Meritocracy Is a Good Thing



    1. Zhiyuan chair professor at Jiaotong University (Shanghai) and professor of political theory and director of the center for international and comparative political theory at Tsinghua University (Beijing). He is the co-editor (with Fan Ruiping) of Jiang Qing's A Confucian Constitutional Order (Princeton University Press, 2012).
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At the turn of the 20th Century when Western power was at its height, Sun Yat-Sen sought to blend the Confucian tradition of meritocratic governance and Western-style democracy in his vision for modern China. With the “rise of the rest” in the 21st Century—led by China—perhaps the political imagination is open once again, this time not only to Western ideas flowing East, but Eastern ideas flowing West as well.

The political imagination has been pried open anew not only because of the sustained success of non-Western modernity in places like Singapore and China, but because democracy itself has become so dysfunctional across the West, from its ancient birthplace in Greece to its most advanced outpost in California. That liberal democracy is the best form of governance ever achieved in the long arc of history is no longer self-evident. Today, democracy, which has been captured by a short-term, special-interest political culture, has to prove and improve itself by incorporating elements of meritocracy and the long-term perspective. If not, political decay beckons.

In this section, we evaluate the tradeoeffs and ponder the possibilities of combining a more knowledegable democracy with a more accountable meritocracy.