The victory of meritocracy

          France, supposed to be the country of Cartesian reason, is also repeatedly seized with sudden, irrational, nihilistic and destructive outbreaks of fever. The myth of the revolution and of a hypothetical  «bright future», the admiration for great speakers, should they finally prove demagogues, inflame in a recurrent way a community reputed so surprisingly inclined to depressive tendencies. Dormant revolutionary eruptions are in fact moments of rupture, also underpinned by monarchical traditions and aspirations. Are we not talking about the republican monarch of the Fifth Republic? Do we not note, in the whole of society, phenomena of microcosm that have nothing to do with the Capetians but rather recall the Court of Versailles? We want a king, but no head should be higher and this leads to tragic January 21. Evil would be systematically at the top and good at the bottom, knowledge and science lofty provocations, ambition and aspiration to progress unhealthy passions, work and competence outdated values. Republican merit would have lived.

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The last Royaumont Talks, which took place last December, were devoted precisely to the theme of meritocracy. The concept is broad, complex and must be understood in many ways. Beyond a general meaning of the term, we must thus know, for example, how to distinguish the notion of equality or even freedom. Is not meritocracy, in fact, an inherently unequal system in allowing the development of individual talents? If it is the opposite of levelling, it immediately raises the question of freedom which can be formulated as follows: does society allow the development and affirmation of personal freedoms? To the great questions thus raised, should we not add another specific to the French education system: is elitism legitimate, not in the sense of inequality, but by virtue of the fact that a very small proportion of an age group – in any case much less than 1% – is allowed in the so-called «Grandes Ecoles»?

 The answer to all of these questions should take into consideration both respect for the innate talents, the will and the work for the greatest benefit of individuals and the needs of society stimulated with dynamism, excellence and progress. This implies in a very concrete way for the community the permanent adaptation of public school and university, fair selection, scholarships, tutoring, mobility at the service of a second and third chance, continuing training. The system of meritocracy must in fact be at the service of all, at all stages of personal and professional life. 

Library of the Abbey of Royaumont © Patrick Pascal

Meritocracy is therefore a system that should not be confused with the notion of merit which is more personal even if it is sometimes the object of external recognition (cf. the Order of Merit). The subjectivity of merit is essential for everyone to move forward, but it must also find its limits. A prominent participant in the Royaumont Talks said that “there are those who do not recover from their failures as there are those who do not recover from their success.The latter must always be mastered, especially in a society where jealousy is a national pathology. Finally, the merit must be located in a space of time as limited as possible in order to avoid that it does not turn into an annuity, if applicable even transferable. At a time of fragmentation of societies and fierce international competition, merit must remain a central, common, shared and inseparable of justice.

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A woman, for the second time only in the history of the Fifth Republic – and we can regret this rarity -, has just been appointed head of the French government. We must wish her well. A pupil of the Nation, a scholarship recipient, has completed a prestigious course of the Ecole Polytechnique to the head of large companies, to ministerial responsibilities and the Hotel Matignon. In a sharp contrast with profiles including a passage almost obligatory by the National School of Administration, a more scientific path is thus brought to the spotlight in these anachronistic and troubled times.

Trust in study, reason, science, progress, one would call it Les Lumières. Vive la méritocratie !

(Published on 17.05.2022 on Entreprendre.fr)

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