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Can meritocracy replace democracy? A conceptual framework
journal contributionposted on 2020-08-17, 00:00 authored by Baogang HeBaogang He, Mark E Warren
Influenced by the example of China, a literature is emerging that advocates a modernized version of Confucian meritocracy, often as an alternative to liberal democracy and even democracy itself. We disagree with these arguments. A critical examination of the Chinese practices of meritocracy within the context of a regime that remains authoritarian is noticeably absent in the literature. This article addresses this gap and, in its findings, argues that political meritocracy, despite first appearances, does not offer a better alternative to liberal democracy. In contrast to many analyses, we do not view ‘meritocracy’ as a regime type but rather as an aspirational ideal that political leaders should have in merit their positions, relative to their functions. We develop a theoretical framework for comparing meritocratic features of regimes centred on a distinction between authoritarian meritocracy and democratic meritocracy. The framework brings into focus the ways in which the authoritarian features of the Chinese political systems undermine meritocratic claims and aspirations.