Political Meritocracy and Populism: Cure or Curse?

Mark Chou, Benjamin Moffitt, Octavia Bryant

    Research output: Book/ReportBook


    Offering the first in-depth analysis of the relationship between populism and political meritocracy, this book asks why states with meritocratic systems such as Singapore and China have not faced the populist challenge to the extent that liberal-democratic states have. Is political meritocracy immune to populism? Or does it fan its flames? Exploring this puzzle, the authors argue that political meritocracies are simultaneously immune and susceptible to populism. The book maintains that political meritocracy’s focus on the intellect, social skills, and most importantly virtue of political leaders can reduce the likelihood of populist actors rising to power; that meritocracy’s promise of upward mobility for the masses can work against elitism; and that rule by the ‘meritorious’ can help avoid crises, diminishing the political opening for populism. However, it also shows that meritocracy does little to eliminate grievances around political, cultural, and social inequality, instead entrenching a hierarchy – an allegedly ‘just’ one. The book ultimately argues that the more established the system of political meritocracy becomes, the more it opens the door to populist resentment and revolt. Pitched primarily to scholars and postgraduate students in political theory, comparative politics, Asian studies, and political sociology, this book fills an important scholarly gap.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationNew York
    Number of pages80
    ISBN (Print)978-0-367-27102-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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