Political Meritocracy and Populism: Cure or Curse?, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Political Meritocracy and Populism

Cure or Curse?, 1st Edition

By Mark Chou, Benjamin Moffitt, Octavia Bryant


96 pages

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Hardback: 9780367271022
pub: 2019-11-22
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Offering the first in-depth analysis of the relationship between populism and political meritocracy, this book asks why states with meritocratic systems such as Singapore and China have not faced the populist challenge to the extent that liberal democratic states have. Is political meritocracy immune to populism? Or does it fan its flames?

Exploring this puzzle, the authors argue that political meritocracies are simultaneously immune and susceptible to populism. The book maintains that political meritocracy’s focus on the intellect, social skills, and most importantly virtue of political leaders can reduce the likelihood of populist actors rising to power; that meritocracy’s promise of upward mobility for the masses can work against elitism; and that rule by the ‘meritorious’ can help avoid crises, diminishing the political opening for populism. However, it also shows that meritocracy does little to eliminate grievances around political, cultural, and social inequality, instead entrenching a hierarchy – an allegedly ‘just’ one. The book ultimately argues that the more established the system of political meritocracy becomes, the more it opens the door to populist resentment and revolt.

Pitched primarily to scholars and postgraduate students in political theory, comparative politics, Asian studies, and political sociology, this book fills an important scholarly gap.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Political Meritocracy and Populism

Chapter 2: Populism’s Cure?

Chapter 3: The Populist Teleology of Meritocracy


About the Authors

Mark Chou is Associate Professor of Politics at the National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia.

Benjamin Moffitt is Senior Lecturer at the National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia.

Octavia Bryant is a Doctoral Candidate in Politics at the National School of Arts, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Anti-Politics and Democratic Crisis

We supposedly live in an anti-political age in which popular disaffection threatens to undermine the very foundations of democratic rule. From the rise of radical right wing populism through to public cynicism towards politicians, institutions and processes of government are being buffeted by unprecedented change that have in turn raised questions about the viability of seemingly foundational practices. Is confidence in those who rule beyond repair? Can citizens meaningfully engage in the political process? Are today’s leaders able to exercise authority?

Politicians often respond to these pressures by placing responsibility for decision making in the hands of experts, scientists, civil servants, and even private companies. However, their attempts to gain trust and credibility often fail as the media, lobbyists and social movements blame them for political failures and crises, from migration and floods to diseases and crime. Can politicians ever avoid blame for policy failures? When do usually technical issues become politicised, and by how do they pressurise politicians to step in? What are the implications for democratic accountability and responsibility at multiple levels, from city streets to global forums?

These sorts of questions reverberate around the globe and cut to the core of democratic life as we know it. They pose theoretical and empirical questions that are integral to the future of the way we are governed. The capacity of democracy to renew itself crucially depends on the answers we give.

This book series aims to provide a forum for the discussion of topics and themes related to anti-politics, depoliticisation, and political crisis. We seek works that push forward debate and challenge taken-for-granted orthodoxies. We privilege ambitious proposals that ask big questions and engage with a range of materials. Reflecting this, the series is intentionally pluralistic in its geographic, methodological and disciplinary scope. Empirical and comparative contributions are especially welcome.

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