Colleen Clark's Reviews > Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Twilight of the Elites by Christopher L. Hayes
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's review
Jul 05, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: politics-terror
Read in June, 2012

This is an excellent and thought-provoking book. It's a sociological/philosophical description of our modern political and financial dilemmas. In his book talk in Cambridge MA 10 days ago, Hayes pointed out that "meritocracy" started out as a pejorative word. Indeed, it's a modern word, not even listed in my 1945 unabridged Webster's. So I tried Wikipedia.

Here's the entire part of the Wikipedia entry under "Etymology."
"Although the concept has existed for centuries, the term meritocracy was first coined by British politician and sociologist, Michael Young in his 1958 satirical essay,[1][14][15][16][17] "The Rise of the Meritocracy", which pictured the United Kingdom under the rule of a government favoring intelligence and aptitude (merit) above all. The essay is written in the first-person by a fictional historical narrator in 2034, and interweaves history from the politics of pre- and post-war Britain with those of fictional future events in the short (1960 onward) and long term (2020 onward).[18]
The essay was based upon the tendency of the then-current governments in their striving towards intelligence to ignore shortcomings and upon the failure of education systems to correctly utilize gifted and talented members within their societies.[19]
Young's fictional narrator explains that, on the one hand, the greatest contributor to society is not the "stolid mass" or majority, but the "creative minority" or "restless elite".[20] On the other hand, he claims that there are casualties of progress whose influence is underestimated and that, from such stolid adherence to natural science and intelligence, arises arrogance and complacency.[20] This problem is encapsulated in the phrase "Every selection of one is a rejection of many".[20]

That last sentence - "Every selection of one is a rejection of many." encapsulates Hayes' points. Think of the 1%!

Hayes is so smart and so thoughtful, and all the more remarkable because he's only 33. He's fully aware of the irony of the way his own intelligence and education have brought him great success. His NYC public high school, Hunter College High, which he remembers with great fondness, selects students entirely on the scores they get on a test that applicants take in 8th grade. He remarks that the school is less racially and socio-economically less diverse than it was only 15 years ago. The availability of private test prep courses now gives an advantaged to the already advantaged. This is a prime example of the conundrum.

The book is well and straightforwardly written, much more like an long essay than any kind of tome. If you're interested in our modern situation with increasing income inequality and the failures of the elites - Jamie Dimon in this month's example - you will enjoy this, and then be buying for your friends.
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