The Brass Ring

The Brass Ring
AP Photo/Steven Senne

As we learn in The Tyranny of Merit, Michael Sandel’s view of meritocracy rests in part on the historical claim that it is grounded in the Calvinist understanding of predestination. “Combined with the idea that the elect must prove their election through work in a calling,” he writes, such a doctrine “leads to the notion that worldly success is a good indication of who is destined for salvation.” In this he follows Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, but Sandel extends this thesis to the present moment, citing the evangelical idea of the “prosperity gospel” and the secular rationalizations of such well-known achievers as Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs) and John Mackey (founder of Whole Foods), who represent the understanding of health and wealth “as matters of praise and blame…a meritocratic way of looking at life.”

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