On May 9, 2013
In Political Culture
Catholic Church, Constitution of Ireland, De Tocqueville, Fianna Fail, Magdalene, Morris Tribunal, NESC, Pierre Rosanvallon, Rousseau, Sinn Fein, TLAC, Top Level Appointments Committee
Thank you for this fascinating piece. I would agree that Rosanvallon’s insights are particularly useful to any discussion of our own political culture. I think we rely too much on anglo-american literature for analysis and the perspectives on offer from European theoretical sources are neglected.
What is of particular interest here is the idea of the civil service as an intrinsic part of the democratic project. In particular the process which you illustrate above, tellingly, of how the public service dimension of what civil servants do, and thus their role as intermediaries between the state and the citizen as part of a larger democratic project, has latterly become commoditised into a contractual relationship of ‘services provided’ under the market model.
You raise Rosanvallon’s question of how policies devised from the ‘bottom-up’ can still reach the ‘top’? The problem, as I read it, is that the mechanism whereby that should be made possible has been damaged, possibly irretrievably, and almost hopelessly fragmented by the new role in society which has been assigned to civil and public services as ‘contractors’ to the individual citizen, rather than as an arm of the state charged with ensuring the delivery of public services as public goods to all citizens. How can the traditional public service ‘ethos’ be revived? What are the implications if the remnants of that ethos cannot be retrieved, both for the citizen and the state, and reintegrated in the current model of so-called public service reform?
Incidentally, my favourite observation of Rosanvallon is on the subject of transparency as the new democratic ideal, replacing the notion of “the exercise of responsibility as the end of politics” (Rosanvallon, 2008 p.259)
I agree that the public service has been, is being damaged, probably beyond repair.Can Humpty-Dumpty be put together again? What broke him apart?
Some senior civil servants sought a space, independent of politics, that would allow them improve the civil service. They looked to management theory and when ‘New Public Management’ arrived they thought they had found it. Elsewhere, NPM was championed by politicians suspicious of civil servants, in Ireland it was promoted by civil servants suspicious of politicians. NPM recognized a real problem which it badly misdiagnosed. The problem had its origins in the travails of the democratic project and NPM did not realize the impossibility of modernizing the civil service without attention to its place in the design for democracy Why? It is hard not to blame the deplorable so-called ‘political science’ with its obsession with elections and electoral systems, its presumption that the electoral-representative system is the whole of democracy, its indifference to history, to political philosophy.
Do not despair. NPM has failed and the limitations of the contribution of political science in face of the need for reform becomes more and more obvious.. The euro will drop , even here, and the better understandings of democracy and organization now available will have their day even in Ireland, however belatedly.