Whose Merits?

David Brooks has a good column on the failings of our meritocracy. His basic point is that people in America succeed because of intelligence, hard work and good families, then keep working hard to make sure that their kids succeed in the same way. That gives those kids an advantage over others from families with less cash and less education–however smart and hard working they may be. 

It’s hard to match that kind of advantage. What’s needed, Brooks says, is a sense of moral obligation in our leadership class, which they utterly lack. Regardless of where they are–Wall Street, business, the Ivy League, media–they perceive themselves as underdogs and rebels against the establishment. They are privileged but without any sense of being privileged–and thus obliged to serve, protect and conserve our society.

What can be done? If the diagnosis is correct, we are in trouble. Moral obligation is not hip in America, especially if it involves significant inconvenience. (Lots of the concern for social justice among the young is just resume-building.) A Wesleyan revival, anyone? A Second Great Awakening? Hard to imagine. 

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