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Study Notes

Meritocracy (Liberalism)

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 1 Jul 2020

Meritocracy strives to ensure that we are defined by merit and ability rather than the social circumstances of our birth.

In a meritocratic society, the emphasis is firmly upon achieved status rather than acquired status. As such, a meritocracy is underpinned by liberal notions such as equal opportunities and opposition to the hereditary principle. Meritocracy is also contrary to those ideologies that prevent social mobility (namely feudalism).

Some of the most potent arguments in favour of meritocracy derive from those who experienced life under communism, a system that rejected liberal notions concerning the individual. The Soviet prisoner and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1963) published a powerful polemic over how a system based upon equality of outcome tramples over the rights of so-called ‘enemies of the state’ and those who associated with them.

From a more economic perspective, the Russian-born philosopher Ayn Rand wrote extensively upon the dangers of collectivism to the rights of the individual. For instance, in ‘We the Living’ (1936) she demonstrates how altruism in the form of living not for oneself but for others leads to evil. Rand argues that it is unfair and morally wrong to lead one’s life for others; be it in the form of communism, fascism or religious fundamentalism. In a particularly revealing passage, the central character Kira asserts that “I know no worse injustice than the giving of the undeserved. Because men are not equal in ability and one can’t treat them as if they were.”

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