What are the roots of our idea of “meritocracy”? Why has meritocracy become a subject of intense scrutiny in our politics? Can there be a legitimate meritocracy? In this Conversation, James Hankins, a professor of history at Harvard University, presents a historically learned and deeply relevant account of the idea of meritocracy. According to Hankins, our current idea of meritocracy is closely tied to the post-French Revolution effort to replace the old hereditary elite with a new elite based on talent or merit. Over time, however, our idea of merit has become more narrowly focused on scientific capability—and has avoided questions about the humanities. Hankins points both to the Renaissance in the West and Confucianism in China as important sources for revitalizing the notion that moral virtue is important to teach, and for prospective rulers to understand. In sum, Hankins presents a fascinating account of meritocracy in China, America, and the West as a whole.

You can also watch this conversation at ConversationsWithBillKristol.org.

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