Administrative Elites in Western Europe (19th/20th Centuries),
|Reviewed By:||Demetrios Argyriades|
|Reviewed in:||Public Administration Review|
|Date accepted online:||02/11/2007|
|Published in print:||Volume 67, Issue 2, Pages 343-366|
The Need for Comparative Studies in Historical Depth
The making of elites is deeply rooted in the political culture and historical experience of the different countries. Running through this range of influences, one detects the force of values deeply embedded in the substance of the educational system, established legal systems, sociopolitical movements, prevailing ideologies, and social structures. How else can one explain the remarkable resilience and striking continuity in the role and composition of the elites in Europe-though not only on that continent-in the midst of a sea change?
Still in the 1950s, no university course on administrative systems in England or France would have failed to dwell extensively on public service reform, which, in both cases, meant a study of the evolution of the administrative class in Britain or its analog in France. Remarkably, in both cases, these two groups represented a very small proportion of the civil service staff, which stood out for their homogeneity in background and education. The fascination with these groups was reflected in the abundance of literature about them. It came from many sources: practitioners, of course, but also political scientists, sociologists, and even fiction writers. To be sure, there were apologists, as well as adversaries, whose numbers increased greatly in times of crisis.
Peter Barberis and Kevin Theakston sum up the saga of reform in the United Kingdom and the debate that it prompted from the mid-19th century onward. Both, however, innovate. Barberis, though focusing attention on so-called Whitehall Mandarins, casts the net of his study much wider to embrace three other prominent groups-cabinet ministers, judges, and bishops. The inclusion is useful in that it highlights the decisive role of two factors-social structure and education-in preserving the enduring homogeneity of the British ruling elite. In slightly more than a century, the dominance of Oxbridge and the Clarendon "public" schools remains nothing less than spectacular. Theakston's detailed analysis of statistical data on the background, education, and Whitehall career paths of permanent secretaries, mostly since 1945, bears out this conclusion. It appears that despite the recommendations of the Fulton Committee Report (1966-68) to broaden the higher civil service, and in spite of certain changes engineered by Mrs. Thatcher and her successors, the essential career structure of the Whitehall elite has not been modified in any drastic way during the past half century.
In this regard, whether the Ivy League phenomenon in the United States presents some similarities could be a subject of research and of debate. We need to be reminded, on the other hand, that such comparisons must take into account the many idiosyncrasies of the American system. This is the subject of a chapter by Kwang-Hoon Lee and Jos Raadschelders, "Between Amateur Government and Career Civil Service: The American Administrative Elite in Cross-Time and Cross-National Perspectives." The title suggests some of the latest and enduring differences that mark approaches to government and public administration in the United States and Europe, respectively.
Politicization in the United States contrasts with a high degree of professionalization in Europe. Yet there have been extensive changes over time, with evolving concepts of government, relations between politics and administration, and public service structures. In spite of Reaganomics and persisting attacks on "big government," it is interesting to note that in 2002, the total size of government, in terms of the aggregate number of public servants compared to the population, was no smaller in the United States than in "bureaucratic" Europe. Understandably, however, the ratio of political versus administrative officeholders was larger and had grown (213). Moreover, according to Lee and Raadschelders, the influence and role of not only top civil servants but also the middle ranks have risen over time.
It would be fair to argue that, in Europe, no two countries more closely approximate the Weberian model and no two countries, other than France and Germany, have exerted over time a more enduring influence on that continent and beyond. Germany and France are the subject of six chapters, almost evenly divided between German and French. However, for those readers whose linguistic skills exclude knowledge of these two languages, English summaries are provided in the last part of the book. These chapters combine historical depth and comparative perspectives.
The parallels with Britain, albeit not the United States, deserve a passing mention. In Germany, as in France, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, institutionalization and professionalization advanced slowly but steadily. In both countries, these two trends faced counterpressures emanating from the profound conservatism of the social elites and political establishments. They were aided greatly by the force of a legal tradition and the pervasive influence of law in public administration, but most of all by the value accorded to education and the related role of the
For obvious reasons, Germany, France, and Britain are charted seas for students of public administration in the United States, but it would be fair to say that much less is known of Italy, Portugal, and Bulgaria. Therefore, it would be difficult to exaggerate the value of the chapters on these three countries, contributed by Guido Melis, Pedro Tavares de Almeida, and Franois Frison-Roche and Svetla Stoeva, respectively. Tavares de Almeida and Melis bring a wealth of comparative data and historical perspectives to their studies on Portugal and Italy. These countries share far more than an imperial legacy and a painfully long interlude under a fascist dictatorship. A strong tradition of governance under the rule of law and sizable nobilities within the ruling elites developed in both cases in spite of frequent wars or foreign occupation. However, by comparison with Britain, France, and Germany, neither country saw the emergence of the central government service as an elite profession. True, in the case of Portugal, Tavares's study focuses on the period 1851 to 1910. It appears, however, that in this regard, the situation has not substantially changed to date. As for neighboring Italy, the concluding paragraphs of Melis's chapter sum up its predicament well: "In the 1990s and then at the beginning of the 21st century, Italy appeared a country not only with weak administrative elites but, now and then, even devoid of administrative elites .... At the decisive moment of European integration, the Italian administrative system, deprived of a strong administrative leadership, seems to be weaker than those of the other partners" (198).
The chapter on Bulgaria is a case study of transition and reform after the fall of communism. As in most other countries of Eastern and Central Europe, the experience has been mixed, with politicization and the multiple manifestation of a surge of corruption in government representing the downsides of a drastic change of regime.
It seems apt to conclude this review with four chapters that stand out because they explore not countries or institutions but sources, approaches, and methods. Thus, Erk Volkmar Heyen's chapter is less a case study of the Russian civil service under the czars (let alone an evaluation of the literary merits of Tolstoy and Gogol) than a pointed reminder of the value of global prose as a rich source of insights on the character, predicament, lifestyles, and contributions of a universally noticed, albeit not invariably liked-let alone respected-profession. In the European context, who can ignore the importance of a Dickens, a Balzac, a Kafka, a C.P. Snow, a Milan Kundera, a Gogol, or a Tolstoy in seeking to fathom the nature of the bureaucratic phenomenon? In a very similar vein, Franois Monnier, Guy Thullier, and Jean Pierre Dedieu remind us of the role and power of personality in public administration and, therefore, of the value of biographical studies-"prosopography" is the term that Dedieu employs-in developing an understanding of the dynamics of governance and dispelling preconceptions so graphically expressed as in the "dead hand of bureaucracy." According to Monnier and Thullier, disregard of personality reflects self-imposed limitations in the study of the elite, a profound misunderstanding of their role and function, and possibly a conscious rejection of the very concept itself. In their view, much can be gained from the study of personalities in which abundant sources (archives, etc), hitherto little explored, can be put to good use.
Dedieu uses the senior cadres of 16th-century Spain and France to demonstrate the value of biographical sources, institutional profiles, personal archives, and annals for an accurate appreciation and insightful understanding of the dynamics at play in the progress of organization and the work of prominent leaders. Changing what needs to be changed, a similar remark may well be made on the importance of the studies of the
In-depth, incisive analyses of major trends and policies and the application of historical data and biographical sources may shed much-needed light, help place generalizations about the public service in a much better perspective, and help avoid the stereotypes, exaggerated claims, and resulting distortions to which lack of comparison and historical depth have led. How very refreshing to read in Dedieu's account of wartime corrupt practices in 18th-century Spain that "raising an army costs nothing to the King. He simply delegates the task to an entrepreneur who reimburses himself by selling commissions and patents, which he may have received in blank forms from the King. Often, the entrepreneur may even make a profit" (292; my translation). It would appear, accordingly, that the practice of outsourcing is manifestly older than we may like to think and that in "reinventing government," some New Public Management advocates, bereft of historical insights, may have simply reinvented the wheel.