What is the post-bureaucratic state?

8 12 2009

Will Davies has written a thoughtful piece on what the political thought behind the  post-bureaucratic state might look like. I think he is wrong on a number of points, and have written a response below.

Davies Writes:

‘The Tories now suggest we are entering a ‘post-bureaucratic age’, and promise a state suited to it. Up to now, neo-liberalism has not been so much a post-bureaucratic project, as a meta-bureaucratic one – it is a constant critique of the state, from a position of supposed neutral economic rationality.’

My response:

The ‘neutral economic rationality’ Davies’ writes of is misleading. The ‘neo-liberal critique of the state’ (which is surely ‘constant’ – how could it be interrupted?) is not only from a position of neutral economic rationality, although this is part of it. The state, for neo-liberals and many others, has functions beyond its economic function (even state non-intervention is a function of a neo-liberal critique).

Davies contends that ‘a state laid bare only to the audit of general public dissatisfaction is surely heading towards a legitimacy crisis’, since the replacement of Weberian ‘expertise’ by Hayekian ‘perspective’, will allow ‘…people to express their frustration or disappointment, but without offering dialogue or improvement at the end of it’. ‘Perspective’ and ‘expertise’ are no longer competing visions of how the state guarantees its own legitimacy; and the ‘dialogue and improvement’ Davies suggests that the post-bureaucratic state will necessarily lack, can be provided by a government which recognizes this. This is not just about ‘participation’ (as Davies suggests the Tories might be viewing the whole process), but about shoring up the state’s own legitimacy in this age.

This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the post-bureaucratic age is ‘about’. It is not formed of ‘no auditors, no experts, no objective knowledge, no sense of the common good’, it simply asserts that all these things are better-applied from outside the central bureaucracy. They still exist, but are held in the hands of the citizenry, rather than the central (unelected) bureaucracy. The ownership, audit and strategic management of public service lying in the hands of the public is a far more legitimate type of government for our age than a rehashed Weberian model based on expertise.  There are more auditors and more experts (since the pool is so much larger and better-connected; more objective knowledge (since it can be more rigorously interrogated); and a greater sense of the public good (since it is built up from a far broader range of viewpoints).

The question of legitimacy (discussed in Davies’ narrow Weberian terms) is irrelevant; the terms of the debate have changed. Before the information revolution, it simply wasn’t possible for groups of interested and expert parties to collaborate on project –it was physically impossible (not illegitimate, unfair, undemocratic).

Even if we follow Davies’ own Weberian definition of state authority, the state can no longer know or process with the objectivity and efficiency required of it. Technological change has pushed these functions outside the bounds of the centralised state.

Ali Unwin ( @aliunwin)

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8 12 2009
Tweets that mention What is the post-bureaucratic state? « The Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jamescrabtree, PostBureaucratic Age. PostBureaucratic Age said: What is the post-bureaucratic state? A response to Will Davies' ideas http://bit.ly/5K75uK […]

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