Edelgard and “meritocracy” - an essay
In this essay I wish to adress the common argument that “meritocracy bad, therefore edelgard bad” & the logical leaps therein.
Before we begin, I’d like to stress that she doesn’t even use the word “meritocracy” & they’re not even looking at it’s modern definition but reacting to the way it has been used as a fighting word to denigrate the poor specificically in the post reagan modern USA & then assuming Edelgard means the exact same thing by that without bothering to examine what she actually says & in what context.
Modern capitalism & the way it uses rhetoric of merit as an excuse is bad & with its reduction of human value to their moneymaking ability, definitely inherently ableist, I agree totally.
But 3H does NOT take place in the modern world. Progress is always relative to what came before. It*s progress away from entrenched problems.
It’s a total failure to even imagine a world different from the sucky one we live in - that’s exactly what tolkien meant by that saying that if we’re prisoners we have a duty to escape.
Edelgard doesn’t live in a capitalist society nor is she bringing about capitalism (if anything Claude’s the one talking of free trade & giving the merchants what they want, though he is almost certainly playing them much like the church)
And the main component of capitalism - factory owners, rich elites who owns large swathes of companies or real estate - is nowhere to be found.
In our world that cropped up because industrialization made owning factories, offices, trade etc. more lucrative that just owning the land, so factory owners replaced landed lords, essentially promising the peasants freedom if they helped them overthrow the kings but granting them only in a limited manner - the flawed inequal democracies that resulted were a compromise between peasants and factory owners.
But by and large the nobles are very much in the same niche as the factory owners today - they own the land and get special trade privileges (the means of production), they often abuse the populace with impunity, the peasants are very poor.
Edelgard cracks down on corruption & special trade privileges even during the timeskip.
And like the rich of our world, they have a self-mythology propaganda justification based on merit. Yes, there is the “by the grace of god” argument, too, but crests give you extra fighting power, and if you look at the Ferdinand support for example you do see that Fodlan’s nobles - especially the adrestian ones - see themselves as a honed elite that is trained from birth & therefore better at ruling.
Not quite the same argument a modern billionaire uses - who is very invested in convincing you that they didn’t get their power and wealth by their birth - but a myth nonetheless.
Edelgard’s not bringing “meritocracy” as in brutal competition opposed to caring social safety nets, but as opposed to unearned privilege.
If you wanted to compare that to any kind of sociohistorical context, you might look at Napoleon’s peasant liberation or the implementation of civil service examinations in ancient China.
That wasn’t an all good thing - In the same way that Europe is very impacted by the legacy of rome both good & bad (there are persisting bad attitudes toward war, authority and agriculture for example), east asia still has a lot of education obsession causing pressure & unhealthy work habits to this day.
But if you compared ancient china before the reforms to ancient China after it definitely got better, by ancient china standards.
We couldn’t expect the people back then to come up with all advances up to our exact modern values at once (not can we be sure how much of our values will stand the test of time)
Considering that Fodlan’s ideal of merit is basically what Lorenz, Ingrid and Ferdinand are embodying for their respective countries, and that she stocks her inner circle with very different leaders, it is no stretch to say that she wants to shake up the social ideas of what even counts as merit, to make ppl value other things that crest power or elite upbringing, the same way we might say today that hey, cleaners are valuable actually.
Edelgard is basically doing her world’s equivalent of taxing the billionaires - reducing the power of what the overprivilieged class happens to be, & it’s obvious from her talk of how she despises inequality that she would hardly be for rule of factory owners.
When Edelgard says that she wants to make Fodlan more merit-based, that has to be taken in the context that she lives in a world where your birth determines everything, incompetent nobles can be as lazy as they want, and no one cares how competent you are if you lack a crest, title or both.
If she looked at our world, she would quickly see through the propaganda that it is supposedly “merit based” and object to how wealth and national origin obviously dictate wealth & opportunity while talented people go to waste in sweatshops.
Now of course there have been arguments even against “perfect” meritocracy - one is the devaluation of working class jobs.
To this one could answer that this is more a flaw in how merit is conceived. Historically there have been societies that exahlted blue collar work, artisans or farming.
The second argument, however, is not so easy to get rid of: That is devalues people who can’t just go & produce like machines, especially the unemployed, the sick, the mentally ill, the disabled…
But at this point we’ve got to lean back & get our definitions straight, & make it clear what we even mean by “meritocracy” -
Because if we’re just talking about the basic idea that competency should be rewarded, I don’t think too many people disagree with that. We might see a problem with valueing the competency of a doctor or lawyers dispropottionally over the competency of a cleaner or a bricklayer, but we all, by and large, want the people who prepare our goods and services to be competent. Maybe we wouldn’t exalt it over all over qualities, but most of us admire skill.
Of course the problem with the political rhetoric of “meritocracy” is that it goes beyond just rewarding skill, first with the afore mentioned rewarding of only some skills, but mostly with the reversion or overemphasis of the above: Saying that skill is the only thing that matters (to the exclusion of any inheent human value) & that those who don’t have it are worthless.
First I want to throw out the thought that this is a product of the production/profit orientation of capitalism, but one could of course imagine, as many sci fi authors have done, a non-capitalistic society that is still obsessed with merit at the exclusion of those who are not oriented towards productivity & care more about fun & relationships than producing, or those who can’t produce because they are sick or disabled.
So now we must ask ourselves the question: Which of those views does Edelgard actually hold?
Cause I want you to notice that they’re not the same. “Skill should be rewarded & jobs should be done by competent people” is not the same position as “Skill is the ONLY thing that matters and if you don’t have it you are worthless”
In one position, skill is a good quality, in the other, it's a prerequisite to worth.
Most of us here probably agree that skill is admirable (we like and reblog pretty fanarts), but not that the unskilled are worthless.
Looking at her superficially I could perhaps see how someone might suspect her of the latter - She gravitates to & surrounds herself with skilled intelligent people and she’s obscenely superpowered.
It’s an misunderstanding that Dimitri makes in-universe, he accuses her of “only benefitting the strong”
But note that her answer to that is that she wants to empower the weak to no longer be weak & decide their own lives, instead of accepting charity. (Contrast with how Dimitri romanticizes abyss, for example, even as Claude points out that locking the poor underground is hardly help.)
Of course she can say many things, as rulers often give florid speeches.
But let’s have a look at what she actually thinks. How does edelgard actually act towards people who struggle or aren’t productivity oriented?
This is one of her lecture questions from part I:
“When one professor lectures many students, some will inevitably have trouble keeping up, while others will get too far ahead in their studies. I wonder how this problem might be solved…”
Her favorite answer is “lectures should be optional”.
Which part of that sounds like a bell curve type eugenicist “only skill & intelligence counts” kind of person? She wants the struggling students to be taken proper care of, not just the good ones.
Look at the speeches she gives to Petra & Lysithea about not giving up on themselves & wanting them to move forward from an empowered mindset. Look at how she tells Lysithea to take it easy & not overtax her body. (Not "don't whine & keep working")
Look at Bernadetta - very much an ‘unproductive’ individual with great struggles & limitation. Does Edelgard dismiss her as a weakling? Not at all. Not even in the C support. She makes sure to stress her good qualities when introducing her, makes an effort to be more patient so as not to scare her, & they become good friends.
Look at the Linhardt support - at first she mistakes his behavior for youthful lazyness (He’s 16 after all) & wants to get him to apply himself, but when she realizes that he just has different priorities, she respects that, & works to get him the exact sort of position that he wants. No “suck it up!” or dismissing such a different lifestyle. Nor does she chide him for hating fighting at any point.
Edelgard does everything in her power to accomodate people so they can do their best. She sees the value even in strange unsocial people that society would dismiss. She found a job for someone like Jeritza & helped him, she doesn’t hesitate to make Dorothea a general or Manuela the prime minister no matter what people say or if they don’t act like typical politicians.
Also, when she talks about choosing her sucessor, she wants them to be brilliant/competent yes, but also kind and 'an outsider' (ie, impartial) - hardly a PoV of "if you are skilled you can do whatever you want and if you aren't no other quality matters". She's prizing kindness & objectivity just as highly, something which is absolutely reflected throughout all her actions & behaviors towards others.
She doesn't devalue living quietly & low key without making waves - in fact, that is her dream life, which she deems superior to achievement and ambition, which are to her just tools to archieve good aims.
She couldn’t be further from having a narrow definition of what a “valuable” person is, she is all ABOUT empowering people to take control of their own lives, no pity-driven charity, no paternalism, none of that. This is one of my favorite traits about her, so I can’t help but get mad when people accuse her of being the exact opposite.
But maybe the biggest argument is abyss. This is where the genuine underclass lives, poor, struggling, traumatized, refugees etc.
Edelgard isn’t as vocal during Cindered Shadows as Claude - she can’t blow her cover & just isn’t as expressive personality wise. But she’s the one who makes everybody swear to take care of Abyss no matter who wins.
And her route is the one where, instead of telling you that they lost people, Hapi tells you that they’ve all been pretty much fine over the timeskip.
If you want to help the struggling & the poor and those who don't have "conventional" skills, you should back edelgard.
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