June 14, 2012
Why Our Elites Are Failing Us and How to Fix It

In an engrossing passage from Twilight of the Elites, a new book about the American meritocracy and its failures, author Chris Hayes directs our attention to an all but forgotten moment in 2009, when debate raged about who President Obama should appoint to a Supreme Court vacancy. Sonia Sotomayor was widely thought to be on his short list. But various liberal commentators, including The New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen and Harvard’s Lawrence Tribe, argued that she should be passed over for alternative candidates who they regarded as observably smarter. “Keep in mind the person under discussion is someone who, from humble beginnings in the Bronx, had gained entry to Princeton, graduated summa cum laude, and gone on to Yale Law, where she edited the Yale Law Journal,” Hayes observed. “She had checked off every box on the to-do list of meritocratic achievement. Apparently it wasn’t enough.” In his telling, that’s one example of the “Cult of Smartness” that has taken hold in American life, a pathology characterized by the mistaken assumption that intelligence is an ordinal quality — that it is possible for observers to accurately rank intelligent people in order from most  to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest. “While smartness is necessary for competent elites,” Hayes retorts, “it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.”
Read more. [Image: Random House]

Why Our Elites Are Failing Us and How to Fix It

In an engrossing passage from Twilight of the Elites, a new book about the American meritocracy and its failures, author Chris Hayes directs our attention to an all but forgotten moment in 2009, when debate raged about who President Obama should appoint to a Supreme Court vacancy. Sonia Sotomayor was widely thought to be on his short list. But various liberal commentators, including The New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen and Harvard’s Lawrence Tribe, argued that she should be passed over for alternative candidates who they regarded as observably smarter. “Keep in mind the person under discussion is someone who, from humble beginnings in the Bronx, had gained entry to Princeton, graduated summa cum laude, and gone on to Yale Law, where she edited the Yale Law Journal,” Hayes observed. “She had checked off every box on the to-do list of meritocratic achievement. Apparently it wasn’t enough.” 

In his telling, that’s one example of the “Cult of Smartness” that has taken hold in American life, a pathology characterized by the mistaken assumption that intelligence is an ordinal quality — that it is possible for observers to accurately rank intelligent people in order from most  to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest. “While smartness is necessary for competent elites,” Hayes retorts, “it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.”

Read more. [Image: Random House]

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    On my reading list.
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