Michael Young’s novel The Rise of the Meritocracy, published in 1958, was written in the voice of a historian in 2033 describing a meritocratic Britain where talent was identified, nurtured, and rewarded regardless of ethnic or social origins. The result? The gulf between the elites and ordinary Britons had widened and become far harsher.
In the old days, Young explained, upper-class Britons knew that their talents had nothing to do with the advantages they enjoyed. “The upper-class man had to be insensitive indeed not to have noticed, at some time in his life,” Young wrote, that among the servants and common workmen that he encountered “was intelligence, wit, and wisdom at least equal to his own.” The servants and common workmen had noticed the same thing and could rightly say to themselves, “I could have done anything. I never had the chance. And so I am a worker. But don’t think that at bottom I am any worse than anyone else.”