Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meritocracy matters, history flips   posted by Razib @ 10/23/2007 12:33:00 AM

I just read The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800, and the main thought I came away with was that the more intelligence and status are decoupled in a society, the greater the likelihood of revolution. I assume here that the wealthy bourgeois who were marginalized in the ancien regime attained their gains via sly cunning; surely a simplifying assumption. In any case, demagogues such as Jean-Paul Marat and Maximilian Robespierre acted and organized on behalf of the working man, but unsurprisingly they were personally marginalized intellectuals. The populace may be roused into vicious action against the elites of the age, but the snake always needs a wily head, invariably from aspirant elites.

Secondarily, I am struck by the quicksilver changes in the Spirit of the Age. In 1783 the American republic was a peculiar experiment, an aberration in the age of monarchy (there were small republics). Yet by 1800 the French Revolution had swept such expectations away, at least for a time. These 17 years arguably witnessed changes in the order of societies on a scale far greater than the 1960s across the West, or throughout the Easter Bloc during the 1990s.