Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Recommended Reading

Afarfetchedresolution asks:

"Tell me the books that inspired you. Those political tomes, biographies, pamphlets or other, in history, theory, philosophy or policy that you find yourself automatically paraphrasing whenever someone asks a difficult question. The one that gives you the metaphors and similes you use in everyday life. The one that you think about when you're wondering if it's all worth it. Or the one that makes you angry.I don't want an obscure academic debate about some turgid theoretical text on a sub-set of postmodernist verbiage. I want real tub-thumpers and appeals from the heart. But they also have to actually say something concrete about the real world."

I can think of plenty of suggestions. But I just want to mention one - The Rise of the Meritocracy, by Michael Young.

I got round to reading this relatively recently - it is out of print but available for the princely sum of 4p plus P&P from Amazon. It explains the development of the 'meritocracy', the success of attempts to promote equality of opportunity and to identify the people who are most intelligent and capable, and make sure that society is organised so that it is merit, rather than age or birth or any other factor, which determines whether people succeed or fail.

It refers to the decline of the importance of the House of Commons, the replacement of hereditary peers by people appointed for their talents to the House of Lords, the introduction of a National Identity Card scheme, the acceptance of growing inequality based on merit between an elite and the rest and other policies of the last few years.

Young's ideas have been influential - from Peter Mandelson talking about how New Labour is 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich' to Hazel Blears speaking about how one of the goals of the government is to promote meritocracy. Except that the Rise of the Meritocracy was written nearly half a century ago, and its point was that a meritocracy would be a disaster, creating an elite out of touch with the majority of people and yet believing that their privileges are a result of their own efforts and merit.

Now I would have thought that a book which introduced a term which government ministers regularly use to describe the kind of society that they want to see and which delivers a critique of New Labour which is very similar to that of, say, Jon Cruddas would be one which got referred to and discussed, and which would be worth reprinting. It's not very long and it is well written, which makes it all the more mystifying that it is out of print.

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