“These are dangerous times for democracy. We live in an age of winners and losers, where the odds are stacked in favor of the already fortunate. Stalled social mobility and entrenched inequality give the lie to the American credo that “you can make it if you try”. The consequence is a brew of anger and frustration that has fueled populist protest and extreme polarization, and led to deep distrust of both government and our fellow citizens–leaving us morally unprepared to face the profound challenges of our time.
World-renowned philosopher Michael J. Sandel argues that to overcome the crises that are upending our world, we must rethink the attitudes toward success and failure that have accompanied globalization and rising inequality. Sandel shows the hubris a meritocracy generates among the winners and the harsh judgement it imposes on those left behind, and traces the dire consequences across a wide swath of American life. He offers an alternative way of thinking about success–more attentive to the role of luck in human affairs, more conducive to an ethic of humility and solidarity, and more affirming of the dignity of work. The Tyranny of Merit points us toward a hopeful vision of a new politics of the common good.”
To this brief summary on the dust jacket of the book, I will only add that this is the third book in the last three book club meetings that invites us to reflect on the responsibility of our elites for the malaise that has engulfed the country for many years. Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build documented how the elites (in the academy, the media, the culture and in politics) used the institutions they lead for self-promotion rather than for the common good. In Deaths of Despair, Anne Case and Angus Deaton state: “the elite can sometimes be smug about their accomplishments, attributing them to their own merit, and dismissive of those without degrees” and, referring to Michael Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy, “there is a dark side [of meritocracy] that was long ago predicted by Michael Young … who saw meritocracy as leading to social calamity … Young presciently referred to the left-behind group as ‘the populists’ and the elite as ‘the hypocrisy’.” Michael Sandel quotes from Michael Young’s book in his own analysis of the moral and religious root causes of the dark side of meritocracy that created the chasm between the credentialed and the uncredentialled and the populist reaction we are experiencing.
You are invited to join a discussion of this timely and relevant book at our HBS Alumni Book Club’s (virtual) meeting of November 19 from 12:30PM to 2:30PM.
Participants must register by November 18th to join the discussion.
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