Roberto Brigati

Merit over Time. A Critical History of an Ethical and Political Category

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Merit/desert; Meritocracy; Talent; Equality of opportunities; Luck.

Far from being essential, timeless qualities, merit and desert have changed their meanings in history. In early modern Europe's value system, "merit" was an inherent feature attached to individuals in view of social status and birth, independently of what they might have done. Fatalistic attitudes, involving Luck (Fortuna), were connected to this notion. The fall of the ancien régime brought a new meaning of "merit", now connected to individual talents, effort and deeds. In this form, the category was taken up by the labour ideology and became the bedrock for the social ideal which was later called meritocracy. Today, in spite of a ubiquitous rhetoric, merit appears to be declining again. People seem to have detected the hollowness of meritocratic discourse and to be trying to ensure their positions by other means, remarkably reminiscent of early modern attitudes.

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