Approaches to the study of political meritocracy

Baher Hussein
2 min readMay 9, 2022


What qualities and characteristics make a public servant in a western democracy? I explore this question by focusing on political meritocracy in the context of western democracies. Political meritocracy is the view that members of the legislative or judicial branch as well as government bureaucrats must be chosen and promoted based on their individual skills, virtues, character, and performance. I examine three approaches to political meritocracy (the historical, the institutional and the ideal theory). I conclude that in an ideal society, a janitor, a rich businessman and an educated policy maker should all have an equal opportunity of being a public servant.

Utilizing various approaches to political theory was helpful for me to begin to answer my broad research question. The textualist approach to political theory helped me dissect the texts of Aristotle and Machiavelli. Reading these texts without an agenda or presuppositions alongside one another made me realize that Aristotle and Machiavelli see a virtuous leader as having quite different qualities. A history of political thought approach helped me trace back the positionally and influences of various thinkers in the history of political theory.

The theorist can create a conversation between the most influential theorists in the history of political theory. This celebration of conversation can help us see the similarities and differences between the great thinkers in political theory.

An institutional approach gives us a bird’s eye view of a variety of institutions and their practices. This approach also opens the space for normative critiques. An ideal theory approach allows the theorist to use the imagination and provide a view of how society ought to look like. Lastly, empirical research and normative analysis can help the theorist find gaps and contradictions in normative principles and policy outcomes.

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