“It is at once humane and just to give preference to one’s friends.” (1)
The notion of merit is very dear to the right liberal. Whenever he hears of favoritism, the right liberal begins to shift uneasily in his chair and may attempt to ease his discomfort by issuing a warm discourse on the utility and morality of merit. He has a bad case of what men hipper than I might call, “Muh merit.”
O, that estates, degrees, and offices
Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor
Were purchased by the merit of the wearer! (2)
One can hardly blame the right liberal, since his worldview was born in bourgeois resentment against the unmerited privileges of the old aristocracy, and no sooner had he cleaned from his sword the blood of that dragon, then he was beset by a heckling proletariat mob that was not impressed by meritocratic blather.
The right liberal persisted, although he has not always prevailed. In speech, at least, he has stoutly defied the envious multitude. Over their heckling, cat-calls and angry demands, he has for two centuries pronounced with bland complacency:
“All exclusive privileges abolished; the road to preferment open to talent and virtue.” (3)
He applauded when Napoleon told him:
“La carriére ouverte aux talents,”
[A clear pathway for merit of whatever kind] (4)
He cheered when Andrew Jackson said:
“Merit shall be the road to preferment.” (5)
And when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. asked to be judged on nothing but “the content of his character” (6), our dear old right liberal broke down and wept tears of thanksgiving.
* * * * *
Dissenting from these liberal pieties, all sane people know that merit is a secondary virtue, and that at the head of all ethical reasoning stands the great question, “who is my friend?” If it is in my gift to bestow some boon, to clear some pathway, to open some road of preferment, it is sheer wickedness for me to distribute these rewards on the basis of merit alone. Lucifer had every merit! Except the cardinal merit.
Which is loyalty.
In his Laws, Plato denies that the best soldier is he who is “bravest in war.” By bravest, he means best at fighting, most excellent in the handling of sword and spear, most gifted with what we might call the martial merits. Such a solider is, Plato says, “only fourth rate,” for in a soldier, the “greatest virtue” is not skill, but “loyalty in the hour of danger.” Quoting with approval the poet Theognis, Plato tells us,
“he who is faithful in civil broil is worth his weight in gold and silver” (7).
The left has always understood loyalty in a way that the right has not, and this is one very large reason for its success in our “civil broil.” The left has understood that it advances by boosting its friends and burying its enemies. Right liberals have operated on the contrary principle. Under the malign spell of muh merit, right liberals would promote their own assassins if those assassins were the best marksmen. This is why right liberals so often lose in the “civil broil,” why our institutions are now largely staffed by leftists, and why our cultural graveyards are filled with men of the right who have knife wounds in their backs.
* * * * *
Doctrinal nepotism also explains the recent “scandal” of the seven bogus articles that were published (or about to be published) in what are, truth be told, bogus academic journals that serve no purpose other than to advance the careers of bogus scholars. The authors of the seven bogus articles explain that their hoax demonstrates that,
“Just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature.” (8)
In other words, you can publish just about anything that demonstrates loyalty to the left. As Lord Melbourne reputedly said of the Order of the Garter,
“There’s no damn merit in it”
And that is the key to its success.
In closing, I should add that nepotism is not an evangelizing faith. It is nepotism for me but not for thee, as far as the sly nepotists are concerned. Thus, only some of the men who champion muh merit are under the spell of this incantation. Most should be recognized as the spellbinders.
“It will always happen that he who is not your friend will invite you to neutrality, while he who is your friend will call on you to declare yourself openly in arms.” (9)
(1) “Russia and the Peace Congress,” The Fortnightly Review (1919). The quoted line was written to protest the betrayal of moderate Russian reformers to the Bolsheviks.
(2) Merchant of Venice, II.9
(3) “Address to the King of France,” Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register(April 30, 1814).
(4) “I take it that the real essence of democracy was fairly enough defined by the First Napoleon when he said that the French Revolution meant ‘La carriére ouverte aux talents’—a clear pathway for merit of whatever kind.” James Russell Lowell, Democracy: and Other Papers (1898).
(5) Andrew Jackson quoted in Isaac Watts Crane, Address Delivered Before the Jackson Convention of Delegates (1824).
(6) Rev. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream . . .,” Speech delivered on August 28, 1963.
(7) Laws, book 1.
(8) Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship,” Areo (October 2, 2018).
(9) Machiavelli, The Prince, chap. 21.