book hack

The Tyranny of Merit

Michael J. Sandel

5 mins

3 key insights

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The Tyranny of Merit proposes a new way of understanding achievement that acknowledges the role of luck in victory, encourages humility, and welcomes politics working for the common good.


The Tyranny of Merit

The Tyranny of Merit

by Michael J. Sandel


We live in an era of winners and losers, in a world that favors those who are already more fortunate than others. The populist protests stoked by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump reflect the hollowness of the promise that 'you can make it if you try.' But how can a system based on merit, regardless of other more pressing variables, be fair?

Michael J. Sandel argues that trying is not enough to make it in a society that fosters inequality and halts social mobility. Sandel is a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University. He is also the author of the international bestsellers What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? Sandel also hosts the BBC series 'The Global Philosopher' that investigates the philosophical themes that lie underneath the headlines.

In his book, published in 2020, Sandel underscores the ego that a meritocracy fosters among the victors as well as the scathing judgment that it imposes on the unlucky contenders.

Favorite quote

The fortunate are seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate.

- Max Weber, German sociologist

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