Meritocracy… What is it? - Granite Grok

Meritocracy… What is it?

In his 1958 novel George Young coined the term meritocracy. Classicists complain about the word because it has two roots. Merit is from Latin and cracy is from Greek. They claim the term is a hound dog in a thoroughbred language. Yeh, yeh, it’s a niggle. The more correct term would be the all Greek expression aristocracy. That brings us to the subject at hand, meritocracy.

Those with merit should rule

Young was talking about the idea that those with merit should rule. Those who are with merit, read variously. This is a phrase understood usually as academic merit. They should be the rulers of society, the magistrates, the people who have power in society.

Young was a socialist and a critic of merit. His book was a critique of meritocracy. His book was a dystopia. That is an imagined world in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives. In it the meritorious ruled, and that was bad. Isn’t it strange how socialists responsible for growing our government criticize their creation?

Those set upon workers

One of his critiques is that meritocracy essentially culls all the best people out of the laboring class. In doing so it deprives the laboring class of their natural leaders, the most intelligent people. They are co-opted by the elites and lose contact with the laboring class. No longer do they defend laborers’ interests. They become ruling-class people themselves.

These days many talk about meritocracy debating the cases for and against it. That the term is such a modern term is surprising. But people cling to the term. They probably do so because the thing exists in the Western world. It is amazing academia and the media cherish it so, as socialist as they are.

International versions

Meritocracy has been around at least since the French Revolution. The French needed a way to explain the replacement of hereditary aristocracy. The French created their Grandes Écoles. It was supposed to train the meritocratic generations. They would replace the hereditary aristocracy.

The British use their civil service system which comes from the Chinese model of meritocracy. The British civil service was replacing the old boy system. The Brits needed something that was based on a defensible hierarchy. The way they defended the hierarchy is to say these are the most meritorious people. These are the people who have knowledge. The Chinese version uses not just knowledge, but also wisdom, moral and intellectual merit.

In America, Jefferson’s spoke of the “natural aristocracy.” Modern meritocracy in America is usually called technical meritocracy. It’s people who know policy, social science and have scientific knowledge. They make up most of the fourth branch of our government. That is the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats of the agencies of government.


They’re smarter than everybody else. That’s why they deserve to rule. Don’t believe it… just ask them. Does that explain bureaucratic arrogance… maybe, maybe not? It sure does nothing to make it less galling or grating.