Frank Litton on policy-making, the civil service and the malaise of Ireland's democracy.

Part 2 – A Transformed Democracy

Sep 14, 12 • The Public SectorNo Comments

In my first post, I outlined the difficulties and incoherencies in the conduct of our politics that contributed to the crisis. In particular, I drew attention to the limitations of the ‘genre’ in which Ministers and civil servants cooperated. The ‘court’ model was, I suggested, no longer working. In this part, I attempt to make good that claim by showing how the quite dramatic changes in our political landscape that became manifest in 1980s have undermined the genre. I do this in two sections. In the first, I outline what the changes have been in terms of the strategy, culture and structure of the state. Having done that, I am in a position to discuss the consequences of the changes for democracy in general and the civil service-political interface in particular.

Section A: The transformation of our political landscape.

States proceed, as do all human endeavours, by finding answers to the recurrent questions; what should be done, how should it be done and why it is worth doing. While the questions draw attention to three distinct areas, they are interrelated. An answer to any one question can unsettle answers given to the others. So, for example, compelling reasons for joining the European Union challenged our institutions (answers that had been given to the how) and our nationalism (answers our culture had given to why). Consequently, in tracing the transformation of our political landscape, I am tracing the results of our efforts to find satisfactory answers to all three questions. For the sake of simplicity, I group the questions under three headings- strategy, culture and structure.  Strategy concerns the important constraints faced by the State as it navigates in the world order, identifying its interests and finding the alliances most likely to advance them. Culture concerns the expectations we have of politics. Structure deals with the institutional arrangements that organise our politics- the design of our democracy. How has the world in which the state seeks to advance and defend its interests changed? How has culture changed? How has the structure of our democracy changed? How have the changes in these three areas interacted with each other?


The changes in the world order have been quite dramatic. The Russian empire has collapsed and the bipolar world of the cold war has been replaced by American dominance in a ‘uni-polar’ world. The dominance is hardly secure and the (relative) certainties provided by world divided into two blocks have gone.  The dynamics of capitalism have unfettered it from links with even the most powerful states. All states must respect the dynamics of a global capitalism that international arrangements have failed to discipline.  Inequalities, conflicting world views and the abuse of powers continue to feed enmities. These are less likely to be expressed in conflicts between states than in the conflict between states and multi-national groupings of terrorists. These developments provide compelling reasons for Ireland’s membership of the European Union and the abandonment of any ambition for national development within an even partially closed economy.


The working out of these strategic imperatives, undoubtedly, changed culture. The rhetoric of nationalism was strained as it accommodated to the new realities. However, there were other more important forces at work changing culture. Rather than attempt to account for these, I will outline their impact. These forces were not confined to Ireland; they were at work across the western world. Though the timing of their impact varied, the trend everywhere was in the same direction: growing individualism. The phenomenon is complex and there are many different accounts of it. I attempt only the briefest sketch in order to indicate its consequences for the conduct of politics.

The growth of individualism is commonly associated with the fading away of grand narratives. These were the frameworks supplied, for example, by religion, nationalism, socialism, the enlightenment project in which individuals orientated themselves in their efforts to live a worthwhile life. Their importance, and hence the significance of their decline, is revealed when we consider the role that narrative plays in helping us conduct our lives. We direct ourselves towards aims and seek the purposes, or goals, that will advance us towards them. Because we have aims and purposes, we have an interest in acquiring the resources to pursue them. So we must engage with those who are not part of our endeavours but upon whose support, or cooperation, we depend. The world of aims and purposes is quite different from that of interests. The former is concerned with evaluations. It draws us into collaboration with those who value what we value. The latter is concerned with power. It draws us into competition with others for our share of scarce resources. We cannot escape either world. Problems and conflicts can arise in each: is this purpose aligned with this aim?  How can this interest be balanced against that? They can also arise between the worlds when what interests dictate conflicts with what aims prescribe. When we recognise that we are, typically, engaged in multiple endeavours, we can see why making our way in the world is so complex.

This complexity is not of the sort that can be resolved by theory or the assertion of principles. It is inherently particular and resists the generalisations that these provide. Narratives can guide us. Narratives of how others managed in similar circumstances can provide a perspective. We can also work through the complexities by putting ourselves in a narrative where the conflicts and tensions are to be ‘resolved’ in the ‘next chapter’. Narrative allows us acknowledge both the givens of our lives (capacities, resources, commitments) and the openness of the future to creative action.

Grand narratives assist us in writing the individual narratives of our lives. They provide both the overall aims towards which our various endeavours could be seen as purposes so facilitating our efforts to find a balance among them. They provide a common world so facilitating our efforts to engage with interests of others remote from our endeavours but upon whom we depend. The trust that comes from a shared narrative mitigates the antagonisms that are never far from relationships of power.

The above account is too ‘individualistic’ in supposing that participation in a narrative was a simple matter of choice. Individuals did not enter a narrative. They found themselves in it. They were recognised in their roles and judged for how they performed them. To leave a narrative, even if it was to transfer allegiance to another respected grand narrative, was not as akin to changing one’s suit or adopting a new style. It was to disentangle yourself from a web of relationships that gave you your identity and the basis for your self-esteem.

From the 1970’s, grand narratives began to lose their influence. The institutions that sustained them lost their authority. The complex of factors pushing this development is not my concern. None the less it is worth noting that this fading away was experienced by many as emancipation. The grand narratives were revealed as traps inhibiting individual flourishing.  They were exposed as ‘ideological’ covers behind which particular interests dominated others for their own benefit. The narratives that promoted the aims and purposes of family life, for example, were judged to serve the interests of patriarchy at considerable cost to women. The Marxist inspired communist narrative, for another example, was accused as allowing a new form of domination in the interests of a (Stalinist) state bureaucracy.

As grand narratives lost influence, it became more and more difficult to talk of aims and purposes in the public domain. The world of interests came to the fore. The assertions of autonomy and equality dominate public discourse signalling the individual’s concerns vis a vis a world of power that threatens both.

The achievements of modern capitalism depend on our willingness to become dependent on those remote from our endeavours. The ramifying division of labour that draws us into wider and wider nets of interdependence and competition are only possible because we trust strangers and are confident that competition does not become violent conflict. The rule of law backed by the power of the state makes an important contribution to establishing this trust, as does the organizational capacities of the modern corporation.  However, these are hardly sufficient. A cultural component that allows us recognise the stranger as someone like ourselves, sharing the same motives and evaluations is also necessary. Grand narratives provided that component. As they depart, trust becomes more problematic. The fact that the new postmodern world is a world of power in which individuals are alert to threats to their autonomy posed by others adds to the problem. Though more attention is paid to trust then heretofore, a damaging trust deficit has yet to emerge. This suggests that states and organizations have adapted to the new circumstances and that new cultural resources have emerged to replace those that grand narratives once deployed to allow us recognise ourselves and each other as participants in the same world. Lipovetsky (Lipovetsky, 1994) give us an intriguing account of what these new resources might be. He points to the importance of fashion as an indicator of identity and tells us how it has developed into a democratic language.

Garments, and personal adornments, have always sent messages. A person’s standing and role could be quickly read from how he dressed.  Lipovetsky reports that up the mid 14th century, the message was entirely social. Dress was a uniform and it told you little or nothing about the individuality of the wearer. During the 14th century, garments lost their uniformity, at least for the upper echelons. It is not that dress codes were abandoned. However it did become possible to exercise personal style in how they were obeyed. Fashion arrives when dress codes become a language for the expression of individuality. In the aristocratic era, these dress codes helped articulate the social hierarchy. You signalled your place in the hierarchy with your dress and your individuality with its style and flair. Fashion remained a prerogative of the upper classes. As capitalism expanded and the middle class grew in numbers and influence, fashion democratised. But it remained a marker of status now largely determined by wealth. Only the rich could afford the materials and command the time and skill to form them into what all recognised as the height of fashion. They supplied the models of style and glamour that were admired from a distance. These were copied but not emulated. From the middle of the twentieth century, fashion became fully democratised. The models whose style was imitated were no longer far away figures; they were friends and co-workers with whom you competed to be the most stylish, the most admired. What individuals wore, where they ate, what cars they drove, where they went on holiday, replaced allegiance to a political party, trade union, or religion as a marker of identity. Individuals could recognise each other as speakers of the increasingly internationalised language of fashion.

Whether or not his large claims for the language of fashion are vindicated, Lipovetsky has identified an important trend in culture. Its implications become clear when we consider some of the characteristics of the fashion ‘identity’. Fashion is fun. It carries no import. We dress, not to display evidence of character but to seduce and impress. Fashion is ahistorical. History does not enter into the consumer’s calculations. He does not have to consult the history of his own style or that of fashion generally.

The traces of these characteristics are easily found in our political culture. The urge to make present positions consistent with the past has disappeared. The web pages of our main political parties, for example, contain no reference to their histories. No anguished conflict is felt between respect for the 1916 rebels and their compatriots who fought for imperial Britain in the First World War. From a present that is detached from the past, both can been seen as commendable and commemorated together when all Irish women and men who died fighting for what ever cause are remembered and honoured. Narratives no longer connect the past to the present. History is no longer a story. It is the ‘family’ album. As we pore over its pages we comment on successes and disgraces, wonder at the weirdness of the past (did they really wear those clothes? think that?).

The characteristics are also found in political commentary. The distance between colour pieces on the Oireachtas and the reports of the fashion correspondent is not large. In both cases, the focus is on style, not substance. So for example, Bertie Ahern’s fashion faux pas in sporting a yellow pullover is better known and more commented upon than his views on social partnership, why it is necessary and what contribution it can make.  The more serious commentary that might be supposed to be concerned with such issues is far more concerned to signal the ‘correct’ response to issues than it is in analysing them. People have always selected a newspaper to be told what right-minded people like them were (should) be thinking. They are still told but with less and less attention to supporting arguments.

Lipovetsky sketches a convincing picture of the style of our individualistic culture. However, it would be a mistake to suppose that it is all style and no substance. There is substance to the culture. The substance remains democratic. Nonetheless, it is a new mode of democracy; one that rebalances two elements found within the democratic tradition. The first is the relationship between democracy and society; the second the relationship between democracy and power. Traditionally, politicians have sought support for their visions of a good society and their proposals for bringing it closer. It this way democracy has made citizens responsible for their society. Democracy has also reflected the citizens’ mistrust of the small elites that control the state’s power. It demands that they be held accountable for the exercise of that power. In the new, individualistic, democratic culture the emphasis shifts decidedly to the latter. 1

This is not surprising. The movements for improving, or transforming society that democracy made possible were mobilised by grand narratives. These explained why thing were the way they were and how they could be improved. So, for example, the socialist narrative related social injustices to capitalism and sought remedies in replacing, or at least disciplining it. Nationalism blamed deformed societies on colonial repression and sought remedies in liberation from imperial powers. Conservative narratives blamed unrealisable ambitions to manufacture a new society. Explanations in these terms are far less common. 2

This does not mean, of course, that citizens are now satisfied with social conditions. It does mean that explanations for failings are found elsewhere. Two terms dominate the discussion of social ills: human rights and accountability. The terms are frequently deployed separately but they come together in explaining why bad things have happened and go on happening.  The question why the human rights of this or that group have been abused or ignored which once would have been answered in terms of  capitalism, or colonialism, are now blamed on a lack of accountability. The abuse occurred (occurs) because the powerful failed in their responsibility and they were allowed get away with it. Increased respect for human rights and better systems of accountability will solve the problem.  It is easy to understand why this view persuades: claims to autonomy and equality are rooted in human rights, and accountability is what democracy both demands and promises.


At first sight, these strategic and cultural changes have had little impact on the structure of our democracy. Ireland’s design for democracy is one of Europe’s oldest. It remains the same as it was when laid down in the Constitution of Ireland, 1937. However, closer examination reveals changes in how it operates. For example, while the relationships among the judicial, executive, and legislative arms of the state remain the same, the judicial arm has increased its active oversight over the doings of the executive and the constitutionality of the bills passed by the legislature. The judiciary can be described as ‘functionally representative’. Though not elected, thanks to their role and expertise, they represent the public interest in applying the laws, especially the Constitution, in the public interest.  Their increased activity suggests an increasing lack of faith in the capacities of elected representatives to identify and defend the public interest. The suspicion that this is so is strengthened when we consider the quite remarkable growth in functionally representative bodies outside the court structures. 3 Regulatory bodies, an Bord Pleanala, equality agencies are all examples of  where responsibility for decisions has been taken from the electoral-representative system and delegated to expert bodies. Many of these bodies are also given responsibility for monitoring activities of the executive. We can add to their number, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are sometimes assisted by the state and who scrutinise government activities, particularly in the area of human rights (eg Amnesty, One-in Four, Pavee).

The growing importance of functionally representative bodies can be related to a significant change in the electoral-representative system. Though they are not a Constitutional element in the design for democracy, political parties are crucial to its functioning. While they continue to play a dominant role in elections and they remain a vital link between citizens and the state, the nature of that role and linkage has been transformed. Peter Mair, (Mair, 2005 ) an expert on comparative politics and political parties, reports that whereas political parties once linked society to the state, now they link the state to society. He bases this observation on trends he observed in all western democracies. Fewer and fewer voters are prepared to give consistent support to a political party. More and more voters in European electorates are ‘volatile’, changing their votes from election to election. Fewer and fewer are prepared to join political parties. And everywhere the percentage of the electorate voting in elections declines. These trends are observable in Ireland.

The change in role of political parties is closely related to the cultural changes outlined above. Attachment to a political party was once a statement of identity. It marked your loyalty to a particular version of the national project. You supported a party because you believed that its narrative was the best guide to your interests and the interests of people like you. Supporters could read how the narratives of the various parties made sense of circumstances in partisan newspapers and journals. Political parties could relate society to the state because they had roots in social groups and the divisions among them. Culture no longer provides the resources out of which such links can be forged. Although the design for our democracy may appear unchanged, in fact, cultural change has transformed how it functions.

These developments do not signal a move away from democracy. On the contrary, the growing concern for human rights suggests that attachment to democracy is, if anything, growing stronger. What they do indicate is that the character of our democracy has changed. Manin’s (Manin, 1997) account of the history of representative government helps us identify the changes. He identifies three versions of representative government in his history: parliamentarism, party democracy and audience democracy. Each version is a distinctive arrangement for accomplishing what he describes as the four basic features of representative democracy: the election of representatives, the partial autonomy of representatives, the freedom of public opinion and trial by discussion. The character of the new form of democracy, audience democracy, is revealed in contrasting how it manages these features with how they are accomplished in party democracy.

Election of representatives

In party democracy, the majority of voters vote to express their loyalty to a party. They expect candidates to be loyal party members accepting party discipline and supporting its policies. They judge candidates for their service to the constituency. While the parties concern themselves with general issues, their TDs should look after the local. A long apprenticeship in the service of the local Cumann generally precedes nomination.

In audience democracy, voters vote in response to the issues of the day. These emerge in the media and they crystallize around the character and competence of the party leaders. General elections become ‘presidential’ as the party fades into the background. While parties remain important as networks of workers and resources, they are less and less movements with a history of commitment to representing the interests of social groups in versions of the national interest. The leader and his associates dominate the central party organization. Experts in the assessment of public opinion and public relations advise him on overall strategy. At constituency level, the party organization is the personal fiefdom of the sitting TD. His supporters are precisely that – his; their loyalty is to him and not the party. Sitting and aspiring TDs have good reason to support the leader and his strategy. The more successful the leader is in projecting a positive image, the greater his chance of re-election. However, he will resist that strategy when it intrudes on his ‘patch’. This is most likely to happen in the matter of candidate selection. How many candidates should the party run in a constituency? Who should they be?

Party leaders see merit in candidates with a national image achieved in performances on the media even if they have no record of loyal service. They promise to enhance the Party’s standing. Constituency organizations see things differently; for them such proposals offer more threat than promise. Sitting TDs worry about competition and are keen to keep questions of succession entirely under their control.

The partial autonomy of representatives

Representative democracy is not about sending delegates who are mandated to vote in this or that way. It works because the representatives have a degree of autonomy in deciding how to proceed. In the case of party democracy, the leaders of parties have the freedom to decide on priorities and specifics within the party platform. The platform is largely aims and the leaders have a large measure of autonomy in choosing purposes towards them. They must, of course, be ready to explain to their supporters how what they have decided to do is consistent with party’s tradition and show how this ‘new chapter’ carries the narrative forward in the  face of new challenges.

In audience democracy, the leader is elected on the basis of his image. This gives him considerable freedom of action. However, it also puts him under considerable strain, as he must maintain that image under sustained attack. Managing relationships with the media is crucial.

Freedom of public opinion

Representative democracy supposes that public opinion has an independent existence. It stands apart from the political parties. In party democracy, political parties represent public opinion. Their success in doing so is reflected in the fact that the positions taken by the parties in government and opposition are a good approximation to public opinion itself. A foreign correspondent in party democracy Ireland could inform his readers of public opinion by reporting on the platforms of the various parties and the level of support that had received.

In audience democracy, political parties political parties do not represent public opinion so much as chase it. The foreign correspondent turns to opinion polls to discover how successful that chase has been. He reports on how well parties have captured, and held onto, popular support.

Trial by discussion

Manin draws on rhetoric to make a distinction between ‘persuading’ and ‘convincing’. You require someone’s assistance in reaching your goal. To persuade him is to offer him incentives to cooperate. These can be either negative or positive: a big stick or a brown envelope. To convince is to offer reasons for the cooperation rather than incentives. Given both your interests and the circumstances, the course of action you propose is the rational one. If a first attempt at persuasion fails, you increase the rewards or the threats; if the first attempt at convincing fails, you think of a better argument. As you do so, you are open to the possibility that you may be mistaken.

Persuasion, which deals with the play of power, is an eradicable element of politics. But so too is convincing. Policy- making cannot always be reduced to bargaining among interests; it needs to be tested in debate. In party democracy, the debate occurred within the party and in party newspapers and journals. The broadcast media reported the debates.

In audience democracy, policy is debated in negotiations with interest groups. The print media is no longer partisan and it holds all governments to account. The broadcast media moves from passive observer to active agent in stage managing debates.

Section B: Consequences

The transformation has been considerable. Some of its consequences are positive, others a cause for concern. Most would welcome the emphasis on transparency and the progress that has been made in making the government more accountable. Imperfect though arrangements may still be, it is unlikely that the abuses of power that occurred in the 1950s could happen today. The recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, sex or sexual orientation is expressed in a concern for the treatment of minorities. This can only be judged an advance, even if it is obscured by the problems that it brings to the agenda.

Nonetheless, there are causes for concern. The capacity of our democracy to educate its citizens has diminished. Trial by discussion is less and less frequent as persuasion comes to dominate our politics. We see this in the pressures on politicians in general and ministers in particular. They seek to win votes on the basis of promises (not to close this hospital, reduce this benefit, increase that tax…) together with the projection of images of integrity and competence.

Once in power, they must justify their policies in engagement with the media. The media attract audiences with melodramas (and with one supposes with the quality of their reporting on sport). Policy has failed. Some individual or group of individuals have suffered. The damage is spelt out. The minister (the villain) is in the dock: ‘Why such wickedness?’ The script allows no place for explanations in terms of the complexity of problems. The interest groups who confound the problem with demands that their particular interests be protected, parade in the ranks of the accusers (the goodies). The minister must deploy all the resources of PR to deflect the attack. What he cannot deploy is reasoned argument. Matters are no better when the minister faces his peers in his less important encounters with the Dail and its committees. TDs know that their only chance of publicity, their only chance of portraying themselves as guardians of the public interest, is to play the media’s game. Dail committees, therefore, share the media’s interest in finding sinners to stone and their indifference to context. It is not surprising that few politicians have a substantive interest in policy.

Of course, these performances are not without merit. While they do discourage deliberation, they do encourage responsiveness to public opinion and strengthen accountability. However, they put considerable pressure on relationships within the ‘court’. As we have seen, civil servants are encouraged to be more business-like. They are told to learn lessons from private sector management and many have gone on courses to do so. As they attempt to follow instructions and adopt a strategic approach to the deployment of resources, the gap between them and their minister grows. His attention is distracted by the latest newspaper headlines, or Prime Time broadcast. He needs the advice of his special media advisers more than the briefings of his secretary-general. The disappearance of ‘grand narratives’ increase the difficulties. These provided a shared horizon-the nation’s welfare – that facilitated the conversations in which the expertise of the civil servant was brought to bear on the concerns of the politician. Trust diminishes. Ministers fear civil servants will land them ‘in it’ and civil servants resent being blamed for failures that are not their immediate fault.

The problems that accompany the transformation have, of course, a wider import than their consequences for the minister-civil servant relationship. This ‘macro’ dimension is discussed in the many negative appraisals of our political system’s ability to identify and communicate the general interest. Separately, or in combination, the electoral system and political culture are blamed for this failure

My examination of the relationship between ministers and civil servants supports such systemic criticisms. As the court struggles with the exigencies of audience democracy, civil servants are inhibited in both developing and presenting the advice that their responsibilities in the implementation and formulation of policy equip them to deliver. Any solution to this problem is likely to assist in solving the more general problem.

Where are solutions to be sought?

It is undoubtedly the case that ‘culture’ is the problem. Without individualism, there would be no audience democracy. However, the likelihood of cultural change in the near future is remote. There is little evidence of the cultural contradictions matched to social divisions that sociologists tell us are conducive to change. Of course, the culture has its critics. Some lament the selfishness it engenders and the resistance it offers to the politics they prefer. They blame ‘neo-liberalism’, that toxic virus that appeared out of nowhere in Britain and United States and crossed the sea to Ireland. Once we cleanse ourselves of it, all will be well. The analysis is superficial and the criticism unlikely to change anything. With the left in disarray, only Catholic social doctrine offers a serious critique that traces the cultures limitations to defects in its premises’ 4. There is little chance of its voice being heard. Accordingly, it is sensible to treat the culture as a given and seek solutions in structural change.

Structural change

I have already observed how the structure of the democracy has changed by ‘stealth’. The increasing number of functionally representative bodies reflects both the citizens’ demand for growing impartiality in the implementation of public policy and the belief that the electoral/representative system cannot be trusted to provide it. Social partnership was another structural adjustment. It addressed the problem of inducing interest groups to identify their interest in the context of the common advantage. It was an attempt to find a space for ‘trial by reason’. The abandonment of Partnership has not solved the problem. The question is what structural reforms could solve it. The search for an answer begins by asking what elements contribute to ‘trial by reason’.  Analysis and forums must head the list.


The tradition of enquiry into policy-making encourages us to see the problem as one of finding means to ends. 5 Analysis is the search for means and their evaluation against the ends. However, this way of framing the problem matches only a subset of policy-making. Consider that policy-making starts with problems. We can place these on a continuum. At one end, we have problems that can be solved by tweaking existing routines or improving the efficiency and effectiveness with which they are executed. At the other end, we find problems that defy existing arrangements and the evaluations embedded in them. While the former invite analysis in terms of means–ends, the latter evades it. These latter problems call into question both our evaluations and our methods. They remind us that what we consider good and worthwhile does not descend from on high. We find it in practice as we engage with those who depend upon us and upon whom we depend. The complicated business of child rearing provides a simple example. Most problems are settled in the combined inheritance of practices the parents bring to the job. ( So it is that they hear themselves uttering the very same words their parents used in the same tone of voice that they swore they would never use.) However, new circumstances can challenge custom. Now evaluations have to be reassessed, revised, or abandoned and novel methods deployed. We find our evaluations in the deployment of means and revise them in the light of the difficulties we encounter in executing them.

The problems encountered in the management of our primary schools is one example of a policy that belongs to the challenging end of the continuum. The problems posed by the deepening of our engagement with an expanded European Union are another. It is disappointing that all efforts at public service reform are directed at the ‘simple’ end of the continuum. Analysis serves problems here by searching for solutions. Its contribution shifts as we move along the continuum. The identification of problems becomes its task as the interactions of evaluations and practices, and the challenges they pose come to light.

How can we find the space for such deliberation within our structure for democracy? I suggest that we dismantle the court and give the civil service separate constitutional status. The new constitutional office would have the job of providing this sort of analysis across the range of public policy. These analyses would be developed in dialogue with citizens in a diversity of different forums matched to the character of the policy being investigated.

This would greatly enhance the deliberative capacity of our democracy. There is, of course, more to democracy than deliberation. Or, rather, deliberation is worthless if it does not lead to judgement. What is in the general interest must be asserted, decisions must be made. This primary responsibility must remain with those who are directly accountable to the citizens in elections. The enquiries of the new constitutional office will greatly assist the citizens as they assess how politicians discharge this responsibility.

Should the entire civil service be constituted as this deliberative body or only those elements that engaged in the formulation of policy? The discussion of the relationship between the task of policy formulation and implementation has a long history. PSORG (the Devlin report) believed that that the responsibility for implementation distracted attention from policy formulation and strategic thinking. They proposed a division between a policy-formulating Aireacht and policy-implementing executive divisions. New Public Management also worried about the issue. Its anxieties were different. They believed that the implementers (‘producers’) of policy had too great a say in deciding on policy. They were, inevitably, in favour of the status quo and the expansion of their activities. ‘Steerers’ the slogan went ‘should be separated from rowers’. This division would make it easier to introduce the disciplines of the market into the public service. ‘Rowers’ could be asked to compete for contracts to propel the state’s flotilla.

However, the division proved more difficult to realise than the theories suggested. These were based on the means-end distinction and as we have seen this does not take account of the intertwining of means and ends in many policies. The (tacit) knowledge gained in policy implementation provides an indispensable input into policy-formulation. Nonetheless, it may be worth revisiting the issue. It could make sense to leave the oversight of policy implementation as a responsibility of government. The knowledge gained in implementation would not be lost to the process, as it would inform the politicians’ judgement. Furthermore, it would be in accord with Audience Democracy’s expectation that Governments be accountable to individuals and localities for the impact of public policy on their lives.

Of course, the proposals require further elaboration and discussion. The terms and the mechanisms whereby the new constitutional office would be rendered accountable should be spelt out. The authority and responsibility of the forums in which citizens would dialogue with the state should be specified. I am not inclined to these tasks. For my whole analysis informs me that in the very unlikely event that the proposals got a hearing, they would instantly be dismissed. The neo-liberal state is here to stay.

Read Part 3.


Works cited

Joas, H. (1996). The Creativity of Action. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lipovetsky, G. (1994). The Empire of Fashion. Dressing Modern Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mair, P. (2005 ). Democracy beyond parties. CSD Working paper 05/06. Irvine.Ca.: Center for the study of democracy, University of California.

Manin, B. (1997). The Principles of Representative Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moyn, S. (2010). The Last Utopia. Human Rights in History. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Pabst, A. (. (2011). The crisis of global capitalism. Pope Benedict XVI social encyclical and the future of political economy. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books.

Rosanvallon, P. (2008). Counter-Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rosanvallon, P. (2011). Democratic Legitimacy. Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press.



  1. For an account of this mode of democracy see Rosanvallon (Rosanvallon, 2008)
  2. Samuel Moyn (Moyn, 2010) describes how human rights became the dominant frame for social critique from the 1970s onwards.
  3. For a discussion of the growing importance of such bodies in democracies see Rosanvallon (Rosanvallon, 2011) For the growth in the number of such bodies in Ireland see (Hallinan, 2009)
  4. For an ecumenical discussion see Pabst
  5. For a profound critique of the limitations of this tradition see Joas (Joas, 1996)

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