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Meritocracy is a system of government based on rule by ability rather than by wealth or social position. Ironically, the term was first used in a pejorative sense in Michael Young's 1958 book, the Rise of the Meritocracy which was written from a standpoint of an future in which one's social place was determined by IQ plus effort. In the book, this social system ultimately leads to social revolution which as the masses overthrows the elite, who have become arrogant and disconnected with the feelings of the public.

Despite the negative origin of the word, there are many who believe that a meritocratic system is a good thing for society. Proponents of meritocracy argue that a meritocratic system is more just and more productive than other systems, and allows for the end to distinctions based on social class or race.

There have been other criticisms of the notion of meritocracy in addition to Young's original criticism that system in which social position was determined by objective characteristics would still be unegalitarian and unstable. One which is often made by proponents of critical theory concept argue that merit is defined by the power elite simply to legitimize a system in which social status is actually determined by class, birth, and wealth.

Most governmental systems contain some element of meritocracy. For instance, in most representative democracies, parties and voters use the performance of candidates in campaigning or in office to determine who should be re-elected and what senior positions they may hold. Elected officers usually also hire expert advisers to help formulate policies. However, pure meritocracies are virtually unknown. Some would suggest that the military ranking system is perhaps the closest system to pure meritocracy which can easilly be found. Others might suggest the Wikipedia itself is such a circumstance, due to the power structure of the Wikipedia.

See: aristocracy