Meritocracy – Leadership (Part 3) with Socrates, Genghis Khan and Frankopan

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

“The invaders, wrote one historian, ‘came, they sapped, they burned, they slew, they plundered and they departed’. I wish I had never been born, wrote another, so I would not have to live through such traumas. …he went on; the Mongols, on the other hand ‘spared none. They killed women, men, children, ripped open the bodies of the pregnant and slaughtered the unborn’.”

“Every living being – from women, children, and the elderly to livestock and domestic animals – was butchered as the order was given that not even dogs or cats should be left alive. All the corpses were piled up in a series of enormous pyramids as gruesome warnings of the consequences of standing up to the Mongols. It was enough to convince other towns to lay down arms and negotiate: the choice was one of life or death.”

Excerpts from Peter Frankopan: The Silk Roads. A New History of the World.

This is a description of the operation of the Mongols during their conquests which some historians claim to have surpassed even those of Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan began this expansion, and it was continued by his sons and others. They were reputed to be brutal, and smote anyone on their way hip and thigh. They were also reported to be very filthy and without manners, to the extent of emptying their bowels in public spaces while engaging in a conversation. However, wherever they went, they conquered including those with more advanced civilizations. The question is how did such a people acquire the sophistication required for such large scale military conquests, and to govern empires? This excerpt below may help us with the answer:

“He arranged his most devoted followers around him both as personal bodyguard and an iron inner circle made up of warriors upon whom he could rely unquestioningly. This was a MERITOCRATIC SYSTEM where ability and loyalty were more important than tribal background or shared kinship with the leader.”

Excerpt from: Peter Frankopan. The Silk Roads. A New History of the World.


The kind of carnage described during the Mongolian conquests is similar to what has been experienced in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, this informed my decision to select the Mongols as an example. The leader that will succeed must select lieutenants based on merit. We have seen the example of how this made the Mongols succeed despite lacking in so many things. They had people with the competence to copy and replicate beneficial ideas and information.  If Genghis Khan could use meritocracy for evil, we can use it for good. We have found ourselves where we are, and the situation looks unsalvageable, but we have to move forward. Whenever one expresses optimism that the future can be better, the pessimists ask where we are going to start from. I would think that considering merit in everything we do is a good start. The good thing about meritocracy is that it perpetuates excellence; it ensures that brilliant talents spring up and bring a different perspective to things, thus instead of having “one great guy”, you end up with several excellent persons. Our problems in the developing world are certainly of epic proportions, but I do not see those problems overpowering millions of excellent brains, if only these potentials would be given the chance. The irony on potential is well captured here by Plato:

“… I cannot help observing that any one who sees anything great or powerful, immediately has the feeling that—’If the owner only knew how to use his great and noble possession, how happy would he be, and what great results would he achieve!” Excerpt From: Plato. “Laws.” iBooks.

Plato in academy

Plato in his Academy (students must have been selected based on merit)

Plato on merit:

“… that the stronger shall rule, and the weaker be ruled?

… and the greatest of all, is, that the wise should lead and command, and the ignorant follow and obey

Excerpts From: Plato. “Laws.” iBooks.

Without recourse to merit, disorder will be prevalent as Plato states:

“The probability is that ignorance will be a disorder especially prevalent among kings, because they lead a proud and luxurious life.” Excerpt From: Plato. “Laws.” iBooks.



Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher