of general intelligence, and R.A. Fisher, a geneticist who clarified how intelligence might be inherited. Burt argued that intelligence, as measured by IQ, was strongly inherited, but that chance variations still allowed for social mobility across generations.

• Burt’s ideas have often been portrayed as supporting the social status quo, but they actually assumed a good deal of social mobility based on ability and merit. Burt believed existing social policy was inefficient and that many intelligent people were in jobs below their ability. His views provided a justification for expanding education and opportunity.

• Burt’s legacy is complex and controversial. After his death, his work was accused of containing fraudulent research and manipulated data. However, some analyses have argued that while Burt’s work was flawed, the charges of outright fraud are overstated. His ideas and advocacy of intelligence testing have had a huge influence on education.

  • Cyril Burt and Lewis Terman were influenced by Francis Galton and believed that intelligence was genetically determined and could be measured.

  • They advocated using IQ tests to identify gifted children and provide them opportunities for advancement. Burt focused on finding gifted children among disadvantaged populations in Britain. Terman studied gifted children in California, dubbing them the “Termites.”

  • Terman’s study of gifted children was flawed but helped dispel stereotypes about gifted children. The Termites went on to have successful careers. Terman’s focus on natural genius and his son’s role in developing Stanford helped enable the rise of Silicon Valley.

  • James Conant, president of Harvard, came from a middle-class background. He believed in meritocracy and using standardized tests to identify talent. He reformed Harvard’s admissions to focus more on academic merit. He supported broader access to higher education but believed some were more naturally gifted than others.

  • Conant admired Thomas Jefferson’s view that there is natural aristocracy of virtue and talent. He aimed to make Harvard more meritocratic while still elite. He introduced scholarships andneed-blind admissions but kept quotas for Jews. He supported expanding access to higher education overall.

  • In summary, these thinkers advocated using scientific tools like IQ testing to identify and develop natural talent, especially in gifted or disadvantaged children, in order to benefit society. However, their views were often flawed or prejudiced in ways that limited opportunities for some groups. They aimed for meritocracy but within a system that remained in some ways elitist.

Here is a summary of the cover story in five sentences:

James Bryant Conant served as the president of Harvard University from 1933 to 1953. He championed meritocracy and expanded Harvard’s national scholarships to recruit talented students from across the country based on ‘potential for success’ measured by the SAT. Conant believed elite universities had a duty to identify and educate a ‘natural aristocracy of talents and virtue’ to promote national prosperity. Although Conant failed to fully practice what he preached, he pushed Harvard in a more meritocratic direction by imposing an up-or-out policy for faculty and expanding need-based financial aid. Conant’s lieutenant Henry Chauncey left Harvard to found the Educational Testing Service, which promoted standardized testing nationally and shaped higher education admission practices.

  • Many early 20th-century thinkers advocated replacing traditional elites based on birth with meritocratic elites based on ability and achievement. Proponents of IQ testing and mental measurement wanted to reconstruct the social order based on merit.

  • However, much of early 20th-century society remained profoundly conservative, dominated by hereditary aristocracies and landed elites. Social attitudes were slow to change. In Europe, 40-45% of people still worked in agriculture, and aristocrats owned much of the land. The bourgeoisie imitated the manners of the aristocracy.

  • In Britain, aristocrats still dominated politics, and intelligence was seen as a "deformity" by some. Millions accepted the "obstinacy, ugliness and impenetrable stupidity" of the bulldog as a national symbol. Some opposed meritocracy and valued "character" over intelligence.

  • Parts of the British civil service and university system were slow to adopt meritocracy. Entrance to the diplomatic service and colonial service depended more on connections than ability. Public school men still dominated the civil service. Oxford and Cambridge had streams for the able and the wealthy.

  • The U.S. also had anti-meritocratic currents, like the planter aristocracy of the South and elites in Philadelphia and San Francisco. After WW1, the U.S. saw a rise in anti-meritocratic attitudes. Elite U.S. universities competed with Oxford and Cambridge in being anti-meritocratic.

  • In summary, while some advocated meritocracy, much of society in Britain and the U.S. in the early 20th century was dominated by traditional, hereditary elites. Social attitudes and institutions were slow to change. Anti-meritocratic attitudes persisted and even strengthened in some contexts. Meritocracy was radical, while the old order fought back.

  • There was an intellectual snobbery in Ivy League universities that favored well-rounded “golden boys” from elite backgrounds over studious or brains “grinds.” Admissions policies favored candidates’ character and social connections over pure merit. This prejudice led to quotas on Jewish students and bright students from non-elite backgrounds.

  • These attitudes persisted until the 1950s. However, World War II and its aftermath accelerated the rise of meritocracy. The demands of the war effort showed how much talent had been wasted. The postwar expansion of the welfare state increased opportunities for ordinary people. And the shift to a knowledge economy increased the rewards for brains and education.

  • In Britain, the war strained the old class system and promised a future where people were promoted based on ability, not birth. The postwar Labour government reinforced the rise of the “common man.” Even conservatives came to accept ideas like equality of opportunity and meritocracy.

  • There was a renewed focus on education, science, and technology as the keys to progress. Legislation like the 1944 Education Act expanded access to education and opportunity.

  • However, the 1950s saw a revival of more aristocratic values under Churchill and Macmillan. But the postwar meritocratic revolution resumed in the 1960s under Wilson and Heath. Satire targeted the old establishment. The expansion of grammar schools gave more bright, working-class children a chance at an elite education based on brains, not birth.

  • In summary, World War II and its aftermath dealt a major blow to old class prejudices in Britain and accelerated the rise of meritocratic ideals based on brains, education, and ability over birth and connections. But the transition was uneven, marked by revivals of more aristocratic values as well as backlashes against meritocracy. Still, by the 1960s, meritocracy was clearly ascendant.

  • Post-war Britain and America saw growing belief in meritocracy and expanding welfare states.

  • In Britain, grammar schools boomed while public schools struggled. The proportion of children in public schools declined. If grammar schools had continued, 60% of public schools might have closed.

  • In America, the GI Bill led to a surge in college enrollment, especially in science and engineering. There was a rejection of racial prejudices and a belief in meritocracy.

  • IQ and aptitude tests were embraced to identify and support merit. The idea of “superior talent” and gifted individuals gained support. Programs were set up to challenge bright students.

  • Critics argued more needed to be done. Whyte said “organization man” chose conformist trainees. Mills said the “power elite” lacked merit and moved in narrow circles. A call was made for an elite civil service.

  • Reformers tried establishing an elite civil service. Think tanks like RAND recruited top talent.

  • The launch of Sputnik led to the belief America was losing the “brain race.” Congress declared an “educational emergency.” Laws aimed to increase brainpower and support science/technology.

In summary, post-war Britain and America saw a push for meritocracy and opportunity based on talent rather than background. Education reforms, support for science, and identification of top talent were priorities. There was a belief these nations needed to cultivate brainpower to compete on a global scale.

  • After WWII, there was a push in many Western nations to reassert dominance through science and technology. In the US, funding for research increased dramatically. Some argued this was necessary for national survival in an increasingly technological world.

  • There was a shift towards meritocracy in higher education. Elite universities like Harvard and Yale moved away from favoring students from elite backgrounds and began admitting more high-performing, “meritorious” students. In France, the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) was founded in 1945 to train top civil servants through a rigorous admissions process.

  • The new meritocratic system produced many leaders in government and business. In France, many presidents, prime ministers, and other top officials were ENA alumni.

  • The push for meritocracy led to greater social mobility. Working-class children in Britain could attend grammar schools and gain admission to top universities, though the process was difficult.

  • Universities, especially elite research universities, became central to the knowledge economy.

  • Businesses began valuing intelligence and cognitive ability. There was a “new cult of intelligence in business.”

  • The post-war period in many Western nations was marked by strong economic growth, aided by investment in science and technology as well as a new meritocratic system that valued ability over background.

  • The play “The History Boys” illustrates both the promise and difficulties of the new meritocratic system in Britain, showing working-class boys struggling to gain admission to Oxford through a demanding scholarship exam.

That covers the key elements from the summary on the rise of meritocracy and its impact in the post-WWII period. Let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand on any part of the summary.

  • The play The History Boys by Alan Bennett is set in 1983 but feels anachronistic as it deals more with post-WWII Britain of the 1940s and 1950s.

  • The play focuses on grammar school boys trying to get into Oxford, reflecting Bennett's own experiences going from a grammar school to Oxford.

  • In the postwar period, grammar schools enabled working class boys to access higher education and rise up the social ladder. Many became prominent figures in Britain.

  • The success of grammar school boys challenged the old British class system. They gained prominence in politics, science, and the arts. Some argued Britain had too much social mobility.

  • Access to higher education expanded greatly in postwar Britain and other countries. Grammar schools, lycees, and gymnasien opened up to more students based on merit rather than class.

  • Clark Kerr's 1963 book The Uses of the University captured the optimism around expanding higher education. He envisioned the "multiversity" serving many social needs and promoting meritocracy.

In summary, the play reflects a postwar era where grammar schools and expanded access to higher education enabled new social mobility in Britain based on merit and talent rather than class. This disrupted the old class system and enabled the rise of prominent figures from working class backgrounds.

  • Clark Kerr argued that the purpose of universities was not just to cultivate gentlemen but to produce accomplished professionals and scholars. He believed universities should identify and support ‘natural aristocrats’ based on merit and scholarly achievement.

  • Kerr envisioned research universities as ‘temples of the mind’ that solve real-world problems. He reformed the University of California system to achieve this vision. He made it more meritocratic but also more focused on research.

  • Most academics embraced professionalization after WWII to gain status and benefits like sabbaticals. Universities gained more control over careers and professions.

  • Before WWII, much of American business was anti-intellectual. Many businessmen lacked higher education and admired ‘common sense’ over intellect. Some even avoided hiring ‘brilliant men.’

  • Business schools and consultancies originally focused more on networking and appearance than ideas. Many companies preferred to train employees internally over higher education.

  • Sociologists in the 1950s described typical businessmen as conformist, anti-intellectual, and opposed to genius. They valued fitting in over intelligence.

  • The ‘whiz kids’ of the post-WWII era helped change this view. Highly educated former military officers saved Ford and reformed companies through managerial skills, not product knowledge. They applied similar techniques across industries, signaling a new relationship between business and intellect.

  • In summary, Kerr and the rise of professionalization in universities coincided with and fueled a shift toward meritocracy in business. Anti-intellectualism declined, and educated ‘whiz kids’ gained influence. By the post-WWII period, universities and business had developed a closer, mutually reinforcing relationship.

  • California’s first major conglomerate, Lockheed, grew rapidly in the postwar period under Robert McNamara, who later moved to the Pentagon and tried to apply business practices to win the Vietnam War. McNamara then led the World Bank.

  • Business schools and consultancies strengthened the relationship between business and intelligence. Reports in the 1960s argued business schools needed more research. They then focused on publishing and star professors like Michael Porter and Michael Jensen. MBAs and consultancies like Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey focused on “smarts” and elegant models over networking.

  • The Romney family shows the growing influence of business theory. George Romney had a career in manufacturing. Mitt Romney had degrees from Harvard Business School and worked at prestigious consultancies, helping make Bain Capital very successful and himself very wealthy.

  • The rise of meritocracy was also the rise of women. Margaret Thatcher faced discrimination in her education and career but overcame barriers through hard work and determination. Her success as Britain’s first female PM coincided with many other “firsts” for women.

  • In the 19th century, while liberal reforms promoted meritocracy and open competition for men, women faced severe restrictions and subjugation under the law. They lacked rights to property, voting, and careers. Social conventions also strictly controlled women’s dress and mobility.

  • The logic of meritocracy, the intellectual aristocracy, psychologists emphasizing individual differences, and an expanding state eventually led to the dismantling of restrictions on women in favor of open competition. But this was a long process of both collective struggle and individual achievement against entrenched prejudices.

  • Queen Victoria enjoyed the same rights as her male predecessor but was still expected to conform to restrictive gender norms like wearing corsets.

  • Women faced double standards and unequal treatment. They could be subjected to arbitrary arrest and forced medical exams, while men had more rights and privileges.

  • Women’s inferior status depended on two beliefs: 1) the idea of “separate spheres” that men and women occupied different domains - the public sphere of competition and moneymaking for men, the private sphere of homemaking for women; and 2) the notion that women were the “weaker sex,” more emotional, intellectual and physically fragile.

  • These beliefs were reinforced over time and used to justify limiting women’s education and opportunities. Some even made pseudo-scientific arguments that women were biologically inferior and less evolved than men.

  • The spread of meritocratic and egalitarian ideals helped challenge this system of beliefs and advance the cause of women’s rights. The American and French Revolutions raised questions about why “all men are created equal” did not apply to women. Women's rights advocates argued for women's equality and inclusion based on individual rights and abilities.

  • The anti-slavery movement also boosted the case for women's rights by training women in activism and raising the question of why black men but not women deserved rights and equal treatment. Women's rights advocates argued that women, like black men, deserved equal rights based on their common humanity.

So in summary, while Queen Victoria enjoyed a position of power as a monarch, most women in the 19th century faced systematic discrimination and limits on their rights and opportunities due to dominant beliefs in their inferiority, weakness, and proper confinement to the domestic sphere. The spread of egalitarianism and women's participation in reform movements helped challenge this system of discrimination and advance arguments for women's equal treatment and rights.

  • The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society made an explicit connection between men as slave-owners and women as slaves. They argued that men have always oppressed and degraded women to use them for their selfish purposes.

  • There was a class element to this argument. Educated, affluent Anglo-Saxon women were angry that they were denied rights given to newly freed blacks and immigrants. Some suffragists were willing to restrict suffrage to the educated, regardless of sex. They frequently complained of ignorant and degraded men having power over them.

  • Two seminal books made the case for rethinking gender relations:

  1. Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) argued that the rights of man necessitated the rights of woman. Women were just as able as men but lacked education. Girls and boys should receive the same education to learn mutual respect. Wollstonecraft condemned Rousseau for arguing women should please men.

  2. John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women (1869) argued denying women equal opportunity was wrong and impeded progress. In modern societies, people advance based on merit, not birth. But women were told they could never compete for certain things. Marriage was the only legal bondage. Forcing conjugal rights was degrading. Preserving this system gave men an unjustified sense of superiority. There was no evidence women were inferior. Free competition would develop women's abilities. Examples of talented women showed their potential.

  • Victorian literature depicted intelligent women driven nearly mad by lack of opportunity. George Eliot's Middlemarch featured Dorothea Brooke, a bright woman who marries a foolish scholar, to her disappointment.

  • The cult of domesticity also supported Mill's argument. As women ventured into public life to protect the home, they found their talents for it. This raised questions about why they couldn't apply their talents more broadly.

In summary, advocates argued that denying women equal rights was unjust and prevented society from benefitting from their abilities. Educating women and giving them opportunities would allow them to develop their faculties and participate as men's equals. Literature and society provided many examples of frustrated, intelligent women showing their unfulfilled potential.

  • Women argued that if they were peculiarly moral beings, as claimed, they should shape laws and social norms, not just abide by them. Some suffrage campaigners argued women’s moral superiority meant they deserved the vote.

  • The intellectual aristocracy in Britain drove arguments for women’s rights and education. They were not bound by rules of primogeniture and entailment, and they intermarried. They founded women’s colleges and campaigned for women’s university education.

  • Women were determined to prove themselves intellectually equal to men by excelling in exams, even the most grueling. Philippa Fawcett’s success as “above the Senior Wrangler” in Cambridge’s math tripos showed women could beat men even at the hardest subjects. Though Philippa lacked the opportunities of her male counterparts, her success changed views of women’s abilities.

  • Cartoons and novels spread images of educated “New Women.” Mental tests and IQ data showed individual differences mattered more than sex differences in intelligence. Girls sometimes outperformed boys, requiring “rigging” of exams like the 11-plus. This made it hard to argue women were inferior.

  • Women were at the forefront of new technologies like the typewriter, telephone exchange, and clerical work. Their competence and importance in these growing fields undercut arguments about their inferiority or unsuitability for demanding work.

  • The ideological assault on separate spheres intensified, with women arguing their confinement to the home was unnatural and stunting. Women sought fulfillment through paid work, professional careers, and public engagement.

  • Women argued for legal rights to property, divorce, and child custody to establish their independence and equality. The campaign for women’s suffrage sought votes for women as a recognition of women’s equal claim to shape society and laws.

So in summary, through moral arguments, demonstrations of intellectual ability, competence in new fields, challenges to ideology of separate spheres, and demands for legal rights, women in this era systematically dismantled justifications for their unequal and subordinate status in society. They sought recognition as men’s equals, with equal opportunities and an equal say over the rules that governed them.

Two new technologies - the typewriter and the telegraph - increased the demand for women workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Women were seen as more dexterous and cheaper than men for these jobs. This provided new opportunities for women, especially in the British civil service.

World War I and World War II were turning points that transformed women's positions. During the wars, women took on many jobs previously done by men. After the wars, women retreated into domestic roles for a time but their advancement picked up momentum again starting in the 1950s.

Powerful economic and political forces drove the acceleration of women's progress after 1950. The decline of manufacturing and rise of the service economy favored women. Household appliances reduced the time spent on housework. Improved birth control gave women more control and incentive to pursue careers. The Cold War drove the U.S. to make better use of women's skills. Legislation like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act banned gender discrimination. Court cases demonstrated that gender discrimination violated the constitution.

The logic of meritocracy also helped. Elite schools started admitting women to avoid losing the best students to co-educational competitors. Co-ed schools found that admitting women increased their average performance. Single-sex colleges lost ground.

The expansion of higher education disproportionately benefited women. College-educated women have higher workforce participation rates. Women also shifted into more lucrative college majors, like business.

So in summary, new technologies, world wars, economic and political changes, and the logic of meritocracy all combined to drive women's progress in education and the workforce over the 20th century. But women's advancement also brought tensions with traditional gender roles centered on the family.

The rise of meritocracy was largely driven by left-wing forces seeking to increase opportunity and equality. However, starting in the 1930s, many on the left began to criticize meritocracy and push back against it. This anti-meritocratic movement came in three waves:

  1. Academics questioned whether merit could be measured accurately. Critics like C.P. Blacker, Lancelot Hogben, and Lionel Penrose argued that IQ tests and other measures of merit were flawed because they failed to account for environmental and social factors. They said these tests merely reflected differences in opportunity, not innate ability.

  2. Public intellectuals argued that meritocracy was not an ideal worth pursuing. They said it led to a harsh, competitive society and disadvantaged those at the bottom.

  3. Progressives promoted alternative values like equality, community, and social solidarity over meritocracy.

These anti-meritocratic arguments had a major influence and led to policy changes like the abolition of grammar schools in Britain, affirmative action in the U.S., and open university admissions in some European countries. The critics argued these policies would promote more equality and opportunity than a strict meritocracy could.

So while meritocracy was originally a left-wing ideal, many on the left turned against it starting in the mid-20th century. They came to see meritocracy as perpetuating inequality rather than remedying it. In the name of equality and justice, they argued for limits on meritocracy and policies to counteract its effects.

  • Martin conducted a study of the impact of the 1944 Education Act on social mobility into grammar schools in Britain. He found that while more working-class children attended grammar schools after the Act, their relative chances of getting in did not increase much. Middle-class children still dominated.

  • Other scholars found similar results. J.W.B. Douglas studied how environmental and health factors limited social mobility, finding that working-class children often deteriorated educationally over time despite early promise.

  • There was a cross-disciplinary consensus that expanding education did little to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children relative to the middle class. Education seemed to validate existing social inequalities rather than determine them.

  • The debate was particularly heated in the US, in part because of the history of eugenics and racial issues there. Critics argued that differences in IQ scores between groups were due to environment, not race. Franz Boas and others showed the malleability of human nature and traits.

  • Americans were more open to the use of testing for educational selection and placement than Britons. But many argued, as in Britain, that middle-class advantages and prejudices, not merit alone, determined access to opportunity.

  • Up to the late 1950s, most thinkers approached social mobility from a meritocratic framework, believing individuals differed in ability and a just society should discover and reward ability wherever it lay. But some began arguing the meritocratic idea itself was flawed.

  • Three key critiques of meritocracy came from Michael Young's The Rise of the Meritocracy, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman's The American Education , and Alisdair MacIntyre's essay "A Short History of Ethics." They argued meritocracy was unrealistic, privileged qualities that benefited the middle class, and undermined common goods and virtues.

  • Young argued meritocracy created new injustices and social problems. Jencks and Riesman said the American education system mainly reproduced the existing class system. MacIntyre said meritocracy lacked a shared conception of the good life and undermined moral character.

The background is the growing discontent with meritocracy. The story is about a graduate student writing a thesis critical of meritocracy. The thesis argues that meritocracy undermines equality and compassion.

Michael Young, the author of The Rise of the Meritocracy, condemned his own creation. He argued meritocracy benefits a few at the expense of many. It strengthens the ruling class by recruiting the brightest but weakens the working class by depriving them of leaders. It is psychologically damaging to both winners and losers. The losers despair due to perceived personal failures. The book ends with the lower classes revolting against the smug elite.

The Rise of the Meritocracy represented a sharp critique of the prevailing view that Britain needed more meritocracy. Most criticized Britain for being run by privileged “Old Etonians.” Young criticized it for being too meritocratic. He worried IQ tests were too accurate and enabled the ruling class to identify and co-opt talented individuals from the working class.

The book was initially rejected by publishers but became popular in the 1960s. Some understood its message. Others dismissed its “nightmare vision.” It was part of a broader debate on the left about the downsides of selection and meritocracy. Some argued meritocracy generated inequality, division, and alienation. It deprived the working class of leaders and gave too much power to elites.

David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest blamed Democratic intellectuals, not Republicans, for the Vietnam War. The “best and brightest” were Harvard-educated meritocrats like McGeorge Bundy. Despite their intellect, they lacked common sense and pragmatism. They believed in rational, technical solutions to complex problems. Their misguided policies and arrogance produced disaster in Vietnam, showing the pitfalls of meritocracy.

John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice also critiqued meritocracy. Rawls argued natural talents are undeserved. A just society should not distribute resources based primarily on talent or merit. Justice requires considering the least advantaged and ensuring equal opportunity. Meritocracy fails to do this and exacerbates inequality. Both Rawls and Young believed true equality requires considering outcomes, not just opportunities.

In summary, the works critique meritocracy and argue it fails to achieve real equality or justice. It gives too much power and advantage to elites, deprives the disadvantaged of opportunity, and is psychologically and socially damaging. They call for focusing on equality of outcomes and the condition of the least fortunate. Merit alone should not determine one's place in society or access to resources.

  • Tice (1971) criticized meritocracy and argued for distributive justice and equality.

  • John Rawls, an influential philosopher, argued against meritocracy and said inequalities were only justified if they benefited the least well-off.

  • Rawls proposed the "veil of ignorance" - designing a fair society without knowing one's own talents or attributes. He said natural talents were as arbitrary as social class.

  • Rawls argued that even equal opportunity wouldn't lead to a just society. Success was as much due to luck as hard work.

  • Rawls proposed the "difference principle" - the distribution of natural talents is a shared asset, so the successful must share benefits with the less fortunate.

  • Rawls's theory of justice was very influential, though it didn't address race. It shaped philosophy and law.

  • The critique of meritocracy drew on equality and community. Some argued individual differences were due to nurture, not nature, so society should be more equal.

  • Theories like the "social construction of reality" and cultural capital said systemic factors, not merit, determined outcomes.

  • There was disappointment that the middle class still had advantages and benefits over the poor. Equality of outcome, not just opportunity, was promoted.

  • The cultural revolution of the 1960s challenged hierarchies and norms. Thinkers like Laing, Kesey, and Foucault argued that societal institutions marginalized groups.

  • Communitarians argued individualism and meritocracy harmed communities. Some conservatives idealized past communities over modernity.

So in summary, there were philosophical, sociological, and political arguments made against meritocracy in favor of equality, community, and distributive justice. Theories of the social construction of inequality and the cultural upheavals of the time provided a context for these arguments.

Here is a summary of the passage:

  • Conservatism and socialism have historically shared a communitarian philosophy that society should be seen as an organ whole rather than as a collection of individuals pursuing their own self-interest.

  • Conservatives looked back nostalgically to a lost era of community in the medieval past. Socialists looked forward to building new communal bonds, especially through liberating the working class.

  • After World War II, the left focused on promoting community through abolishing selection in education and expanding the welfare state. The Institute of Community Studies emphasized the importance of working-class communities and the damage done by the welfare state and grammar schools.

  • The New Left emerging in the 1960s in the U.S. emphasized the quest for community and participatory democracy. Thinkers like C. Wright Mills and Mario Savio criticized alienation and impersonality in society and universities. The Port Huron Statement articulated the New Left vision of enhanced belonging and participatory democracy.

  • The New Left promoted group rights and identity as solutions to historical discrimination and disadvantage. Black power, feminism, and gay rights emphasized group solidarity and action. New academic fields like black studies, women’s studies, Chicano studies and sexuality studies institutionalized these ideas. Intersectionality connected the interests of marginalized groups.

  • Catharine MacKinnon argued for affirmative accommodation of group diversity and group-consciousness as an alternative to the “white male standard” of equality and neutrality.

Ideas have consequences. In Britain, the idea that meritocracy perpetuated inequality led to the abolition of grammar schools in the 1960s and 70s. The Labour party initially saw comprehensives as a way to provide grammar school education for all. But they eventually abolished grammar schools in the name of equality and supported progressive education. At the same time, they failed to address the much bigger problem of elite public schools.

In America, there were attempts to promote equal opportunity and address racial inequality. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs aimed to remove barriers to upward mobility, like racial discrimination. But addressing deep-rooted inequality proved difficult. A 1966 report found little difference between white and black schools in funding or facilities, showing the problem was societal, not just about school resources.

Affirmative action aimed to promote minorities in elite positions but was controversial and faced legal challenges. It changed the face of elite America but a majority opposed differential treatment based on race. Court rulings narrowed the scope of affirmative action. Overall, efforts to address inequality and promote equal opportunity faced more frustrations than expected on both sides of the Atlantic.

Universities adopted various programmes to help non-traditional students such as mentoring and coaching. However, many just treated it as a formula and did not provide additional support after recruiting them. Affirmative action was meant to be a short-term solution to address racial discrimination but became an indiscriminately applied formula.

Bussing was another solution but caused social unrest as it was imposed on working-class communities by elite groups unaffected by it. It did not improve educational outcomes. There were also attempts to dismantle elite schools as they admitted too few black students. Critics said admissions should consider race and background rather than just test scores. Some schools were forced to abandon test-based admissions.

The post-war welfare state failed to achieve equal opportunity, especially for race. Policies seemed arrogant and distant. Groups sought collective redress for past injustices. However, inequality remained and private schools thrived while public ones were attacked. Radical aims of participative communities came to little.

The 1960s egalitarianism gave way to 1980s capitalism and a new elite emerged: the creative class, bourgeois bohemians, the cognitive elite. This was bigger and differed in valuing money as a measure of success. Three forces shaped it:

  1. Merit and money married as the rich bought privilege and the old rich adopted meritocracy. This caused social closure as top colleges and universities were dominated by the wealthy.

  2. Globalization tied the elite together across borders.

  3. Declining mobility made it harder for the poor to rise as old routes were closed off. This produced a 'bastard meritocracy' with the appearance of meritocracy but not the reality.

The new rich came from areas like finance, law, business and technology. Many billionaires under 40 were in tech. The new rich valued brainpower and attended elite conferences and events. They admired certain intellectuals. The new meritocracy was narrower as it depended on credentials and access. It was smug and self-centered, feeling it deserved its position.

The new elite's sense of entitlement and unwillingness to help others get on led to a decline in social solidarity and trust in institutions. Their self-interest and groupthink caused policy failures and financial crises. Their insulation from wider society bred resentment and backlash.

  • The new rich value ideas and intellectual pursuits. They read intellectual magazines and host conferences with big thinkers. Leaders like Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates promote reading and learning.

  • The old rich have also embraced meritocratic values. The idle rich of the past are gone. Now the wealthy are highly educated and expect their children to work hard and achieve. Elite schools have become much more competitive.

  • There is a "pluto-meritocracy" - an uneasy combination of meritocracy and plutocracy. Wealthy families pour resources into getting their children into top schools and universities. Top British private schools, for example, now have high university attendance rates anddominate top exam scores. They've attracted wealthy international students and built campuses abroad.

  • Private schools achieve success through money and management. They charge high fees, hire excellent teachers, and provide top facilities. They also aggressively "game the system" to improve exam scores, challenge marks, and help students get into top foreign universities. Though founded to educate the poor, private schools now mostly serve the rich.

  • "Assortative mating" - the tendency to marry within one's social class - amplifies the effects of the pluto-meritocracy. Graduates marry other graduates. Elite dating apps and websites help the wealthy and well-educated find each other. Power couples, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, emerge from the same elite academic backgrounds.

  • In sum, money and merit have fused. Wealth and achievement reinforce each other. Privilege is amplified over generations. An intellectual veneer coats entrenched privilege. But a pure meritocracy this is not.

  • Assortative mating, in which people marry people like themselves, contributes to inequality. Highly educated, high-earning couples earn disproportionately more than average, while less educated couples earn less. If mating were random, inequality would be lower.

  • The affluent also geographically cluster together in wealthy neighborhoods and cities, further concentrating their advantages. Housing costs price out the middle class.

  • Wealthy parents aggressively cultivate their children from an early age to gain advantages. By age three, children of professionals have twice the vocabulary of working-class children. By four, they've heard 45 million more words.

  • Wealthy parents get their children the best education through private schools, moving to areas with well-funded public schools, donating money, and pressuring schools. Competition for elite schools is fierce, with parents starting in preschool.

  • "Helicopter parenting" and "tiger parenting" are extreme forms of involved, aggressive parenting to push children to achieve. Parents closely monitor children and pack their schedules with activities to gain an edge.

  • The wealthy hire consultants to help their children gain admission to elite universities. These "Ivy whisperers" help students prepare for tests, choose activities, and edit college applications. Some engage in outright fraud and bribery.

  • A 2019 college admissions scandal revealed a "side door" to elite colleges for the affluent. A counselor forged test scores, athletic records, and learning disability diagnoses for children of celebrities and executives in exchange for bribes. The scandal highlighted the broader advantages the wealthy already enjoy.

  • In summary, at every stage, wealthier parents work to pass on their advantages to their children, ultimately restricting social mobility and equal opportunity. Their aggressive cultivation of their children only widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

  • Elite universities prioritize applicants based on connections and wealth, not just merit. They give preferential treatment to children of alumni (‘legacies’), donors, athletes, and the wealthy and famous. Only about 40% of places at elite schools go to applicants who get in based solely on merit.

  • Academics benefit from this system so they stay quiet about it. Elite schools give their children easier admission and tuition waivers.

  • Elite employers also favor candidates from privileged backgrounds. They focus on ‘fit’ and subjective factors rather than objective qualifications. They tend to hire people who engage in ‘upper-class’ hobbies and are from elite schools.

  • There is a new form of nepotism where political families cling to power through connections and privilege rather than direct inheritance. Family names like Bush and Clinton have dominated American politics. Family and friends give each other political jobs and opportunities. Members of Congress use their positions to benefit their entire families.

  • The new nepotism shares the problems of the old, like being out of touch with ordinary people. But the new nepotists feel less guilty about their privilege because they believe they earned their positions through merit, even though family connections gave them huge advantages.

  • Dynasties and family connections have been adapted for a world that claims to value meritocracy and democracy. Family privilege helps in gaining admission to elite schools, jobs, political opportunities, and more. In a slow-growth, high-rent world, the privileged have more flexibility to wait for opportunities. They also tend to marry and associate within their own class.

So in summary, the author argues that modern societies that claim to be meritocratic actually have high levels of unfair preference and privilege based on family connections and wealth. Dynastic families dominate the upper echelons of politics, education, and business.

Here's a summary:

  • There is a growing global elite who are highly mobile and interconnected. They are selected and promoted based on merit and achievement.

  • Key institutions that drive the global meritocracy are large multinational corporations, management consultancies, and top business schools. These institutions actively recruit and develop talent from around the world, providing them opportunities for global careers and networking.

  • While globalization and meritocracy have some benefits, they also exacerbate inequality. The rewards for success are huge, allowing the elite to accumulate vast amounts of wealth and influence. At the same time, social mobility for others has declined due to worsening education systems and lack of opportunities/resources.

  • There is also a growing cultural divide between the elite and the working class. The elite tend to delay marriage and children as part of a carefully planned life path focused on career and wealth accumulation. In contrast, the working class tend to have children early, not prioritize marriage, and drift between jobs and relationships.

  • In summary, globalization has enabled the rise of a highly successful, meritocratic elite that is becoming increasingly disconnected from local communities and cultures. At the same time, avenues for upward mobility have declined for the rest, contributing to a wider divide in society.

  • There is a growing divide between the cognitive elite and the rest of society in many Western countries, especially the US and UK.

  • This divide manifests itself in growing disparities in family structure, health, and education. The elite are increasingly detached from the lives of the poor and working class.

  • In the US, rates of single parenthood, divorce, and unplanned pregnancy are much higher among less educated and poorer groups. The life expectancy of poorer Americans is stagnating or declining due to “deaths of despair” from suicide, drugs, and alcohol. Poorer children tend to be less healthy and face more disadvantages.

  • In the UK, poorer children also face more disadvantages, like growing up with a single parent, attending poorly funded schools, and having fewer opportunities to go to university. There are also large regional and racial disparities, with poorer outcomes for white working-class people in the North of England.

  • Two books, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey, provide insights into the struggles of poor white communities in the US and UK, respectively. They show how family dysfunction, lack of opportunity, poor education, violence, and substance abuse reinforce each other in a vicious cycle.

  • Public institutions like libraries provide opportunities for the poor and working class to improve their lives but are under threat. The cultural divide between the cognitive elite and the poor is widening, making social mobility more difficult. Overall, there are worrisome signs of a large and persistent divide between haves and have-nots in Western societies.

The meritocratic elite, especially its most educated members, is increasingly disconnected from the general population. This has led to a revolt against meritocracy and the elite in recent years, seen in events like Brexit, Trump's election, and the rise of populist parties.

This revolt is driven by the "masses" - less educated, working class people who feel left behind by meritocracy and globalization. They resent the elite's cosmopolitan values and focus on credentials. The divide between the elite and masses is increasingly an educational divide. In votes, the elite tends to support more globalist, progressive options while the masses support more nationalist, populist options.

This conflict is also geographical, pitting global cities with many universities and knowledge workers against smaller towns and rural areas. In the UK, it pits London against the rest of the country. The masses feel that the political establishment, media, and upper bureaucracy are out of touch and work against their interests. Their votes for populist options are a way to express frustration with the elite and meritocracy.

The traditional left-right political divide over economics is being replaced by this new divide over meritocracy and globalization. Parties are realigning to appeal to either the elite or the masses. The relationship between the masses and the political establishment is becoming more antagonistic.

In summary, the promise of meritocracy - that it would benefit society as a whole - is seen by many as betrayed. Instead of a rising tide lifting all boats, meritocracy and globalization have been seen to benefit some at the expense of others, leading to a revolt of the losers against the winners of meritocracy.

  • Many populists believed that Trump would lose the 2016 election. His victory shocked them, and some became adamant ‘never Trumpers’.

  • Populists denounce political and media elites. Trump attacks the ‘deep state’ and ‘fake news’. Farage targets the ‘political class’. Le Pen condemns the ‘EU oligarchy’. Grillo lambasts Italy’s ‘political caste’.

  • Journalists failed to predict populist victories because they are part of the ‘cognitive elite’. Most are university-educated and live in ‘cosmopolitan bubbles’.

  • Though populist leaders are also elite, they have cultivated populist personas. Trump inherited wealth but rages at ‘smarty-pants liberals’. Johnson went to Eton but behaves like a ‘yob’.

  • Conservative anger at elites has grown for decades. Thinkers like Lasch and Rorty predicted a populist backlash.

  • The Iraq War and its aftermath severely damaged elite credibility. Neoconservatives backed the war, but its failures energized the left and right, boosting Trump.

  • The war showed the elites lacked intelligence and expertise. It boosted anti-intellectualism and nativism in the US, empowering Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda.

So in summary, the key points are:

  1. There is a growing populist anger at political, media and intellectual elites who are seen as self-interested and out of touch.

  2. Despite being elite themselves, populist leaders have cultivated anti-elite personas to tap into this anger.

  3. The Iraq War was a pivotal moment that severely undermined elite credibility and boosted populism.

  4. The war highlighted a wider elite detachment from the masses and boosted anti-intellectual, nativist sentiments that populists have harnessed.

  • The pro-globalization argument that financial liberalization and free markets benefit everyone was discredited by the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis destroyed wealth, the bankers continued to enrich themselves, and living standards stagnated.

  • The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and failures to predict immigration flows show how experts can be confidently wrong on issues that greatly impact people's lives.

  • A series of corporate scandals and recklessness raised questions about worshipping pure intelligence. Companies like Enron and Long-Term Capital Management collapsed despite being run by the supposed best and brightest.

  • The political and media elites were also tainted by scandals showing they would break rules for their own benefit.

  • There is anger at the cognitive elite who have taken control of institutions and dismiss other viewpoints. Many feel marginalized and looked down upon.

  • Politics and democracy have traditionally been open to all, but there are now barriers of education and qualifications. Most politicians and parliament members now have university degrees. The working class is underrepresented.

  • This rise of a "diploma democracy" or "political meritocracy" means parliaments and parties are dominated by graduates rather than being mass organizations. Most NGOs and multilateral institutions are run by professionals rather than volunteers or ordinary people. Graduates are also more politically engaged in some ways.

  • In summary, there is a populist backlash against an insulated cognitive elite that has failed the people in key ways and taken control of politics and society. Marginalized groups feel looked down upon and unable to participate.

  • Trade unions, traditionally bastions of the working class, are dominated by educated, older women. This diverges from the priorities of the 70% without university degrees who care more about crime, immigration and welfare abuse. Populism gives this group a voice, appealing for the elites to listen to their concerns.

  • Elites are prone to condescension towards the masses. They perceive themselves as the “most elite” and “finest” in their fields. Right-wing commentators stoke resentment over this attitude. Members of the elite have openly expressed contempt for the uneducated.

  • The elites are seen as self-serving. They espoused free market capitalism until needing government bailouts, and support immigration mainly for their own benefit of cheap labor. They also regulate themselves and transition easily between government and industry roles.

  • The rise of populism has changed politics from economic issues to status issues regarding who deserves rewards. Populists resent the elite capturing both money and status.

  • National identity is a key flashpoint, with populists promoting national interests over global elite interests. They see the elite as insufficiently patriotic. The Brexit and Trump campaigns emphasized nationalism over globalism.

  • Expertise is another flashpoint, with populists dismissing experts as partisan or out-of-touch. Michael Gove said Britons were “tired of experts.” Trump routinely attacked experts and institutions.

  • Trump’s mishandling of COVID-19 highlighted his incompetence and damaged his re-election chances. He ignored experts, withdrew from global institutions, and made false claims about the virus being “under control.” However, populism may persist due to growing inequality and the elite’s failure to address populists’ valid concerns.

  • In summary, the populist revolt is driven by a status revolution against self-serving, condescending elites with different values and priorities than much of the population. However, populism’s solutions are often crude, and its leaders inept. A balance is needed between populism and expertise.

  • Trump dismissed COVID-19 as a 'hoax' to undermine him, while Boris Johnson's government relied on experts and science. However, populism and divisions remain.

  • Trump retained strong support among less-educated voters, while better-educated voters overwhelmingly opposed him. Brexit supporters also continue to oppose experts and science.

  • The left has also become more radicalized, with growing support for Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Black Lives Matter movement and protests over George Floyd's death point to the failure of past policies to address racial inequalities.

  • The Black Lives Matter movement and radical intellectuals promote ideas like 'white privilege,' 'unconscious bias,' and the view that meritocracy perpetuates white power. These ideas have spread in academia, companies, media, etc.

  • There is a danger of increasing polarization and division along racial lines, with whites pointing to economic despair and blacks pointing to racial injustices.

  • The book argues the meritocratic idea is the best path forward, focusing on individuals, achievement, and opportunity. But meritocracy must be updated to address remaining inequalities.

  • Singapore is held up as the closest example of a meritocracy, though its extreme focus on testing and achievement is critiqued. Asian societies are rediscovering meritocracy and policies promoting achievement and opportunity.

The key argument is that while meritocracy needs to be reformed and updated, it remains superior to the alternatives of collective rights or enforced equality. Promoting opportunity and achievement based on ability can help address inequalities, if barriers are removed. But identity politics and populism on both the left and right threaten greater polarization and division.

Singapore’s model of governance and economic development is built on the ideas that good government and capable leaders are essential. The government recruits and trains talented young people, provides them generous scholarships to study abroad, and pays them very well to serve in the government.

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, was a strong proponent of meritocracy and believed intellectual ability was the most important quality in leaders. He tried to encourage “high-quality” people to marry each other and have more children. He also proposed giving more votes to educated, employed people. Lee emphasized Confucian values like education, hard work, and thrift. He believed families, not the government, should care for the old and weak.

Singapore’s education system is highly selective and competitive. Teachers and principals are well paid. Students are tracked and streamed based on exam performance from an early age. The top students are identified and offered extra opportunities. Raffles Institution is an elite school that feeds students into top universities and government service.

While Singapore’s meritocratic system has achieved a great deal of success, it also has some downsides like elitism, arrogance, and lack of creativity. There is little social mobility as the same elite families dominate top positions. The government’s focus on technical competence and Confucian values discourages independent thinking. For its education level, Singapore produces little in terms of culture, arts, or innovation.

In summary, Singapore has built its success on meritocracy, highly competitive education, and capable technocratic governance. But its elitist model also suffers from weaknesses like conformity, arrogance, and lack of creativity. There is an ongoing debate about balancing excellence and elitism.

Singapore combines a meritocratic system with an authoritarian government that closely monitors citizens and clamps down on dissent. However, its economic success has provided a high standard of living. The government promotes slogans like “compassionate meritocracy” and tries to increase the status of vocational jobs.

China initially rejected meritocracy during the Cultural Revolution but now embraces it. China has a highly competitive education system and job market that determines people's futures. Parents intensely prepare their children to succeed from an early age. Chinese culture now emphasizes individualism, competition, and self-reliance.

The Chinese Communist Party claims to promote "political meritocracy," selecting and promoting leaders based on talent rather than elections. The path to leadership is long and requires succeeding at various levels. The Party closely monitors and evaluates officials' performance. The process for selecting the Party's General Secretary is designed to be fair and merit-based. However, some criticize the lack of transparency and real competition in the system.

In summary, both Singapore and China have adopted meritocratic philosophies to drive their development. However, their systems are also authoritarian and lacking in political freedom and dissent. There are debates around the fairness and transparency of their merit-based selection processes.

The Chinese Communist Party promotes the idea that China is developing a “political meritocracy” where positions of power and influence are allocated based on ability and achievement rather than wealth, connections, or identity. However, there are several issues that undermine this notion:

  1. President Xi Jinping made himself president for life in 2018, damaging the idea that China’s system ensures regular leadership transition and prevents leaders from staying in power indefinitely. This move makes China’s system look more feudal and autocratic than meritocratic.

  2. China’s system is rife with favoritism and discrimination. The children of party elites and the wealthy have significant advantages in gaining access to elite schools and positions of power. Minorities face systemic disadvantages.

  3. Corruption is widespread in China’s system. There are many examples of top officials accumulating massive amounts of wealth through corruption and abuse of power. The intermingling of political power and wealth has reduced the efficiency and effectiveness of China’s government.

  4. Inequality in China is extremely high and rising. The majority of the country’s wealth is concentrated among a small elite, while much of the population struggles. This inequality threatens China’s status as a land of opportunity.

  5. However, China’s system has also overseen a period of remarkable economic growth and modernization. China’s universities are also quite meritocratic, providing more opportunity for disadvantaged students than in other countries.

So in summary, while the notion of China as a “political meritocracy” is more propaganda than reality, China’s system does have both achievements and potentials for meritocracy that should not be dismissed. But systemic issues like autocracy, corruption, discrimination, and inequality pose threats to the idea that achievement alone determines one’s place in China’s system.

  • Many Asian countries have emphasized meritocratic principles in recent decades to modernize their civil services.

  • They are trying to move away from systems of patronage and corruption by recruiting highly qualified individuals.

  • Countries like Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand have created elite civil service programs and provide scholarships for top students in exchange for government service.

  • Asian governments highly value education and examinations. There is a strong "exam-mania" culture, and students face intense pressure to succeed academically.

  • The emphasis on exams has fueled a large private tutoring and cram school industry. Though often criticized, these schools are innovative and increase investment in education.

  • Students in some Asian countries report enjoying and being interested in school, contrary to popular stereotypes. The Confucian tradition emphasizes self-improvement through hard work and education.

  • Asia continues to focus on IQ and effort as the components of meritocracy, even as the West becomes more skeptical of both. This suggests Asia may shape the future more.

  • In conclusion, meritocracy has enabled liberal democracy and prosperity. It balances efficiency and fairness. Countries like Singapore that emphasize meritocracy have become very prosperous. Meritocracy gives everyone a chance to advance.

The key ideas are that many Asian nations have been implementing meritocratic reforms to modernize, their cultures strongly emphasize education and hard work, and meritocracy seems to enable both liberal democracy and economic prosperity.

Meritocracy promotes economic growth and prosperity. Countries that embrace meritocracy through open competition and transparent hiring practices tend to be more innovative and productive. In contrast, countries that rely on nepotism and cronyism stagnate or underperform economically.

Cross-country data shows that meritocracy correlates with higher GDP growth, social mobility, and good governance. Studies show that roughly 20% of US economic growth from 1960 to 2010 can be explained by tapping into more talent through reducing barriers to highly skilled professions. Countries with more meritocratic business cultures gained more from new technologies.

Removing or reducing meritocracy has clear downsides. When CUNY abandoned meritocratic admissions for open access in 1970, standards plunged, drop-out rates rose, and the university declined until it re-adopted meritocratic admissions.

While natural talents are unearned, turning them into expertise and achievement requires effort and skill. Meritocracy motivates this by providing rewards and praise for excellence. It also directs talents to where they can benefit society. Meritocracy gathers information about human potential through fair competition and testing. Though imperfect, it can distinguish raw ability from mere training or polish.

In summary, meritocracy should be valued and cultivated because it spurs economic gain, reveals and develops human talents, and motivates excellence. Its benefits to society far outweigh hypothetical concerns over the unearned nature of natural gifts. Practices like nepotism that subvert meritocracy lead to stagnation and decline.

Here is a summary of the key points about human abilities:

• Individuals can gain insights into their strengths and weaknesses through assessments and comparisons with peers. This helps them determine what they can achieve and the opportunities available to them.

• Schools and governments can identify talented or gifted individuals and determine how to cultivate their abilities through advanced programs or higher education. Mass testing has revealed a large amount of wasted talent, especially among disadvantaged groups.

• The strongest argument for meritocracy is moral, not economic. Meritocracy recognizes that people have agency and talents that can be developed through effort. It treats people as equals by providing equal opportunities while also acknowledging that they can achieve unequal outcomes through developing and applying their talents. Migration patterns show that many people value meritocratic systems.

• There are criticisms of meritocracy from different perspectives. Some argue it is too conservative while others see it as too disruptive. However, weakening meritocracy can be dangerous, as shown by the Trump administration’s appointment of unqualified loyalists and the persistence of ethnic conflicts. Although inequality and competitive pressures are concerns, meritocracy is still the ideal.

• Two main criticisms deserve consideration. First, meritocracy has not been fully achieved in reality due to the advantages that privilege provides. More should be done to remove these barriers and distinguish ability from privilege. Second, pure meritocracy may be psychologically difficult to sustain. Competition needs to be balanced and winners need to remain connected to society and losers provided with dignity.

• More meritocracy requires removing advantages for the privileged, developing better assessments, and holding applicants to meritocratic standards. Wiser meritocracy involves civilizing competition, promoting social responsibility, and providing alternative paths to success. Elite universities need to abandon practices like legacy admissions that subvert meritocracy.

• In summary, while meritocracy is an ideal that has not been fully achieved, it remains morally and socially important. With a balanced and thoughtful application of meritocratic principles, societies can cultivate talent, treat people with equal dignity, and progress based on ability and effort rather than privilege and connections. But competition and inequality must be managed to sustain social cohesion.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Eliminating favoritism is insufficient. We need ways to discover and develop talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Two useful tools for this are IQ testing and academic selection. These were historically used to increase social mobility but fell out of favor. They should be revived.

  • Selective schools are effective at helping disadvantaged high-ability students achieve more. They focus on developing students’ potential rather than reflecting the surrounding neighborhood.

  • IQ tests are good at measuring raw ability and are less biased than achievement tests or teacher assessments. Coaching has limited impact on scores.

  • The UK should develop a diverse school system including selective academies and require private schools to allocate half their spots to disadvantaged students selected partly based on IQ.

  • A system of national scholarships awarded based on ability and need could allow talented disadvantaged students to attend any school. This could help address social immobility and public sector recruitment issues.

  • Concerns about IQ tests being “racist” or testing being “heartless” are overblown. Most psychometricians aim to promote social mobility. “The Bell Curve” made unfair and unsupported arguments, but IQ testing itself is useful.

  • There is optimism that developing talent from all backgrounds can benefit both individuals and society. Natural inequalities demand progressive policies.

  • Herrnstein and Murray are wrong to assume nature will lead to a static society. Nature is actually disruptive because of genetic recombination and regression to the mean.

  • Group differences in IQ can be explained by environment. Within-group differences are greater than between-group differences.

  • There is a growing consensus that nature accounts for 50-70% of psychological and physiological differences. Twin and adoption studies and genome sequencing support this.

  • Arguments against standardized tests, like reducing a child to a number or favoring "whole child" assessment, often favor the affluent. Standardized tests provide opportunity.

  • Educational selection and differentiation matches abilities to challenges. Delaying selection has costs like favoring the wealthy. The old scholarship system provided opportunity.

  • Most governments balance democracy and meritocracy. Pure democracy is volatile. The U.S. and E.U. limit majority rule. But there is a recent trend toward more direct democracy that should be reversed.

  • The 2016 E.U. referendum and leaders like Trump show the costs of direct democracy. Leaders like Merkel show the benefits of expertise and meritocracy.

  • Too much democracy makes it hard to balance budgets and reform institutions. Giving independent experts a role, as in Sweden's pension reform, helps. Variable voting rights favor meritocracy.

The author argues that democracies should incorporate more meritocratic elements to improve governance. Independent institutions like central banks should be more widely adopted. Governments should avoid referendums when possible and require high thresholds for passing them. Political parties should give more power to representatives rather than ideological activists. Countries can learn from having expert commissions address complex issues.

The media plays an important role in providing information and accountability. However, commercial pressures and the rise of social media have diminished the media's ability to play this role. Reputable media brands are gaining more influence, and public funding for media like the BBC helps support objective journalism. Regulations on cable news and taxing tech companies could also help.

Affirmative action and other programs are needed to remedy racial and social inequalities. Numeric quotas for university admissions are problematic, but programs providing extra education and support for disadvantaged groups can help level the playing field. Early childhood education in particular has significant benefits and should be expanded.

In summary, the author argues for balancing democracy and meritocracy, supporting independent media, and implementing programs to promote equal opportunity. With these changes, democracies can function better and address citizens' discontent.

  • Inequality of opportunity remains a persistent problem, especially in America. Improving access to high-quality education, especially for the youngest and poorest children, could help address this.

  • Reforming policies like zoning laws, housing subsidies, and mortgage deductions could make it easier for poorer people to access opportunities. New technologies could also help identify and support talented individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • However, increased social mobility could worsen the problem of elitist attitudes among the successful. The idea of meritocracy needs to be re-moralized, with a renewed emphasis on duty, responsibility, and the public good. The elite should see their success as a responsibility rather than an entitlement.

  • Confucianism is being promoted in China to instill a sense of morality and duty in the new elite class. A balance is needed between technical skill and moral purpose.

  • Improving the status and perception of vocational and skills-based education could help address feelings of inferiority and devaluation among those in non-elite roles. Vocational education needs to be upgraded and celebrated as a valid path to a successful and meaningful career.

  • In summary, promoting equal opportunity and addressing elitism requires policy changes, cultural shifts, and moral education. Both the successful and the unsuccessful need to see that there are many paths to a good and useful life.

• There is unease about meritocracy on both the left and the right. Populists accuse the elite of looking down on them. Parents worry their children will be denied opportunities. This problem is particularly acute in the US and UK, where elites favor a few top schools and vocational education is neglected.

• However, the problem is not meritocracy itself but rather a system that focuses on elite schools rather than crafting education for different abilities. Germany has avoided much discontent by honoring vocational education. Over a quarter of German youth attend technical schools and half get apprenticeships.

• The US and UK once valued practical education more. US land-grant colleges focused on science and engineering. MIT rivaled elite schools. UK cities had vocational schools and colleges for workers. Philanthropists supported technical education. Leaders studied practical subjects. The 1944 Education Act envisioned technical schools. UK higher ed had universities and polytechnics.

• Recently, the US and UK have favored academic over vocational education and sending more youth to university. This has stigmatized technical qualifications and forced students into an academic mold. Policymakers assume cognitive ability is the only path to success.

• The solution is upgrading vocational education, as recommended to the UK. This means fairer funding and rethinking success to value “hands, head and heart”—craft, compassion, and intellect equally. Schools and media should report technical and academic results equally and not stigmatize technical paths. Policymakers need multiple paths to success, not just the academic.

• Equal esteem for paths is possible. In the 1950s, workers valued productive labor over office work. Most people have self-esteem from family, friends, and a good job. Societies reward more talents as they grow wealthier. New paths to success emerge, e.g. in sports, entertainment, beekeeping, yoga teaching, hot dog eating.

• Reforms are difficult but vital as slow decay can accelerate. For example, Venice was once open to talent and rich but in the 1200s-1300s, powerful families rigged the system for their children. In 1315, they locked in social order with the Book of Gold, ending Venice’s success. Elites hoarded opportunity and Venice declined. The West risks a similar fate without reviving its meritocratic spirit.

The city of Venice provides a historical example of the dangers of calcifying elites. In the 15th century, Venice banned newcomers from entering trade and commerce. The state took control of trade networks. This caused economic and political stagnation in Venice. By 1500, Venice's population had declined significantly. By the 19th century, Venice had become a symbol of decline.

Advanced economies today risk a similar fate if they do not remain open to newcomers and new ideas. University admissions are increasingly dominated by the children of privilege. Elites are becoming detached from society. Economies and politics are stagnating. A sense of shared purpose is weakening.

Western societies have reinvigorated themselves in the past by promoting social mobility and meritocracy. This happened in 19th-century Britain, late 19th-century America, and post-World War II. New educational opportunities allowed talent to rise. It is time for a similar effort today to avoid Venice's sad fate and prevent global power from shifting to China.

The book expresses gratitude to many colleagues, academics, editors, and family members who provided feedback and support. The responsibility for any remaining errors lies with the author.

In summary, the passage uses the historical example of Venice to warn of the dangers of elites becoming closed off and detached. It argues that Western societies must work to remain open, revive meritocracy, and promote social mobility - as they have at key points in the past. Failing to do so could lead to geopolitical decline.

  • George Birdwood argued in 1872 that candidates for the Indian Civil Service should get extra credit if they came from illustrious families.

  • W. H. Mallock argued in 1898 that the wealthy classes have natural rights and social functions that justify their position.

  • Karl Mannheim argued in 1953 that conservatism is rooted in a desire to preserve existing social hierarchies.

  • Michael Sandel argues that meritocracy has led to a 'tyranny of merit' that undermines the common good.

  • In Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks, the declining fortunes of an aristocratic family are a metaphor for social change.

  • Alexis de Tocqueville argued that equality of conditions is a key feature of democracy in America, in contrast with aristocratic Europe.

  • Historian Joseph Kett argues that the concept of merit has been central to American ideals since the revolution, though its meaning has changed over time.

  • The sociologist Joel Kotkin argues that there is a 'new class conflict' between elites and the middle class.

  • Analyses of the Brexit vote and support for Donald Trump find it strongest among those with low education and skills, suggesting a backlash against meritocratic elites.

  • In medieval and early modern Europe, belief in a hierarchical social order was widely accepted. The aristocracy saw themselves as naturally superior.

  • Powerful dynasties like the Habsburgs used intermarriage to maintain control. The French kings held absolute power and Louis XIV built Versailles to display it.

  • Nepotism, patronage and the sale of offices were common ways for elites to maintain their power and pass on privilege. Reform was slow.

  • Plato envisioned rule by a philosophical elite, but his vision has been criticised as authoritarian. Though influential, few states have been organised on strictly 'Platonic' lines.

  • Ruskin and others saw meritocracy as threatening art and culture. But the old aristocratic order was declining, and meritocracy gained ground based on wealth and (later) talent.

Here is a summary of the sources:

National Biography, Vol. 30, p. 760: A biography of Thomas Hardy and his relationship with Benjamin Jowett, the Master of Balliol College, Oxford.

Anthony Kearney, ‘Hardy and Jowett: Fact and Fiction in Jude the Obscure’, Thomas Hardy Journal 20 (3) (October 2004), pp. 118–23: An article examining the influence of Jowett on Hardy's last novel Jude the Obscure.

Michael Howard, ‘All Souls and “The Round Table”’, in S. J. D. Green and Peregrine Horden (eds.), All Souls and the Wider World: Statesmen, Scholars and Adventurers, c. 1850–1950 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 155–66: A chapter on the Oxford intellectual circle called the Round Table which had members from All Souls College.

Geoffrey Kabaservice, The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2004), p. 33: A book on Kingman Brewster, president of Yale University, and his liberal circle of friends and influences.

The summary discusses the Chinese examination system, the spread of Jesuit missionaries in China, and the admiration of some Enlightenment philosophes for aspects of Chinese thought and governance. It then outlines the history of imperial China under the Tang and Qing dynasties. The Chinese examination system influenced similar systems in Europe and Britain's India civil service exams.

The summary covers theories of Jewish intellectual superiority, Jewish cultural traditions that value education, the disproportionate number of Jewish intellectuals, scientists and entrepreneurs. It discusses the "chosen people" theory and differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic populations.

The summary examines the spread of education in medieval Europe, the influence of the Catholic Church, and the rise of opportunity through ecclesiastical and government service. It highlights the role of sponsorship and patronage enabling social mobility. The summary discusses Machiavelli's views on opportunity and merit, the spread of Renaissance humanism in education, and the Jesuit emphasis on talent over social class.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, European nations like France, Germany and Austria developed government bureaucracies where placement was based more on merit and talent. The French Revolution opened more careers to talent. The summary also touches on the Napoleonic Empire, educational reforms under Joseph II of Austria, and military reforms under Frederick the Great of Prussia that advanced new men of ability.

York’s work details reforms in Russia under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to make the bureaucracy more meritocratic. Reforms included examinations for government service, though hereditary privilege was not fully eliminated.

There were parallel developments in Prussia, as described by Clark. Reforms in the early 1700s opened up government service to commoners and implemented exam-based hiring.

In Russia, Peter the Great pursued merit-based reforms through coercion. His reforms aimed to “Europeanize” Russia and weaken hereditary aristocrats. Catherine the Great continued and expanded meritocratic reforms.

According to Szamuely and others, the Russian political tradition has long featured a strong, centralized state and little democracy or rule of law. Peter the Great and Catherine the Great built on this.

Huntington and Duindam noted the power of dynasties in Russia, though reforms under Peter and Catherine strengthened the state’s bureaucracy.

Isabel de Madariaga cites Catherine the Great’s view that “the only real aristocracy is that of talent and Services rendered to the State.” Catherine aimed to balance hereditary and meritocratic principles.

In Britain, there were also moves toward meritocracy and a stronger, more unified state. In the 1600s, republicans like Milton argued for a merit-based system to replace hereditary privilege. Utilitarians like Bentham also supported meritocracy and “the career open to talents”.

Paine argued for representative government and meritocracy. He believed aristocratic government was absurd and that people should gain position based on “usefulness” to society, not birth.

Macaulay supported making the British administration of India more meritocratic. In his view, Indians of talent should be able to rise in government service based on merit, not race. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1853 also aimed to reform the British Civil Service to be based more on merit.

Mill, Chadwick, and others argued meritocracy could make government more just, efficient, and politically neutral. Temple and commissions on Oxford and Cambridge also pushed the universities to be more meritocratic.

Novelists like Trollope explored anxieties about how meritocracy might displace and disorient traditional elites based on birth and connections. Critics argued merit alone did not confer wisdom or virtue. Supporters saw meritocracy as compatible with liberalism and national progress.

So in summary, Enlightenment monarchs and reformers in several nations pursued meritocratic reforms to strengthen centralized governments and bureaucracies, though hereditary elites retained influence. In Britain, meritocratic reforms were linked to the rise of liberalism. Questions remained about whether merit alone produced good governance.

Here is a summary of the sources:

Karl Pearson argued that science could help identify and cultivate talent in society. He believed science could determine individuals' abilities and help place them in suitable occupations and social positions.

The Schools Inquiry Commission report (1868) recommended expanding secondary education in Britain to identify and develop talent from across social classes. It argued for a national system of competitive examinations and scholarships to enable bright students to progress to higher levels of education.

The Bryce Commission report (1895) recommended improving access to secondary and higher education to cultivate talent. It advocated scholarships and bursaries for bright students from lower-income families.

The Hilton Young report (1920) recommended expanding scholarships and grants to enable talented students to pursue higher education. It aimed to identify intellectual talent regardless of social class or financial means.

Many Fabian socialists believed education could help identify and develop talent. Beatrice Webb advocated secondary education to identify bright children from across classes. Sidney Webb advocated competitive exams and scholarships to open higher education to talent from all classes.

Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin believed education enabled bright working-class children to develop their talents and contribute to society. A. J. P. Taylor argued the British system of competitive exams and scholarships gave opportunities based on talent, not social class.

The founders of the United States believed that by opening opportunities to talent, society could achieve its full potential. Thomas Jefferson advocated public education to cultivate talents from all classes. John Adams believed identifying and educating talent from across society was necessary for progress. Alexander Hamilton's economic policies aimed to develop American industries by cultivating entrepreneurial and technical talent.

Andrew Jackson expanded suffrage to all white men, believing America's destiny depended on cultivating talent from diverse sources. Abraham Lincoln argued America's democratic system enabled people of talent from humble origins to rise to the highest positions based on merit.

Prominent sociologists like W. E. B. Du Bois believed expanding education could help identify and develop black talent after abolition and aid black progress.

Standardized testing and meritocratic university admissions aimed to evaluate and cultivate talent objectively. However, critics argue they can reflect and perpetuate social inequalities.

In summary, many political leaders, intellectuals, and social reformers in Britain, France, and America believed that cultivating talent from all classes and groups in society was essential for progress. They advocated policies like public education, scholarships, and standardized testing to identify and develop ability regardless of social origins. However, there is debate over how well these meritocratic policies achieved their aims in practice.

Here is a summary of the references:

McMahon, Divine Fury, p. 158: Mentions that the British eugenics movement regarded mental deficiency to blame for social problems.

Carson, The Measure of Merit, p. 103: Notes that Cyril Burt claimed intelligence was inherited and primarily determined at conception.

Gould, The Mismeasure of Man: Discusses flaws in theories of hereditary intelligence and criticisms of intelligence testing.

Binet and Simon, The Development of Intelligence in Children: Helped popularize intelligence testing.

Yerkes et al., A Point Scale for Measuring Mental Ability: Promoted widespread intelligence testing in the U.S.

Terman, The Measurement of Intelligence: Helped promote intelligence testing and supported eugenics. Claimed intelligence was primarily inherited.

Winch, ‘Binet’s Mental Tests’: Reviewed the potential applications of the Binet-Simon intelligence test.

Burt, ‘The Measurement of lntelligence by the Binet Tests’: Helped introduce intelligence testing to Britain. Supported eugenics.

Kohs, ‘The Binet-Simon Measuring Scale for Intelligence’: Provided an annotated bibliography on the Binet-Simon intelligence test.

Galton, Hereditary Genius: Argued for hereditary basis of intelligence and promoted eugenics.

Pearson, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton: Biography of Francis Galton.

Galton, ‘Typical Laws of Heredity’: Argued that mental qualities were inherited.

Spencer, ‘Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher’: Biography of Ronald Fisher, who helped develop statistical methods to analyze quantitative genetics.

Spearman, “General Intelligence”, Objectively Determined and Measured’: Proposed that intelligence consisted of a general cognitive ability factor (‘g’) and specific cognitive abilities.

Shaw, Man and Superman: Presented eugenicist themes.

Russell, Selected Letters: Expressed support for eugenics in letters.

Eastwood, Harold Laski: Biography of Harold Laski, who was initially supportive of eugenics but later became critical of it.

New Statesman, ‘Sterilisation of Defectives’: Uncritically presented arguments in favor of sterilizing the ‘unfit.’

Carson, The Measure of Merit: Notes the adoption of mental testing in the American college admissions process in the 1910s and increasing use of IQ testing in schools in the 1920s.

Yoakum and Yerkes, Army Mental Tests: Report on the use of group intelligence tests to evaluate recruits during WWI. Promoted mental testing.

Kett, Merit: Traces the history of merit as a founding principle in the U.S. and the role of standardized testing and intelligence testing in education and social policy.

Fletcher, Science, Ideology and the Media: Discusses controversies regarding Cyril Burt's work. Burt fabricated data to support hereditarianism.

Thomson, ‘A Hierarchy without a General Factor’: Criticized the theory of general intelligence. Proposed a model of intelligence consisting of distinct abilities.

Thurstone, Primary Mental Abilities: Proposed that intelligence consisted of discrete primary mental abilities rather than Spearman's general factor.

Haldane, ‘The Inequality of Man’: Criticized theories of hereditary intelligence and addressed class inequality.

Carnegie, Autobiography: Industrialist Andrew Carnegie expressed support for meritocracy.

Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier: Criticized the notion that inherent differences were primarily responsible for inequality.

Heffer, The Age of Decadence: Notes the influence of social Darwinism and eugenics on intellectuals in early 20th-century Britain.

Connolly, Enemies of Promise: Lamented the fixation on intelligence as a single measure of human potential.

Russell, Education and the Social Order: Critiqued flaws in theories of inherent intelligence and argued environment and education were downplayed.

Soares, The Decline of Privilege: Traces the diversifying of student bodies at Oxford and Cambridge in the early-mid 20th century.

The remaining summaries relate to the spread of meritocratic ideals and policies following WWII in Britain.

Here is a summary of the sources:


  2. Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: Volume One: Not for Turning (London, Allen Lane, 2013), p. 134.

  3. Ibid., p. 136

  4. Ibid., p. 22

  5. Rachel Reeves, Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics (London, I. B. Tauris, 2019), p. 4

  6. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1766), p. 433

  7. Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States (New York, W. W. Norton, 2018), p. 196

  8. Deondra Rose, Citizens by Degree: Higher Education Policy and the Changing Gender Dynamics of American Citizenship (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 27–8

  9. Quoted in Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Women’s Brains’,

  10. G. R. Searle, A New England? Peace and War, 1886–1918 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004), p. 79

  11. J. R. Pole, The Pursuit of Equality in American History (2nd revised and expanded edn, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993), p. 386

  12. Ibid., p. 387
    12.Ibid., p. 381

  13. Ibid., p. 391


  15. Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), p. 164; R. A. Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth-Century Britain (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1990), pp. 195–203

  16. Lancelot Hogben, ‘Introduction to Part I. Prolegomena to Political Arithmetic’, in Lancelot Hogben (ed.), Political Arithmetic: A Symposium of Population Studies (London, Allen and Unwin, 1938), pp. 13–46

  17. Lancelot Hogben, ‘The Limits of Applicability of Correlation Technique in Human Genetics’, Journal of Genetics 27 (1933), p. 393

  18. Richard Titmuss, Poverty and Population: A Factual Study of Contemporary Social Waste (London, Macmillan and Co., 1938), pp. 40–42

  19. L. S. Penrose, Heredity and Environment in Human Affairs (Convocation Lecture of the National Children’s Home) (London: National Children’s Home, 1955), p. 18.

  20. L. S. Penrose, The Biology of Mental Defect (London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1949) p. 240

  21. Brian Simon, Intelligence, Psychology and Education: A Marxist Critique (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), p. 132

  22. Ibid., p. 237

  23. A. H. Halsey, ‘Provincials and Professionals: The British Post-War Sociologists’, European Journal of Sociology 23 (1982), pp. 150–75

  24. J. W. B. Douglas, The Home and the School (1984, London, Panther, 1972), pp. 89–97

  25. Franz Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man (New York, Macmillan, 1911), passim

  26. Otto Klineberg, ‘An Experimental Study of Speed and Other Factors in “Racial” Differences’, Archives of Psychology 93 (1928);

  27. Otto Klineberg, Negro Intelligence and Selective Migration (New York, Columbia University Press, 1935)

  28. C. Brigham, ‘Intelligence Tests of Immigrant Groups’, Psychological Review 37 (1930), pp. 158–65

  29. Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (New York, William Morrow and Company, 1935), p. 280

Here is a summary of the key points from the passages:

  • The article ‘Judicial Guiding Principle' argues that the Warren Court adopted John Rawls’s principles before he articulated them.

  • Peter Berger regretted writing The Social Construction of Reality later in life.

  • Basil Bernstein discussed socialization and language codes that limit social mobility.

  • Pierre Bourdieu discussed social reproduction in education and society.

  • There is evidence that education and income are highly correlated in Britain.

  • Edmund Burke supported gradual change and tradition over radical revolution.

  • William Morris imagined a utopian socialist future in News from Nowhere.

  • R. H. Tawney advocated ethical socialism grounded in Christianity.

  • Michael Young studied working-class communities in East London.

  • David Kynaston wrote about Britain in the early 1960s.

  • C. Wright Mills wrote about white-collar workers in mid-century America.

  • The Free Speech Movement began at UC Berkeley in 1964.

  • The Students for a Democratic Society issued the Port Huron Statement in 1962 calling for participatory democracy.

  • The 1960s counterculture emphasized individual freedom and rejected social norms.

  • Catharine MacKinnon criticized postmodernism for undermining objective truth.

  • Anthony Crosland advocated greater social equality and mobility in The Future of Socialism.

  • A. H. Halsey promoted comprehensive schooling.

  • Streaming by ability was found to limit social mobility in education.

  • Private schools and elite universities provide networks that lead to top jobs, perpetuating inequality.

  • Upper-crust Americans are increasingly endogamous, marrying within their own social class.

  • Chinese 'tiger mothers' promote an intensive parenting style to gain their children advantages.

  • The college admissions scandal showed wealthy parents cheating to get their children into top universities.

  • Elite colleges offer more support networks and social capital to students from privileged backgrounds.

  • Poverty and lack of opportunity have led to ‘deaths of despair’ and social dysfunction.

  • Conservative populists and nationalists argue meritocracy has failed and new social hierarchies are needed.

  • Daniel Markovits argues meritocracy has become a ‘tyranny of just deserts’ that promotes inequality.

  • There is a 'revolt against liberal democracy' and resentment of highly educated political classes across the West.

  • According to a 2017 Pew Research Center report, ‘a Majority of Workers in Any US Industry’, blue-collar industries like farming, fishing, and forestry were dominated by white men, while service sector jobs like nursing and teaching were dominated by women. In contrast, high-paying professions like tech, law, and medicine were more gender-balanced.

  • The report found racial and gender disparities in many sectors of the U.S. economy. For example, while 12% of the overall U.S. population are black, only 8% of employees in the tech industry are black. Similarly, although women make up half the U.S. population, they represent only 29% of workers in science and engineering roles.

  • The findings reflect the broader lack of diversity in high-paying jobs and in positions of power and influence in society. More needs to be done to promote inclusion and counter discrimination of underrepresented groups.

  • In summary, the report provides an overview of the racial, ethnic and gender breakdown of employment across major U.S. industries. It highlights the disparities that still exist in many sectors of the economy and the work left to be done to achieve equal opportunity and representation.

  • Twin studies suggest that inherited genetics contributes substantially to individual differences in psychological traits and behaviours. Identical twins reared apart still tend to be highly similar.

  • The SAT measures abilities that matter for college success. Arguments against standardized testing in college admissions are often misguided. Some alternative approaches like ‘holistic’ admissions are more problematic.

  • The rise of identity politics and ‘cancel culture’ threatens liberal democracy and free speech. Public policy seems increasingly focused on equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity. Merit and excellence are at risk of being devalued.

  • Limiting democracy could have benefits: policy might be less prone to popular passions and more far-sighted. But reducing democratic input also has risks and downsides that depend on how it’s done.

  • Culture and values are very influential in shaping societies and national destinies. How people think about work, education, rule-following, and so on has a huge effect. Cultural attitudes tend to change very slowly.

  • Local newspapers in the US have declined severely, with adverse consequences for communities. Most Americans now follow national news outlets. But local stories and issues are not being covered adequately.

  • Most Americans oppose considering race in college admissions, but affirmative action policies aiming at diversity and inclusion are common. There is little evidence that they improve outcomes for disadvantaged students.

  • Early education and experiences have lifelong impacts, for better and worse, according to longitudinal studies. High-quality early interventions can be very beneficial, both personally and economically.

  • Segregation and inequality persist in the US along racial lines. Economic mobility and opportunity remain limited for many. More work is still needed to fulfill the promise of equal rights and justice.

  • History shows how wealth and power have often depended on birth and connections, not merit alone. Plutocracy and the tyranny of merit are both problematic and interconnected. A balance needs to be struck between opportunity, desert, and the common good.

Here is a summary of the key points in the selected text:

  • The Bush family in the US is an example of a political dynasty, with Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Dynasties pass on power and privilege through family lines.

  • Business consultancies and corporations play a role in perpetuating privilege by screening for the elite and facilitating their advancement. There is a global business elite that concentrates power and wealth.

  • Elite education, especially at prestigious universities, provides connections and resources that help the privileged access top positions. There are efforts to make elite education more meritocratic, but privilege still plays a role.

  • In China, a system of civil service examinations and a political ideology centering on merit were meant to curb nepotism, but family connections and corruption still persist. China faces rising inequality and economic challenges.

  • Throughout history, dynasties and monarchies have passed on power through family lines and marriage alliances. Although some societies have instituted merit-based systems to curb nepotism, family privilege has endured in various forms.

  • There are debates around promoting meritocracy versus addressing inequality and discrimination. It is difficult to achieve a meritocratic system that provides equal opportunity and avoids perpetuating privilege.

New rich and ideal of aristocracy: The new rich attempted to emulate the aristocracy in many ways, including through education, but they lacked the hereditary status and grace.

Jefferson’s view of aristocracy: Thomas Jefferson was suspicious of hereditary aristocracy and believed that merit and virtue, not birth, should determine a person’s status.

Macaulay’s plans for Indian education: Thomas Macaulay aimed to create an Indian elite educated in English and Western ideas who would serve British rule.

Need for academic selection: There was a perceived need after World War II to select and educate the most intellectually gifted to maintain Britain’s competitiveness. This led to the expansion of grammar schools and universities.

Post-war British cult of intelligence: After World War II, intelligence and cognitive ability were celebrated in Britain. This was reflected in the 11-plus exam and expansion of higher education.

Post-war expansion of education: After World War II, education expanded rapidly in Britain, including growth in university attendance and creation of many new universities.

Precocious children and parental pressures: Gifted or precocious children were identified at a young age based on IQ scores and faced great expectations and pressure to achieve from their parents and society.

Education and social divisions: Although education was seen as a means of achieving greater equality of opportunity, it also frequently reinforced existing social hierarchies and divisions. The educated elite remained largely middle and upper class.

Vocational education: There were calls in Britain for more vocational and practical education, rather than an elite education focused on classics and humanities. However, vocational education was often looked down upon.

Teachers’ qualifications: Especially at elite schools, teachers were often not professionally trained as educators. What mattered most was their degree and social class background.

In summary, in the postwar period Britain aimed to become a meritocracy but faced difficulties moving beyond existing social hierarchies and divisions. Education expanded but often served to reproduce inequalities and an entrenched elite. However, some progress was made toward opening up opportunities and status based on achievement and ability.

  • Deference to social hierarchy and status was dominant in pre-modern societies (before the 19th century). It was seen as ordained by God and nature.

  • There was a dislike of social change and mobility. Society was viewed as a fixed chain of being.

  • Early modern European societies (16th-18th centuries) faced challenges to the traditional social order from new commerce, literacy, and ideas of natural rights. But hierarchy and deference persisted.

  • The idea of hierarchy was central to the notion of honour in aristocratic circles. Legal rights and privileges were tied to social status.

  • In modern societies, traditional deference has declined, but social inequality persists in new forms. There is tension between equality of opportunity and unequal outcomes.

  • The liberal revolution and rise of democracy in the 19th century led to a new belief in equality of opportunity and talent over birth.

  • The Industrial Revolution and rise of commerce created new sources of wealth and status outside the traditional aristocracy. This enabled the rise of a new middle class and new elites based on talent and achievement.

  • The expansion of education was linked to the rise of meritocracy and belief in equality of opportunity. But education has also reinforced social inequality.

  • There has been a long-running debate over the relative importance of nature (human nature, ability, talent) versus nurture (upbringing, education, environment) in determining outcomes. This debate relates to beliefs about equality and social mobility.

  • The rise of professions, management, and a new intellectual elite marked a shift to meritocracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. But family, networks, and wealth still provide advantages.

  • There has been criticism of meritocracy from both the left and right. The left sees it as a mask for privilege, while the right sees it as undermining traditional elites and institutions.

So in summary, while traditional deference has declined, social inequality and hierarchy persist in new forms. Meritocracy aims for equality of opportunity but can also reinforce inequality. There is no consensus on how much social outcomes depend on merit versus other factors like family, wealth, and environment.

Maoism: rejected Plato’s thinking (70) Marburg University (112)

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor: Meditations (67-68) Marginalization (339-341)

Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria (41, 42, 127-128) Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (39, 41)

Market incentives (371-372) Markets and meritocracy (371-372)

Daniel Markovits:

  • On overwork (14)

  • The Meritocracy Trap (6-7)

Duke of Marlborough (53, 55) Jean-Francois Marmontel (122) Origin of word ‘marshal’ (100)

T.H. Marshall (26-27) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: The Communist Manifesto (35) Marx and hierarchy (138)

Mary I, Queen of England (42) Mary, Queen of Scots (42)

Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary (68) Max Planck medals (86) Mary Maxwell (47)

Margaret Mead and IQ testing (284) Lorenzo de’ Medici (109)

Felix Mendelssohn (92) Moses Mendelssohn (96) Gregor Mendel and inheritance (219)

Merchant Taylors livery company schools (104)

Honors for merit (109) Merit and intelligence (205) Merit and wealth (17)

Merito-plutocratic elites:

  • Condescension (341-344, 375)

  • Contempt (396)

  • Education (307-311)

  • Intermarriage (311-312)

  • International loyalties (323)

  • Monopoly of worldview (339-340)

  • As parents (312-318)

  • Self-segregation (312, 398)

  • Selfishness (392)

  • Social conservatism (324)

Meritocratic revolution (from 1945):

  • America (238-242)

  • Britain (234-238)

  • Left-wing opposition (279-305)

  • As moral movement (391)

  • And technocracy (236)

  • Unfinished (349, 375)

Angela Merkel (341, 384) Robert Merton (338)

John Metcalf (Blind Jack of Knaresborough) (145) Mexico (329)

Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones and Beth Axelrod: The War for Talent (364)

Middle classes:

  • And benefit from selective education (282-283)

  • And British intellectual aristocracy (151-162, 267-269)

  • And educational difference (293-294)

  • Emulation of aristocracy (230-231)

  • And rise of talent (142-143)


  • Immigrants in Britain (337, 343)

  • To meritocratic countries (373-374)

David Miliband (320) James Mill (54) John Stuart Mill:

  • On education (164)

  • On extension of franchise (164-165, 351)

  • And Plato (68)

  • The Subjection of Women (264-265)

  • And women’s equality (20-21, 264-266, 267)

Kate Millett: Sexual Politics (298) C. Wright Mills:

  • The Power Elite (273)


  • France (242-243)

  • Japan (85)

  • Jews and (88)

Monarchs and heirs (42-43) Infertility (42) Male heirs (40-41) Minors as (42) Old age (43) Patronage (40, 48-50, 54) Women as (43)

Monarchy and dynastic principle (35-46, 133) European (133) Personal power (38-40) Property (38) Royal courts (40, 48-49, 100, 148) Monogamy (36, 44)

Ralph Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron of Beaulieu (31) Sir Edward Montagu, Lord (55) Madame de Montespan (50)

Dudley Moore (236)

Morality and meritocracy (372-374, 390-393)
Morality and talent (16)

Robert Morant (165-166)

William Morris (295)

Samuel Morton (207)

Herbert Morrison (173, 340)

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (386)

Multinational companies (321-322)

Music and meritocracy (3)

Lewis Namier:

  • England in the Age of the American Revolution (51)

Napoleon Bonaparte:

  • And dynasty (132-133)

  • And Legion d’honneur (132)

  • As political genius (142)

  • Reforming vision (131-133)

Napoleon III of France (134)

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) (241) National Defense Education Act (1958 US) (241)

National identity as populist flashpoint (344-345) National Museum of African-American History (348) National Science Foundation (US) (241)

Native Americans (190)

Nature-nurture debate:

  • In America (284)

  • And IQ testing (280-281, 380-381)


  • America (302)

  • And Iraq War (336)


  • Britain (145)

  • Papacy (for illegitimate children) (47, 101-102)

  • See also patronage; sale of offices

Networks within hierarchies (27-28)

New Hampshire constitution (177)

New Republic journal (201)

New Statesman on eugenics (213)

New York:

  • City College (370)

  • Elite schools (198, 304, 370, 377)

New York Times (7, 348)

Duke of Newcastle (51)

Harold Nicolson (236)

Friedrich Nietzsche on genius (142)

Florence Nightingale (69, 266)

Richard Nixon (240, 335)

Maréchale de Noailles (50)

Giovanni Nesi (107-108)

Walter Neurather (287)

Newcastle, Duke of (51)

Nobel prizes, Jewish winners (86)

Nonconformism and social reform (152)

Indira Nooyi (14)

Sir Stafford Northcote (155)

Northcote-Trevelyan Report (155-157)

  • And open competition (157-158)

  • Resistance to (157)

Barack Obama (2, 3, 331, 344) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (346) Sandra Day O’Connor (303)

Obsolete office (51) Sale and purchase of (52-53)

Old Corruption system (54, 56, 148-149, 391)

Oligarchy (106)

  • In city-states (105)

  • Modern Russian (3) -Plato’s (63)

Iona and Peter Opie: The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (296)

Oppenheimer family (90)

Orwell, George:

  • The Lion and the Unicorn (234)

Osborne, George (343)

Oxford and Cambridge Universities Act (1854, 1856) (159)

Oxford University:

  • All Souls College (103)

  • Balliol College (312)

  • And elite schools (8, 307)

  • ‘Gentleman commoners’ (231)

  • Grammar-school students (246)

  • Lady Margaret Hall (388)

  • New College (103)

  • Royal Commission (1850) (158-159)

  • And school examinations (161)

  • Women admitted to men’s colleges (275)

  • Women’s colleges (268)

Richard Pace (34)

Francis Landey Patton (194)


  • And children’s education (4, 21, 312-318)

  • And corruption (315-317)

  • ‘Helicopter’ (313-314)

  • ‘Tiger’ (314, 356-357)

Vilfredo Pareto (329)


  • And talent-based professions (142)

  • University (33)

John Parker: Labour Marches On (1947) (235)


  • Educational privilege (341)

  • Expenses scandal (2010) (338)

  • And patronage (50-51)

  • Women in (256-257)

Matthew Parris (342-343)

Paternalism (260)

Meritocracy: The Rise of a Myth, by Michael Young: 68-9: Criticism of grammar schools for fostering inequality. They benefited middle class at expense of working class. 70: Despite abolition of grammar schools, parental choice and private tutoring allowed middle class to game the system. 299-300: Grammar schools provided rigorous education but primarily benefited middle class, restricting access for working class. 307, 309: Expansion of universities benefited middle class; poorer students faced financial barriers. Some gained access through scholarships or “sponsored mobility.” 310: Private schools provided superior facilities and extracurricular activities, primarily benefiting wealthier students. 102-3, 311: Some schools and scholarships aimed to provide education for poor, but middle class better able to take advantage. 310-11: Wealthier families better able to “game the system” through private tutoring and strategic school choice. 268: Limited education opportunities for girls, though some gained access through women’s colleges. 309: British universities expanded through opening overseas campuses, but still served primarily middle class. 309-11: Recent changes have aimed to transform education system, but parental choice and private education perpetuate inequality.

In summary, Young argues that the expansion of educational opportunities in Britain primarily benefited the middle class rather than promoting meritocracy. Although the system aimed for equality of opportunity, in reality parental choice, private education, and financial barriers have allowed the middle class to gain disproportionate advantage. The result has been the perpetuation of class privilege rather than the rise of a meritocracy.


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