THE RISE OF THE MERITOCRACY, by Michael Young. Random House, New York
Neither socialists nor sociologists have done full justice to the ambiguities of the idea of human equality. “Socialists,” writes Michael Young, “did not see that, as it was applied in practice, equality of opportunity means equality of opportunity to be unequal.” In America equality of opportunity has been a deeply-rooted article of faith, and it has usually been recognized that it implies the existence of an unequal order in which effort and ability find their approriate level. Gene Debs’ “I want to rise with the ranks, not from the ranks” differentiates the socialist conception of collective equality from the individual ambition to rise in the world and also, by implication, from the goal of creating an open society permitting maximum “circulation of the elites.” But American sociologists, reflecting the credo of their society, have devoted far more time and attention to social mobility than to the different kinds of hierarchy within which mobility may occur.
Both European socialist and American sociologists have usually assumed that a hierarchy based on differences in ability is more humanly tolerable than one based on birth. The former, it has been supposed, eliminates both the smoldering sense of injustice aroused by unearned privileges and the gulf between top and bottom levels existing in hereditary class societies. Applied to A...
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