Meritocracy as an Ideology for Neoliberalism: A Korean Case

Journal of of Confucian Philosophy and Culture 41:65-84 (2024)
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This paper considers meritocracy as a new social problem in Korea that has emerged since the IMF crisis in 1997. Drawing upon Daniel Markovitz’ recent analysis of meritocracy in America, I emphasize the connection between the neoliberalization of society and the popularization of the belief in meritocratic justice. I pay particular attention to the controversy over the conversion of irregular workers at the Incheon International Airport Corporation into regular employees and show that this severe conflict among people who do not belong to the few rich illustrates the deceptive nature of meritocracy. As I argue, it not only widens the wealth gap between the wealthy few and the many poor but also engenders various forms of antagonism in society, transforms humans into a form of capital, incapacitates the register of the societal, and stirs up animosity towards discussions of political correctness. My claim is that while meritocratic rules are essential for a modern democratic and liberal society, they should be regarded as rules subordinate to a higher moral and political principle, such as solidarity.

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