Meritocracy and resentment

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Lately it has become fashionable to speak of a ‘political meritocracy’ in Chinese political culture, which contrasts with the liberal ‘electoral democracy’ of the west. Here, however, I consider the moral psychology of an emotion that arguably shadows the history of meritocratic practices in China and in liberal democracies: the emotion of resentment, expressed by agents who consider themselves to be wronged by the high-stakes competition for status, income and power inherent in these practices. I examine the unstable nexus between this emotion and these practices and draw on Confucian, Qing era vernacular literature and modern studies of educational credentialism for insights into how the potentially destabilizing, destructive manifestations of resentment can be mitigated and channelled into less destructive, dissenting political and cultural expression. I argue that, on balance, electoral democracies have better resources for mitigating such resentment than does the ‘political meritocracy’ attributed to Chinese political culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1146-1164
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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