Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters


  • Ansgar Allen
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_255-1


The term “meritocracy” was coined in a 1958 dystopian novel, The Rise of the Meritocracy, written by Michael Young (Young 1958). This novel was intended to serve as a critique of the term it introduced. Much to Michael Young’s chagrin, the term has since become a social and political ideal (Young 2001). As such, it is used to justify the distribution of jobs, opportunities, and resources in societies claiming to be both liberal and democratic in orientation. Meritocracy has come to represent a positive ideal against which social institutions and societies are judged. They are measured and compared according to how “meritocratic” they have become. Meritocracy is here viewed as a progressive alternative to other more ancient systems of distribution such as patronage, where jobs, opportunities, and resources are allocated according to who one knows rather than whatone knows. A meritocratic society, by contrast, operates with the principle that merit should be rewarded...


Meritocracy Patronage Schools Intelligence Comprehensive education Ability Social engineering Liberal democracy Competition 
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  1. Allen, A. (2014). Benign violence: Education in and beyond the age of reason. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, A. (2011). Michael young’s the rise of the meritocracy: A philosophical critique. British Journal of Educational Studies, 59(4), 367–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Young, M. (1958). The rise of the meritocracy 1870–2033: An essay on education and society. London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  4. Young, M. (2001, 29 June). Down with meritocracy. The Guardian. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SheffieldSheffieldUK