The Aristocracy of Talent How Meritocracy Made the Modern World
THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
‘This unique and fascinating history explains why the blame now being piled upon meritocracy for many social ills is misplaced-and that assigning responsibilities to the people best able to discharge them really is better than the time-honoured customs of corruption, patronage, nepotism and hereditary castes. Wooldridge upends many common assumptions and provides an indispensable back story to this fraught and pressing issue.’ Steven Pinker
‘The Aristocracy of Talent provides an important and needed corrective to contemporary critiques of meritocracy. It puts meritocracy in an illuminating historical and cross-cultural perspective that shows how crucial the judgment of people by their talents rather than their bloodlines or connections has been to creating the modern world. Highly recommended’ Francis Fukuyama
*Shortlisted for the 2021 Financial Times and McKinsey & Company Business Book of the Year Award*
Meritocracy: the idea that people should be advanced according to their talents rather than their status at birth. For much of history this was a revolutionary thought, but by the end of the twentieth century it had become the world’s ruling ideology. How did this happen, and why is meritocracy now under attack from both right and left?
Adrian Wooldridge traces the history of meritocracy forged by the politicians and officials who introduced the revolutionary principle of open competition, the psychologists who devised methods for measuring natural mental abilities and the educationalists who built ladders of educational opportunity. He looks outside western cultures and shows what transformative effects it has had everywhere it has been adopted, especially once women were brought into the meritocractic system.
Wooldridge also shows how meritocracy has now become corrupted and argues that the recent stalling of social mobility is the result of failure to complete the meritocratic revolution. Rather than abandoning meritocracy, he says, we should call for its renewal.