Saturday, 20 June 2009

Meritocracy---Learning from King Arthur

Why did Britain dominate the world for so long? Why does Anglo Saxon culture still dominate the world? These are important questions that have long interested serious scholarship.

Many people (eg Landes) point to early development of property rights, rule of law, limitations on sovereign power, development of an individualistic yeoman culture and the early acceptance of learning and innovation as important answers to these questions.

But most of these ideas can be traced back to the seeds sown in the legend of King Arthur.

Review the legend and you see a king preoccupied with good and efficient government even to the point of developing constraints on himself. He had an advisor in the form of the most learned man of the time. Merlin was not a magician but a wizard who was steeped in knowledge of the times and was known for his wisdom. Thus very early on, England had accepted the role of knowledge, research and wisdom as guides to policy. Indeed policy was subservient to research and knowledge.

The king ruled through a council called the Knights of the Round Table. The knights were chosen for their professionalism which they had to repeatedly prove at tournaments. In those days, law and order required that the sovereign had muscle. For this reason, the knights continuously showed their martial skills at tournaments. But here lay the beginnings of meritocracy!

Once elevated the knight had to take an oath of chivalry and gallantry! Basically this obliged the knight to protect the weak and enforce justice and the law. The concept of honor lay in the knight’s ability to adhere to this code. Herein also lay the roots of noblesse oblige where the strong and the rich took upon themselves the task of looking after the weak thus holding society together.

The combination of enlightened sovereignty, relying on wise and learned counsel, backed by a professional executive, while establishing a culture of honor, gallantry and noblesse oblige have been at the heart of almost all successful civilizations. From Rome to Japan, mythology and history will re-affirm this combination at work.

Even the latest corporate gurus talk of this combination of professionalism, meritocracy, honor, and noblesse oblige for success.

Developing countries still do not recognized professionalism. Most appointments at any level are made on the basis of official favor! Merit is word not known. Swordsmen are appointed locksmiths; locksmiths are running mints while blacksmiths are printing books.