Sandel is not about guilt-tripping anxious parents of front-row kids; they’re suffering too, he says. But the credentialed have come to imagine themselves as smarter, wiser, more tolerant — and therefore more deserving of recognition and respect — than the noncredentialed ... But we are left with an important issue Sandel does not address: the targeting by the right wing of colleges themselves ... So now’s a good time for both sides to sit down for a very serious talk, with The Tyranny of Merit required reading for all. And invited from inner-city, suburban and rural schools across the land should be those who warmed seats both in the front row and in the back.
Sandel’s prescriptions seem inadequate to this bracing indictment ... Sandel is especially adept in cataloguing the array of economic, social, and psychological pathologies of a society based upon rule by 'merit.' His insight into the distance between the claims that justify meritocracy and its real-world implications is particularly striking. Whatever the benefits of meritocracy in demolishing the aristocracy of the ancien régime, meritocracy has produced in turn a pervasive system of inequality and resulting instability ... Sandel is especially insightful in dismantling the egalitarian veil that many Left academics have donned to assuage their bad conscience, even as they blithely participate in and benefit from the meritocracy ... Sandel is less curious, however, about the increasingly central role played by 'identity politics' ... In the end, Sandel flinches: in spite of accusing the new ruling order of 'tyranny,' he fails to locate any tyrants. This silence on the meritocracy’s self-deception, in what is otherwise a singularly powerful critique of the pathologies of meritocracy, is telling. Sandel is remarkably incurious about whether meritocrats’ justifications of their moral eminence might in fact shroud the deeper 'will to power' one would expect to find among tyrants ... What is sorely needed is deeper reflection, and paths to action, for how to realize the common good.
As a critique of meritocracy and an explanation of today’s populist resentment toward educated elites, The Tyranny of Merit is a compelling book. But Sandel’s tentative suggestions for remedying the harms of meritocracy focus far too much on liberal elites, while failing to address the much more significant ways in which business elites have harmed workers. In addition, by focusing on remedies rooted in the past, his vision also neglects the increasing diversity of workers by race, gender, and immigration status.