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OPINION

The Death of Merit

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/David Goldman

America has always been a land of opportunity. That’s because our nation was founded as a meritocracy, the wellspring of excellence. This concept is central to American exceptionalism. 

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The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written in a time when almost the entire world was governed by systems of monarchy, absolutism or outright dictatorships that rarely, if ever, recognized individual merit. In this regard, America’s founding was indeed exceptional. 

Leftists detest America’s meritocracy. The reason is simple: recognizing merit means there will be winners and losers, a fact that motivates all of us to try harder with a belief in and reliance upon oneself. 

Those who exhibit greater merit - through hard work, resourcefulness, perseverance, innate aptitude and so forth - usually enjoy more success. Meritocracy motivates us to individualism and excellence, and is hardwired into the DNA of the human race. 

The polar opposite of meritocracy is equality of outcome, which requires the entire society, save for political and cultural elites, to exist at the lowest common denominator. It is the foundation of socialist and communist dictatorships, enforced through violence, because totalitarians know that living life at the lowest common denominator is contrary to human nature and natural law. 

It is no secret that merit is not now, nor has it ever been, universally recognized. The first lesson my father taught me as a very young child was “life isn’t fair,” and time has proved him correct. But the periodic unfairness of life doesn’t mean meritocracies are bad. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, meritocracies are the worst form of society except for all the others that have been tried. 

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In making the case against merit, some conflate it with nepotism and fraud, both of which are antithetical to merit. The Harvard Gazette exemplifies this philosophical sleight of hand through this excerpt from Michael Sandel’s book The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? 

A recent article in The Atlantic by Xochitl Gonzales is more to the point, if not more eloquent, in its condemnation of merit. She simply declares it cow manure, only in less polished language. 

In recent days, we’ve learned that schools in Virginia have deliberately withheld notification that certain students achieved recognition as National Merit Scholars, which is a very big deal for teenagers applying to college.

Medical schools are diluting their curricula by diverting attention away from medicine and towards ideology in pursuit of identity politics. Merit in the healing arts is being replaced by the appearance and opinions of students. 

Nobody wants to be operated on by a surgeon who has not demonstrated merit. Nobody wants paperboys or lawyers or plumbers or auto mechanics who do not demonstrate merit. If you want to see what America would look like without merit, look no farther than academia. It’s littered with maladroit people who are not burdened by excellence. 

Authoritarians need to attack merit. It is a means of defiling individual effort and reducing society to a collective level that nobody would want to live in. That’s because merit is natural and equality of outcome is entirely unnatural. Supplanting merit with equality of outcome invariably results in a culture that resides somewhere between tragic and deadly.

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The destruction of merit is more than an attack on natural law and American society. It’s also an attack on the biblical precepts of human behavior. The Bible has plenty to say about how to live our lives through effort and merit, going back as far as the time of King Solomon. 

The book of Ecclesiastes establishes the link between hard work and happiness. “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart,” writes the author. He goes on to tell us to enjoy our lives, “because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” 

The Old Testament provides a millennia-old endorsement of effort and merit, older than Christianity. Yes, the concept of merit is natural and biblical, but it is also indispensable to a free and well-functioning society. 

Rational people celebrate merit because it is good. Those who demean it are perverse and seek only to deprive us of our dignity. To American Leftists, the collective is more important than the individual who seeks excellence by demonstrating merit, so merit must be killed. 

One remaining bastion of merit in America is professional sports. Team owners and fans will not tolerate meritless people playing in the NFL, the NBA or any other league. That is why I am a writer and not a receiver for the Minnesota Vikings; I lack the merit for that role. We do not tolerate equality of outcome in professional sports and it should not be tolerated anywhere else in society.  

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We are witnessing the slow death of merit in America, and it’s being done for degenerate political purposes. The fight is engaged by totalitarians and normal Americans need to join that fight if we’re going to preserve it. 


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