Thursday, July 14, 2016


This article on meritocracy showed up over at Maggie's.  I expected to have so much to disagree with that I would certainly not share it.  But Helen Andrews at the Hedgehog Review - I will have to read more over there on the basis of the name alone - anticipated and answered many of my objections and answered them.

I still have some, but I thought folks should read the article first.  I skipped a lot of the history, and the alarming proposed solution may take a while for me to absorb.  However, I don't have much more than cliches to answer it with, so for now I will just pipe down.


james said...

Do you mean cliches like this?

The thing that jumped out at me was his assumption that our particular aristocracy's vices can be tamed with virtues, as in the examples he cited. This seems vanishingly improbable. The heirs to the Puritans were also heirs to their efforts at self-discipline (asceticism to him); it wasn't imposed from outside or decided on as a useful tool. He judges that humility is what ours needs most, and that's the hardest of the virtues to practice on anything serious. Fake humility they have--most of us are good at that. Real scholars find that the more they know, the more they discover that they don't. Pat scholars who don't even know who Moses is-- Dunning-Kruger reigns.

jaed said...

I just wanted to mention how lovely this is:
Others favor the slightly more radical solution of redefining our idea of merit, usually in a way that downplays what Guinier calls “pseudoscientific measures of excellence.” She even has a replacement in mind, the Bial-Dale College Adaptability Index, the testing of which involves Legos. (Why are you laughing? It is backed by a study.)

Grim said...

There is, actually, a standard that distinguishes an "aristocracy" from an "oligarchy" beyond 'making itself presentable.' It's given in Aristotle's Politics, and it is the same standard that distinguishes a monarchy from a tyrant, or a constitutional democracy from a tyranny of the majority.

The standard is whether the empowered class manages to pursue the good of the whole, or their class' own good. What we have going on now is a clear example of a class pursuing its own good ferociously, while letting the rest of the nation fall.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Western Canon for the win!

james said...

Do you know this book, in particular Chapter 5 in which he describes one of the inputs to the Treveylan-Northcote Report?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, but I had forgotten it. Thank you.

Retriever said...

Good distinction, Grim.

And then there's Amos, who would have had a field day with the things the article ignored....

Amos 8King James Version (KJV)

8 Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit.

2 And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.

3 And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence.

4 Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,

5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?

6 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?

7 The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.

8 Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt."

Unknown said...

Grim's Comment reminds me of this quote from Joseph Butler:

If the observation be true, it follows, that self-love and benevolence, virtue and interest, are not to be opposed, but only to be distinguished from each other; in the same way as virtue and any other particular affection, love of arts, suppose, are to be distinguished. Every thing is what it is, and not another thing. (Bishop Joseph Butler 1726, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel. Preface.)