Young and old meritocracy: from radical critique to neoliberal tool

Spring 2018

‘Meritocracy’ today is generally understood to involve the idea that a fair social system is one in which people can work hard, activate their talent and achieve social success. This credo has come to be ‘common sense’ within modern society. There is more-than-ample evidence, primarily through his own journalistic and social media output, that Toby Young believes that dramatic levels of inequality – the opposite of ‘a level playing field’ – are justifiable (he has often gone on record defending the aristocracy). It is also well known, to those with enough of the relevant cultural capital, that Michael Young’s 1958 bestseller The Rise of the Meritocracy critiqued the concept. The book was a satire, with the first half documenting the expansion of democracy in Britain, and the second imagining a sci-fi dystopia featuring a black market trade in brainy babies. The New Republic columnist Jeet Heer tweeted on 1 January: ‘Michael Young was the great theorist of meritocracy. Toby Young is the living refutation of meritocracy’

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Renewal: a journal of social democracy, Volume 26 No 1