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category: Post PhD sources

Young, Michael
The Rise of the Meritocracy

For every man enlivened by excellence, ten are deadened by mediocrity, and the object of good government is to ensure that the latter do not usurp the place in the social order which should belong to their betters. Of one method by which this has been done I have already spoken – it was by weakening the power of the family. The other complementary method of advance, to which I now turn, has been to enhance the influence of the school.

Previously Labour, with support from low-caste ability, stood for progress against the high-caste leadership of the Conservatives. Then the two changed sides, and the Conservatives, with the new meritocracy growing in strength behind them, came to represent progress (up till just recently, that is) against socialists who obstinately persisted in their increasingly irrelevant attachment to egalitarianism.

Second-rate teachers, a second-rate elite: the meritocracy can never be better than its teachers. Things improved until at last the teachers attained their ideal of superiority of esteem. One of the wisest strokes of the marvellous decade was to put the salaries of science teachers on the same level as scientists in industry and all grammar-school teachers on the same level as their scientific colleagues. The schools could then attract good scientists; they got the very pick of other teachers.

Within the span of human history age has been the most enduring ruling class: once established, every aristocracy, every plutocracy, every bureaucracy, has also been a gerontocracy; and even under democracy, government by the people, of the people, for the people, meant government by old people, of young people, for old people.

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