There are three sorts of aristocracy: natural, elective, and hereditary. The first is suited only to simple people; the third is the worst of any government. The second is the best; it is aristocracy properly so-called.
Gist of Idea
Natural aristocracy is primitive, and hereditary is dreadful, but elective aristocracy is best
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract (tr Cress) , III.05)
This seems like the modern idea of 'meritocracy'. The Chinese civil service exams, introduced into Europe in the nineteenth century.
Rousseau,Jean-Jacques: 'The Basic Political Writings', ed/tr. Cress,Donald A. [Hackett 1987], p.181