Friday, August 28, 2009

Meritocracy vs. Democracy


In a recent New York Times column, Ross Douthat, in comparing President Obama and Sarah Palin, writes, “Our president represents the meritocratic ideal that anyone…can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great success story. But Palin represents the democratic ideal that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.”

With this example, I believe that Douthat is trying to use graduating from these premier schools as an analogy to intermediate, merit-proving successes in general. The meritocratic ideal necessitates these successes—be they business, academic or political—before facilitating a “great American success story”, or the ultimate success.

The democratic ideal, on the other hand, facilitates potential ultimate successes for anyone, so long as he or she is the most popular candidate. That popularity may be the result of one’s merit, but the democratic ideal certainly doesn’t require merit to be the benchmark, only the popularity.

And if said popularity is based on non-meritorious reasons, then the chances increase that we will procure a less meritorious candidate. Is this supposed to be a good outcome? The will of the people is a fundamental political ideal, and the more checks and balances we have to validate that will (not by people, but by truths)—such as a focus on merit—the more likely the people will get to continue exercising it hereafter.

This is why the meritocratic ideal will generally provide better success stories and better ultimate successes. And, since a meritocracy’s function is to attempt to assure merit of its due rewards, then justice is its natural consequence.

2 Opinion(s):

Stateside Expat said...

I disagree with the assertion that the election of Obama represents a "meritocratic ideal".

In my opinion the merits of graduating from an elite school are small to none compared to actual success and knowledge in the fields relating to good governance.

While I might be a good indicator of highly motivated and more intelligent individuals, there is no reason that this can directly relate to one's ability to govern, or be successful in a real world business endeavour.

The basis of the Platonic view of Meritocracy, is that individuals claiming knowledge in a field have expertise in that field - something that is sorely lacking in 99% of today's politicians, Obama included.

It might be further said that the reason for political success of individuals from these institutions is the higher degree of rhetorical skills they have, or have been taught, as compared to other people.

FishEagle said...

Stateside Expat, the example that was used puzzled me too, however, I liked the simple way the author explained the advantage of the meritocracy when compared to a democracy.