The answer, however, is to improve the slaughter, not to reject the aspiration on the grounds that all measures of merit must be unfair. A first step would be to save children from uneducated educators of the kind who gossip about “racist” arithmetic and the “myth” that some students are better at arithmetic than others.
Wooldridge reminds us that the ancient Greeks opposed the government of the best (aristocracy) to the government of the richest and best connected (oligarchy). Although the idea of aristocracy clashes with democratic sensibilities, in modern times a true aristocracy, that is, the ascendancy of the talented, should be an aspiration. This does not necessarily mean an entrenched class isolated from the churning of competition. Indeed, this cannot mean that: In a career society genuinely open to talent, a true aristocracy will be constantly weeded and refreshed by upward – and downward – mobility driven by competition.
America, as Wooldridge writes, was “born meritocratic.” Meritocracy is as American as immigration, which predisposes Americans to believe in “self-made men” (a term used by Henry Clay in 1832). Meritocracy is as American as the frontier, where life “on the edge of the civilized world encouraged autonomy.”
Meritocracy, says Wooldridge, “is the closest thing we have today to a universal ideology.” She, like many other good things, however, must be saved from today’s deeply backward progressivism.
George Will’s email address is [email protected]