Those interested in Meritocracy will surely come across MSNBC’s Chris Hayes’ book “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.”
It is important we address Hayes’ arguments, because this conception of meritocracy exemplifies a very common misinterpretation of what meritocracy actually is: he thinks of meritocracy only in right wing and not left wing terms.
“Who says meritocracy [in the same breath] says oligarchy.” – Chris Hayes
How could two polar opposite ideals be conflated? Oligarchy is about privilege, nepotism and cronyism—all opposites of true meritocracy. To confuse something with its polar opposite seems preposterous, but at a deeper look, ‘Right Wing Meritocracy’ (RWM) does indeed represent a solidification of the status quo elites while Left Wing Meritocracy (LWM) does exactly the opposite: it provides every person with an equal starting point and the resources they need to succeed.
The master key to being able to see clearly among the confusion is the conception of positive liberty vs. negative liberty.
Our Meritocracy is a positive liberty, left wing meritocracy. The version that Hayes critiques is right wing, negative liberty meritocracy.
Negative liberty meritocracy does indeed test for merit, however it does nothing to address the difference in starting starting points between the social classes. The WASP Freemason son of a plutocrat will go to the right school and get the right tutoring in order to maximize their chances of getting high scores on the “meritocratic” test. If, in negative liberty fashion, the State was completely laissez faire up until the actual test was taken, then of course the privileged will get higher scores and secure better positions. This is using the concept of meritocracy to justify status quo class divisions.
However, Hayes’ argument fails because RWM is faux-meritocracy and can barely qualify as true meritocracy at all. How can you talk about merit when 99% of people are excluded from competing? Is that really the best, or is that a rigged game? Negative liberty meritocracy is a Trojan Horse of privilege masquerading as its own polar opposite.
This is pernicious and challenging to our cause because many left wingers sympathetic to positive liberty come across Hayes’ critique and, in confusion, end up being turned off to the idea of meritocracy, when indeed they are turned off by a straw man.
Make no mistake, TRUE meritocracy is left wing, and focused on positive liberty.
The premise of positive liberty left wing meritocracy is that the State is not laissez faire up to the point of the test: instead, the State is hands-on about providing every single child with top of the line education, tutoring, and access to cultivation of their human capital. In LWM, whether you come from a single parent family in the ghetto or an Old Money family, by the day you’re tested for qualifications, you will quite literally have had the exact same chance as everyone else. Then, only the best can truly succeed, because everyone has had a chance to give it their best shot.
Negative liberty, right wing, faux-meritocracy entrenches the elites under false-consciousness.
Positive liberty, left wing, real meritocracy maximizes class mobility.
In order for fake meritocracy to exist, all that needs to happen is for the rewarding of positions to those with the highest test scores. In this system, the rich and connected will invest the resources necessary to ensure their access to expensive private schools and tutors to pass these tests, and they’ll make sure nobody else gets to that point. This is a system of privilege, hence anti-meritocratic – the exact opposite of what it claims to be!
True meritocracy therefore places as much focus on cultivating merit as rewarding it. It focuses on the causes, not just the effects; it puts responsibility on the commonwealth to provide the top-notch education and networks to everyone equally so that
A) everyone starts from the same starting line and,
B) that starting line is as advanced as possible.
True meritocracy therefore is proactive (positive liberty) rather than reactive (negative liberty).
Negative liberty faux “meritocracy” reacts to the results of extreme class division, hence directly reflects and reinforces it. Positive liberty (real meritocracy) on the other hand, puts the common child at the same starting line as the children of the elite by providing a universal public education system that’s as high-quality as the best private schools, and provides customized job placement networks only the privilege have access to today.
It’s useful to think of Meritocracy as a government system that’s much broader than simply “a system for rewarding merit,” because this is incomplete. A more accurate picture that should come to mind should be a radical government of visionary and inspired experts as well as a grand sociological project of proactive human betterment. Such a meritocracy would comprise the most educated, civic minded and self actualized citizenry in human history. It means having highly ambitious short, mid and long term goals to implement a system that not only rewards merit rigorously but cultivates it even more so.
To do this means to create a new education system, a new economic system of radically tamed markets that prevent the transmission of dynastic wealth, and a new government system of qualified suffrage to replace universal suffrage.
Negative liberty faux “meritocracy” is a lazy and uninspired back patting for the economic elite.
Positive liberty real Meritocracy is an ambitious project designed to proactively transform humanity for the better.
So remember, when you hear critiques about the levers of meritocracy being used to justify the power of the current elite, you are hearing critiques of an impostor ‘meritocracy.’
Make no mistake, we are going for control of the levers of legislative power to develop a hands-on framework that actively cultivates all its citizens to become as worthy of passing muster as possible. We are aiming not only to reward merit, but to cultivate it among the entire populace.
Meritocracy is for the 100%, not the 1%.