Alan Posener´s “The rebellion of the laggards” // “Der Aufstand der Abgehängten” von Alan Posener
The western world is threatened by a rebellion of the laggards. He, who can´t keep pace in systems based on skill and achievement, turns sooner or later against their elites. Donald Trump is the leader of a Revolution against the International of the Privileged.
We can´t say that we weren´t previously warned. More than 50 years ago the British sociologist Michael Dunlop Young already predicted today´s rebellion against the elites- though placing it in 2034. Young titled his essay “ The rise of the Meritocracy”
In his view the allotment of life chances based exclusively on “merit”- that is, intelligence and skill- would lead to the empowerment of a self-righteous elite whose rule would be unbearable precisely because of the good conscience with which it is exercised.
The new class- contrary to previous forms of rule- would be demonstrably more intelligent and skilled than the lower class. Yet the laggards would hold a weapon against the top performers: Democracy
According to Young, our meritocratic society is the first one that, thanks to compulsory schooling- and indeed to comprehensive and integrated schools- brings home to each individual the place he occupies in a hierarchy built on skills and achievement. He, who, despite all the pedagogical tact and aid programs, misses the required standards, is confronted on a daily basis during his childhood and youth with the evidence that he belongs to the low ranks.
Not because he lacks a noble or bourgeois origin, nor because his mother tongue or his gender, his religion or race are things that can be held against him but because he lacks the intelligence or the skills that, following Hollywood, politicians and educators, are the keys that will open the world of his dreams or have demonstrably done so in the case of other individuals. Every story of social climbing tells him: it´s your own fault if you keep on staying in the low ranks.
This discouraging insight affects specially those who can´t produce any excuse for their failure, those who are not migrants, nor blacks, nor disabled, nor women. These groups possess a history of discrimination and can make their claim for assistance and “affirmative action”.
White men of lower class increasingly unable to draw their sense of identity from their class consciousness or affiliation to a union or a party or from the solidarity of their working mates in the neighborhood: these are the vanguard of the revolution against the top performers. They vote for Donald Trump.
They voted for Brexit. They march against immigration. Not because of any failure attributable to the elites but because the elite´s program targets the failure of the masses. How else could the elite justify its existence as elite?
It is not without irony that a man like Thilo Sarrazin* has become the hero of the anti-meritocrats given that Sarrazin is, in fact, the ideologue of the top performers. “Germany abolishes itself” and it does so because women in academia and in management don´t bear enough children so that the gens of smart people are unable to prevail against the gens of lazy individuals, morons or the “little maids with headscarf from Anatolia”.
Thilo Sarrazin (born 12 February 1945) is a German politician (SPD), writer, and former member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank (until 30 September 2010). He previously served as senator of finance for the State of Berlin from January 2002 until April 2009, when he was appointed to his position at Bundesbank.
He became well-known worldwide after making controversial remarks on Jewish genetics, leading to a media frenzy resulting in his resignation from the Executive Board.
In his 2010 book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (“Germany abolishes itself”), the best selling book on politics by a German-language author in a decade, he denounces the failure of Germany´s ‘s post-war immigration policy, sparking a nationwide controversy about the costs and benefits of multiculturalism.
The fact is that today people in academia tend to marry other people in academia, people in management other people in management, in short, achievers marry other achievers. They come to know each other in college or in the work place, they send their children to private nurseries and schools while they dodge public schools, in which a few number of the pupils will be recruited to become part of the new class whereas the majority will have to cope with the fact that unfortunately there´s no spare capacity for them. The meritocracy will result in this way in an aristocracy, justified not by ancestry but by IQ.
While top performers think and act in international terms, foster free trade and free movement of persons, conceive immigration as an opportunity- also the opportunity to be recruited into the new class- and welcome technical progress because it increases the value of their own skills, laggards want to return to hierarchy: us against them.
“Americanism, not Globalism” as Donald Trump proclaims. Natives against “ alien territories and cultures”, as Alexander Gauland* dubbs the Boateng family. Westeners against muslims. Real men against gays. “Goody-goodies” against emancipated women. Families against singles. “Values” against intelligence.
Alexander E. Gauland (born 20 February 1941 in Chemnitz) is a German lawyer, journalist and politician. Gauland is a leading politician of the national conservative AFD as its co-founder, its federal spokesman and as the party leader for the state of Brandenburg.
Feelings against judgements of “experts”, these latter being regular targets of Boris Johnson´s ,the Brexit-advocator, attacks. Real work against big commercial banks, who Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, estigmatised as being the most eager champions of the British permanency in the EU.
In the war fought against “McWorld”, against the uniform world of business lounges and luxury hotels, against commercial towers and villas in smart neighborhoods, where the achievers enjoy their lifestyle, Jihadists emerge in muslim societies and populists in the western.
If some in the islamic world resent the mere existence of the western world or of a State such as Israel, some in the western World feel equally sore about the existence of meritocracy.
Both, islamists and populists, seek refuge in an imaginary world of a better past, in fantasies of superiority, into hate-filled conspiracy theories, in order to hide themselves from the fact that they won´t be able to survive in a world of achievers.
A society that conveys to the majority or even a large minority of its members the sentiment that they don´t belong to it, can´t certainly exist for long. Only a few years ago European advocators of meritocracy used to repeat like a mantra that America was allegedly a country where inequality was not only accepted but welcome.
Today there is Donald Trump leading a crusade on behalf of the “forgotten men and women of America”. Only a few years ago Tony Blair used the term “Meritocracy” to characterize his vision of a new Great Britain and Europe. Today Theresa May promises “ a Great Britain from which everybody can benefit” not just the rich and the handsome , the smart and the clever.
And while the president of the EU commission Jean Claude Juncker says that he coudn´t care less about who signs the free trade agreement with Canada, provided that it becomes effective, Angela Merkel has recognized the signs of the times and demanded the national parliaments to have a say in the agreement.
Since the laggards have nothing else to count upon except the fact that they build the majority. In their hands democracy can turn into a dangerous weapon. They have driven Great Britain swiftly out of the EU. They have bring to a halt the political process in many European countries. Meritocracy is not functioning any longer.
Yet we don´t know what can replace it. Nobody can seriously believe in a return to the regulated Nation-State of the 70´s where every worker was guaranteed a job that allowed him to feed his family. The world of work doesn´t function in this way any longer, robots having replaced workers on conveyor-belts and computers, secretaries.
Nor does a world, in which China and India pose a challenge to western supremacy, function any longer in that way. In those countries a ruthless selection is implemented that fosters the emergence of a meritocracy capable already of filling the top manager positions in many western companies. It´s perhaps not by chance that China is not a democracy and that the cast system reigns in India .
In order not to turn democracy, our most important achievement, against us, we should rethink its foundation. And this foundation is the school. It´s time to reconsider the criteria according to which we judge school success. Not only maths and german are important , nor only computer literacy and IQ. Music and art, cook and crafts, football and boxing, social work and gardening should be just as important.
School failure must be a thing of the past. At the same time, given that obviously knowledge is power, much more must be done to foster intellectual faculties in early childhood both at day nurseries and schools.
Additionally the new aristocracy must be regarded critically. Social envy is appalling, but still more are inherited privileges. The fact that skills stood somewhere at the beginning of these privileges is one thing, another that there now exist blatant inequalities that have nothing to do with those skills.
Skills must regain their value and our concept of what they are should change . Only when meritocracy changes itself, can the society based on it be rescued. We have time until 2034.