Should American society operate according to the logic of meritocracy or according to some other idea of justice?
When it comes to legal issues and justice, and even some political appointments, I definitely think there needs to be a balance between meritocracy and democracy. Unfortunately (like that poster says in the back of someone's classroom in your school) "What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular."
Democracy alone, in everything, could be very dangerous. Can you imagine an open vote for every criminal trial? I mean, even juries must be selected. Of course no system is perfect, but the more we strive for a balance between these two, I think, the closer we get to excellence.
Society is generally based on a merit system. You get what you earn--or what someone thinks your skills, time, energy, or whatever else they value are worth. That is our system, but it's a little disconcerting to be at the mercy of another flawed (imperfect) human being's judgment of my worth. I'll pick justice, if I have a choice.
I agree with the above post. Merit is a very subjective term. When hiring or electing people we consider their merits based on our perception of how qualified they are for the position - and many times they prove unqualified. In a business, I have hired people who interviewed very well, but could not perform the tasks for which they were hired. Democracy is in some sense a guard against subjective meritocracy in that we have majority rule, and we hope that the more people are considering a candidate, the less chance of errors in judgement regarding their qualifications.
If you look at one aspect of operating according to a meritocracy, you might find a few interesting answers. One thing that, ostensibly, is very meritocratic is the college admission system. They would have us believe that the best candidates academically and otherwise are admitted to the "best" schools.
Of course if you look at the development of the admissions process as it stands today you will find that it was changed from a strictly merit based system (pass or score the best on the entrance exams and you get in) to one also fraught with subjective measures so that admissions committees had huge power to decide based on subjective criteria as well as merit or more objective ones.
The problem with the merit based idea is that it is often based on false assumptions, ones that are eventually going to be proven false. You could look at the banking fiasco of the past ten years as another. The investment bankers were considered the best of the best, yet they presided over and watched as a small group of them destroyed the economy of most of the world while making themselves super rich.