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The term 'meritocracy', like 'nuclear family', is commonly used in a posititve way. However, both were originally meant in a negative sense. 'Nuclear family' was supposed to contrast negatively with the idea of the extended family, yet is nowadays used by many as a negative contrast with the lone parent family.

Michael Young, in his 1958 book The Rise of Meritocracy used the term as part of his thesis that a meritocracy, unlike the British aristocracy, constituted a threat because they would feel no obligation to those that they ruled. Nowadays it is assumed that a meritocratic system is a good thing, with the most talented rising to the top, though without any obligation, as Lord Young suggested, to feel obliged towards the people they rule. Worse still, the emergence of a heritocracy among the supposed meritocracy negates what was originally meant to be a negative concept.

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