Meritocracy Against the Wokes
Progressive Democrats are awfully riled up about the term "meritocracy" in Youngkin's EO 1 -- and they ought to be.
Poor Democrats — they haven’t been this ruffled about Republicans taking over Richmond since 1865.
Truly, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the Virginia Democrats, whose lust for power and the damage they did in just two years was something to behold. What they deemed progress consisted mostly of bulldozing history, embedding outright racism into our classrooms and bureaucracy, and institutionalizing mental illness to the degree where if such things are questioned you are swiftly beaten out of the public square — or worse, the Twitter mob is followed up by a media no one reads and you are marched off to your own private gulag.
Yet I digress.
This morning’s brass ring for the left is Youngkin Executive Order 1, which repeals by fiat much of the Critical Race Theory embedded into state government by the Northam administration, and does so in such a way that any challenges will be in the face of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The offending passages?
One might think that all of this is pretty anodyne stuff. This is what Democrats claim to believe (but don’t). This is what Democrats claim they are fighting for (but aren’t).
Yet it’s the word meritocracy that is twisting the nose of Democrats desperate to blunt the momentum of Governor Youngkin and Speaker Gilbert — and hoping to God that a last-minute pardon of Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) will be just enough to keep him from acting upon his pro-life inclinations and serve as a warning to Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) that in the end the reward for compromise and statesmanship is a direct challenge from the progressive left followed up by an inevitable challenge from Republicans.
Of course, neither Petersen nor Morrissey have anything to worry about even if Republicans wanted to worry them.
Nevertheless, I want you to read this snippet in Virginia Scope’s newsletter from Jack Preis with University of Richmond Law who goes to great lengths to describe both the EO and the target — Critical Race Theory — as ambiguous and therefore unenforceable:
The bottom line in this situation is that there is no statute or other legal requirement that requires CRT or any type of racial power/subordination to be taught. This means that, regardless of whether “inherently divisive” is ambiguous or not, there is no legal problem with the superintendent prohibiting what she thinks is inherently divisive. Even if she decides that teaching chemistry is inherently divisive, parents still have no claim against her.
And yet that’s not at all true.
B. The heads of state agencies shall establish and maintain a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan in coordination with the Governor's Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
The plan shall integrate the diversity, equity, and inclusion goals into the agency's mission, operations, programs, and infrastructure to enhance equitable opportunities for the populations served by the agency and to foster an increasingly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace environment.
The plan shall include best practices that (i) proactively address potential barriers to equal employment opportunities pursuant to federal and state equal employment opportunity laws; (ii) foster pay equity pursuant to federal and state equal pay laws; (iii) promote diversity and equity in hiring, promotion, retention, succession planning, and agency leadership opportunities; and (iv) promote employee engagement and inclusivity in the workplace.
Each agency shall establish an infrastructure to effectively support ongoing progress and accountability in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in coordination with the Governor's Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Each agency shall submit an annual report to the Governor assessing the impact of the strategic plan on the populations served by the agency and on the agency's workforce and budget.
Go through the four directives here in order:
CRT will be enforced for employment purposes.
CRT will be enforced along pay scales according to its own criteria.
CRT will be enforced in the hiring, promotion, retention, succession planning, and in future leadership roles.
CRT will promote employee participation in the new regime.
Contrary to Preis’ assertion that “…there is no statute or other legal requirement that requires CRT or any type of racial power/subordination to be taught,” the fact of the matter is that the Code of Virginia specifically demands CRT and racial subordination to be taught, enforced, weaponized in the hiring process, and weaponized when considering promotions.
In short, Diversity Equity and Inclusion is CRITICAL RACE THEORY.
Anyone who says otherwise? Is lying. One should no longer be willing to admit ignorance on this question. The parameters are known, the resources are out there, the proponents are clear about their endgame and intent.
The only ambiguity is in the so-called solutions of CRT, which is by design.
CRT knows what it is against — an abstraction called bad. The solution for bad is always going to be ambiguous because — as CRT proponents claim — the disease is inherent in both the apparatus that creating the inequities (or inequalities) and more importantly within the psyche of those whom the apparatus we build either works for or against.
Why Meritocracy Scares the Hell Out of the Left
Of course, you know it’s a good idea the moment Democrats start putting stickers all over it.
Of course it is. Meritocracy scares the hell out of the political left — but did you ever wonder why it scares the hell out of them?
First and foremost, I’m a firm believer that you cannot debunk an argument until you understand it in its best possible light. So here it goes — the substance of their argument is as follows:
The existing systems we live in were created to benefit one class of persons over the other, that class being predominantly White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant (WASP).
Those who mimic the ideal are rewarded with greater opportunities and advantages than those who do not mimic the ideal. For instance, two children grow up in trailers next to one another in single-parent households, similar educational backgrounds, and similar incomes. One family is black, the other is white. One might imagine that the white family might have more familiarity with certain institutions, whereas the black family might not have the same access, might have to work harder to gain that access, etc.
Therefore, the definition of merit starts to take on the definitions of conformity, consumerism, and the degrading of self in order to fit in with the wider apparatus. Conservatives might even by sympathetic to this argument when it comes to working within public education, nodding along with the professor in academia, having to put up with a liberal media, tolerating nods to woke culture and gender ideology in entertainment and so forth.
Therefore, while we say the word “meritocracy” we aren’t talking about fostering virtue or self-sufficiency, but merely what is meritorious for the existing framework. If that happens to be WASP-y culture, then we all start to mimic the WASPs. If that happens to be rank consumerism, we all become consumers. If that happens to be the progressive institutions, then “merit” is only defined insomuch as you conform to whatever the soviet has in mind.
The response to this, of course, is to pick up on a prevailing thread in this critique — namely that the definition of merit for the progressive isn’t the same as right or wrong, merely a question of who benefits.
Maybe — just maybe — there’s something in that WASP culture worth imitating? After all, this same WASP culture in America could have refused to strive for a more perfect union at all and simply chosen to be as derelict as their forebearers throughout history. That maybe — just maybe — there’s something unique about America that is worth remembering warts and all. That maybe — just maybe — when we discuss the word “merit” that we aren’t discussing who benefits, but rather a system where we all can benefit if we create opportunities and an oikonomia where the success of our neighbors is viewed as our own success.
Definitions of Justice Matter Here
Coming back to The Spectator article, here’s the quote that folks need to drink in when it comes to these discussions of meritocracy vs. equity:
“If you’re going to say that merit is, like, fair, it’s the antithesis of fair, and it’s the antithesis of just. And so, you can’t use equity. You can’t talk about social justice and then say you want to have a selective school that keeps certain kids out from the neighborhoods that you think are dangerous. That’s all kind of Trumpian language.”
This idea of justice as fairness is the brainchild of John Rawls in what might be the last substantive contribution to philosophy from America (beyond thinkers such as Finnis on the new natural law, Dreyfus on AI, or Haugeland on Heidegger).
Of course, parents in Fairfax County have been dealing with this precise issue when it comes to Thomas Jefferson High School and the efforts to force equity over merit in admissions.
Something the left has not considered? Rudy Ruettiger from Notre Dame Football — you know, when Irish Catholics were still struggling to join the meritocracy — and the moment he realizes that no matter how hard he works, Rudy just isn’t going to make the team:
Coach I just wanted to thank you for letting be a part of this football program this year. But I've come to realize that God made some people out to be football players and that I'm not one of them.
God made certain people out to be engineers, football players, teachers, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, priests, mechanics and physicists.
Some folks were just meant to hang chickens.
What happens when you take someone not cut out to be a doctor and you allow them — credential them — to be a doctor? People get hurt — that’s what happens.
What happens when folks are built up to become someone they aren’t? What happens when society says you can (not just be but) become anyone you want to become? What happens when someone pours that much of their self-esteem and identity into a project and it fails? Or worse, people bounce around trying to buy something they can’t have and never will become?
They get hurt. They might even blame the system that lied to them in order to get that tuition revenue, that fee, or that tilting windmill.
Justice isn’t just a question of fairness for me. Not mere equality or merit, but the rectification of an iniuria or injury. Justice isn’t merely a question of that which is owed (Aristotle) but a question of rights. Justice implies a right ordering that respects the dignity of the human person in all their goods and gifts. For Aquinas, this idea of right is inextricably linked to just. Equality and fairness happen to be symptoms, but not the exact end of justice.
Now if one identifies all justice as a question of social justice, then our friends on the left might have a point. If one believes that the bias of the institutions towards the extreme left is an injury that requires correction — then maybe conservatives have a point and Youngkin’s executive order is part of that process of correcting injury.
Yet individual justice is the foundation of social justice. Typically, when we speak of injury, we think of breaking an arm or a scrape on the knee. Medicine is the art of remedying such injuries as to put individuals on the mend. Yet rarely do you see the medicine applied that argues we must break the other arm in order to heal the broken arm or scrape the other knee in order to mend the hurt knee.
That’s the problem of an equity decoupled from merit.
Justice is a question of righting injuries to first to me and only then to society. The only solution for this is not to lower standards, but to create more opportunities for disadvantaged individuals to encounter those standards risk-free.
Two Cheers for Meritocracy?
Of course, meritocracy sounds great when you do have the opportunities to see whether your talents match one’s aspirations.
In this, the push for equity is artificially attempting to force this engagement at the cost of injuring others, creating new injustices in the name of repairing old ones — as Jacobin a move as any French Revolutionary.
The catch — of course — is in the definitions of merit. If the highest good we are chasing is mere consumerism? That’s the sort of merit that only inspires envy.
Yet if the highest good we are pursuing is the creation of more opportunity — school choice, workforce development, STEM+H academies, microfinance opportunities, and small business development — now we are talking about something that expands real opportunity rather than demoting people to becoming mere extensions of the state-run monopolies.
That’s something that most progressives fear more than anything else.
For the progressive left, the linking of state and society is absolutely critical to their methodology of change — because only with the apparatus of the institutions firmly in their hands can they create the society that bends to their ideological will; this totalitarian and authoritarian wokeisme as fearsome as the Soviets and as fanatical as the Jacobins. The decoupling of state and society, the creation of a truly independent working class, the rise of a self-sufficient and self-reliant economy all frighten those who seek to make the human spirit governable.
Equity — one will note — is an artificial concept. Justice is a virtue, one of the four cardinal virtues. Meritocracy can be bent towards illicit ends, but when linked to the human spirit and our tendency towards the good, beautiful and true is an entirely Scrutopian project.
No small wonder why the political left is scared to death of the term meritocracy to combat the false and artificial anti-virtue of equity. All the more reason for the Youngkin administration and the Republican-led House of Delegates to continue to raise the question in the face of intransigent leftists who will not and cannot withstand reason.
Meanwhile, hold fast against the inanities of the left. Force them to explain what they mean. Tell them that they have to convince you with the force of argument, not the argument of force. Don’t be afraid to form the word no. Refuse to accept their labels. Reject the substitution of emotion for reasoned discussion.
One doesn’t have to be obstinate.
One should be resolute, firm and realistic about the work Youngkin and Gilbert are set to do over the next two years. With Senate Republicans ready to take back the upper chamber in 2023 there is much groundwork to be done.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.