ECPR Joint Sessions
University of Nicosia, Nicosia
10 - 14 April 2018

The New Technocratic Governance: From Bureaucratic to Democratic Technocracy?

Political Regime
Public Administration
Anders Esmark
University of Copenhagen
Anders Esmark
University of Copenhagen

Although technocracy has been rediscovered as the principal cause of the recent upsurge in populism, efforts to understand the Y in this relationship has by far superseded efforts to understand the X: technocracy is poorly understood and discussed rather superficially in terms dependent on the particular definition and understanding of populism applied. Hence, there is a need for a better understanding of technocracy in general and the current post-industrial technocratic regime in particular. As I have argued elsewhere, the history of technocracy is defined by a subtle yet all-important schism between early industrial technocracy and the post-industrial technocracy carried through by NPM and post-NPM reforms of the public sector reshaping government as ‘governance’ defined by the intersecting principles of connectivity, risk and performance (Esmark 2017).

The paper will develop this line of argument further and analyse the two-pronged attack on democracy and bureaucracy mounted by current technocracy in more detail. Whereas early technocracy combined an overt and aggressively anti-democratic stance with the appropriation of bureaucratic institutions for the purpose planning and social engineering, the new technocracy accepts and even embraces democratic vocabulary while vehemently declaring the end of bureaucracy. This reversal of the original technocratic formula for regime change has lead to a cooptation of democracy combined with a pervasive and aggressive challenge to bureaucracy through institutional rivalry, the development of new institutions/institutional capacities and, most importantly, the transformation of bureaucratic institutions from within. Indeed, the attack on bureaucracy is to some extent a more important feature of current technocracy than animosity towards party politics and the public.

Esmark, Anders. 2017. "Maybe It Is Time to Rediscover Technocracy? : An Old Framework for a New Analysis of Administrative Reforms in the Governance Era." Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 27 (3):501-516.
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