Dreher on Murray and the dangers of meritocracy
Here's an excerpt:
I'm generally with Murray in hoping we can do away with the lies we tell ourselves to justify social engineering nonsense like No Child Left Behind. But there are problems, obviously, with a society built on meritocracy alone. If intelligence is based largely on the genetic lottery, what role is there for justice in such a society? As Jeremy Beer says in his essay in "Wendell Berry: Life and Work," the welfare state tries to compensate for the discrepancies through "massive redistribution, artificial competitive boosts to the less naturally gifted, and so forth." This attempt to level the playing field creates a whole host of problems, Beer rightly observes.
What is the traditionalist response? Beer quotes Wendell Berry essentially agreeing with Charles Murray. Berry:
"Young people are told, 'You can be anything you want to be.' Every student is given to understand that he or she is being prepared for 'leadership.' All of this is a lie. ...You can't be everything you want to be; nobody can. Everybody can't be a leader; not everybody even wants to be. And these lies are not innocent. They lead to disappointment. They lead good young people to think that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good."
Is it the case that our meritocratic society is responsible for the rootlessness that is destroying social capital? Beer says yes:
"...in order for talent to triumph, it must be mobile. Thus, the better the meritocracy, the more mobility -- both geographic and social -- is required, until talent is able to flow freely to where it can command the highest price (i.e., the most prestige, the highest status, the most money, the most power, and so on). A perfect market for talent is the dream and goal of liberal individualism: nothing must stand in the way of the rise of talent to primacy -- not the state, not intermediate institutions, not religion, not tradition, not families."
Beer goes on to discuss Christopher Lasch's pungent observations that the meritocratic elite believes it got its rewards solely on the basis of merit, and thus creates a new aristocracy, one that believes it has a natural right to rule every bit as unquestioned as the old-style aristocrats. Unlike the old aristos, though, the meritocrats tend not to believe that with their privileged status come duties to people and places, and to tradition. Lasch: "The talented retain many of the vices of aristocracy without its virtues."