The Rise of the Meritocracy is a book by British sociologist and politician Michael Dunlop Young which was first published in 1958. It describes a dystopian society in a future United Kingdom in which intelligence and merit have become the central tenet of society, replacing previous divisions of social class and creating a society stratified between a merited power-holding elite and a disenfranchised underclass of the less merited. The essay satirised the Tripartite System of education that was being practised at the time. The book was rejected by the Fabian Society and then by 11 publishers before being accepted by Thames and Hudson.
Meritocracy is the political philosophy in which political influence is assigned largely according to the intellectual talent and achievement of the individual. Michael Young coined the term, formed by combining the Latin root “mereō” and Ancient Greek suffix “cracy”, in his essay to describe and ridicule such a society, the selective education system that was the Tripartite System, and the philosophy in general.
The word was adopted into the English language with none of the negative connotations that Young intended it to have and was embraced by supporters of the philosophy. Young expressed his disappointment in the embrace of this word and philosophy by the Labour Party under Tony Blair in The Guardian in an article in 2001, where he states:It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.
Journalist and writer Paul Barker points out that “irony is a dangerous freight to carry” and suggests that in the 1960s and ’70s it was read “as a simple attack on the rampant meritocrats”, whereas he suggests it should be read “as sociological analysis in the form of satire”.