The Rise of the Meritocracy

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The Rise of the Meritocracy
The Rise of the Meritocracy (1967 cover).jpg
Cover of the Pelican Books edition
AuthorMichael Young
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreDystopia, political fiction
Publication date

The Rise of the Meritocracy is a book by British sociologist and politician Michael Dunlop Young which was first published in 1958.[1] It describes a dystopian society in a future United Kingdom in which intelligence and merit have become the central tenet of society, replacing previous divisions of social class and creating a society stratified between a merited power-holding elite and a disenfranchised underclass of the less merited. The essay satirised the Tripartite System of education that was being practised at the time.[2] The book was rejected by the Fabian Society and then by 11 publishers before being accepted by Thames and Hudson.[3]

Meritocracy is the political philosophy in which political influence is assigned largely according to the intellectual talent and achievement of the individual. Michael Young coined the term,[1] formed by combining the Latin root "mereō" and Ancient Greek suffix "cracy", in his essay to describe and ridicule such a society, the selective education system that was the Tripartite System, and the philosophy in general.[2]

The word was adopted into the English language with none of the negative connotations that Young intended it to have and was embraced by supporters of the philosophy. Young expressed his disappointment in the embrace of this word and philosophy by the Labour Party under Tony Blair in the Guardian in an article in 2001, where he states:

It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.[2]

Journalist and writer Paul Barker points out that “irony is a dangerous freight to carry” and suggests that in the 1960s and 70s it was read “as a simple attack on the rampant meritocrats”, whereas he suggests it should be read “as sociological analysis in the form of satire”.[4]


Introduction to the Transaction Edition[edit]

The author had difficulties publishing the book. A first publisher wanted a new "Brave New World". Another told him they did not publish PhD theses.

Finally, a friend published it. The book is about "Meritocracy". It is a word with a Latin prefix and a Greek suffix.

The plot of the book is about a fictional change in society. Before, there were castes. Now with the industrial era, there are classes. People are defined by their achievements rather than by the families they are born into. Social inequality can be justified.

A meritocratic education and society can lead to issues. The rich and powerful are encouraged by the general culture and become arrogant. The poor are demoralised.

Education is not only a way to get productive people. It could enrich them too.


2034, United Kingdom, a revolution is approaching. The narrator wants to explain what happened. The deep roots of the revolution are in history.

He wants to explains the rise of the meritocracy in a socialist essay.

Part One: Rise of the Elite[edit]

Chapter One Clash of Social Forces[edit]

Before lawyers were sons of lawyers. The job you exercised was the job of your parents. It was a pity. People were not always suited to their jobs.

It was the reign of nepotism. Nepotism survived because of tradition and the weight of family.

Midwives of progress claimed for another education. Education became free and elitist.

Chapter Two Threat of Comprehensive Schools[edit]

Exceptional brains require exceptional teaching. Even if society has changed, it has remained hierarchical. Aristocracy of birth has turned into an aristocracy of talent.

When comprehensive schools appear, parents were not ready to send their children.

Comprehensive school did not work. Less importance is given to it.

Comprehensive school appears later in the cursus. The idea is to construct a social ladder at school. The problem is the following one: if you start to study too old, it is too hard to become knowledgeable.

Chapter Three Origins of Modern Education[edit]

Everyone, including the socialists, were against the comprehensive school. Secondary school became free. By 1950, entering grammar school no longer depended on social origins. But if lower classes entered, they did not stay. To solve this problem, a system of allowances was set up. You were paid if you came to school.

Engineering and science were judged as better than latin.

Intelligence test QI were set up. There were attacks against them. But statistics showed that they worked. There were differents QI tests at different ages.

Some people were frustrated not because of the idea of segregation but because of the idea of being deprived of a superior education.

Chapter Four From seniority to merit[edit]

Industry is as important as education. Adult merit is as important as children merit. Having a person giving orders just because he is old is useless. Then, seniority was not a distinguish feature to be up in the social ladder anymore. There were tests in industries too.

A judge could become a taxi-driver at the end of his life.

Change in mental climate happened because merit has become progressively more measurable.

Intelligence and effort together make up merit. The lazy genius one is useless. The narrator wonders if the stupid persons were upset. They are stupid and cannot express their feelings. Psycholigists said that they suffered but cannot say so.

Part 2 Decline of the lower classes[edit]

Chapter Five Status of the Worker[edit]

No society is completely stable. There was an age where merit was important. Distance between classes became wider. Upper-classes were so proud. They did not have sympathy for who they governed. Then, school tried to learn humility. Lower-classes experienced difficulties seeing themselves as "dunces". They could turn into bad citizens or bad technicians.

The solution was to create a mythos around the sport in education for lower-classes, the "mythos of muscularity". Some of them became sport activists. The majority became sport fan watching TV. They esteem physical achievement whereas the narrator and the upper-classes esteem mental achievement. Another solution was to make psychologist treatment free to help people fulfill their own potential. The idea that the lower-classes's children could be successful was spread.

Machine replaced unskilled men. Therefore, 1/3 of all adults were unemployable. They became servants.

Chapter Six Fall of the labour movement[edit]

Religion had to change. They kept the idea of equality of opportunity in Christianity. They constructed a world of ambition.

Regarding the political field, selection of clever people replaced elections. No one responded to the appeal of "labour". "Worker" became a discredited word. They used the word "technicians" instead.

Cleverness became the quality required for a union leader. The socialists agree with the new system. The populists instead act for the technicians.

Chapter Seven Rich and Poor[edit]

With meritocracy, salaries are justified. Upper-classes earn a big salary. Lower-classes earn a smaller. It is the exact same between one another. It only changes every year. The populists say that it is unfair and claim for more justice.

Chapter Eight Crisis[edit]

Girls from the Elite have started to fight for the technicians. The technicians do not mind. An idea comes back that all jobs are equal. The populists claim for more diversity. School should promote diversity.

Women want equality. Until now, their cleverness is only to educate their children. They are judged for their warmth of heart and not for their world success. Men choose their wives according QIs. Women do not. They claim for beauty.

Elite is becoming hereditary. Now, there is no hope anymore as we can know the ability of someone before he is born. There is a traffic of babies to get clever ones. The conservatists want hereditary. People are rising in crisis. They are more against the conservatists than for the populists.

The crisis is a latent one. A revolution is coming.


  1. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (25 January 2002). "Michael Young, 86, Scholar; Coined, Mocked 'Meritocracy'". New York Times. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Young, Michael (28 June 2001). "Down with meritocracy". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 April 2017.
  3. ^ Obituary: Lord Young of Dartington, The Guardian 16 January 2002
  4. ^ Barker, Paul (2005) [1995]. "The Ups and Downs of the Meritocracy". In Geoff Dench; et al. (eds.). Young at Eighty. London: Carcanet. p. 158. ISBN 9781857542431. Retrieved Mar 5, 2016.