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Why Does Meritocracy Matter to the Modern World? Adrian Wooldridge

Festival of Ideas
Aadrian Wooldridge

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Adrian Wooldridge explores the history of meritocracy, how it transformed cultures and societies and what it means today.

Meritocracy is the idea that people should be advanced according to their talents rather than their status at birth. For much of history this was a revolutionary thought, but by the end of the twentieth century it had become the world’s ruling ideology. How did this happen, and why is meritocracy now under attack from both right and left?

Wooldridge looks at the politicians and officials who introduced the revolutionary principle of open competition, the psychologists who devised methods for measuring natural mental abilities and the educationalists who built ladders of educational opportunity. He looks outside western cultures and shows what transformative effects it has had everywhere it has been adopted, especially once women were brought into the meritocractic system.

Wooldridge also shows how meritocracy has now become corrupted and argues that the recent stalling of social mobility is the result of failure to complete the meritocratic revolution. Rather than abandoning meritocracy, he says, we should call for its renewal.

In conversation with Bristol Ideas director Andrew Kelly.

Book cover of The Aristocracy of Talent by Adrian Wooldridge

Adrian Wooldridge’s The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World is published by Penguin. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our bookselling partners.

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Aadrian Wooldridge

Adrian Wooldridge is the Economist‘s political editor and author of its Bagehot column. He has also worked as the Economist‘s American bureau chief, author of the Lexington column, and management editor and author of the Schumpeter column. He earned a doctorate in history from Oxford University, where he was a Fellow of All Souls College. He is the author of ten previous books, including Capitalism in America co-written with Alan Greenspan and seven co-written with John Micklethwait: The Wake-Up Call, The Witch Doctors, A Future Perfect, The Company, The Right Nation, God is Back and The Fourth Revolution.

Image credit: Paul Vicente/Sunday Times

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