Public Administration in Statist France

Article excerpt

The development of administrative science in France is inextricably linked to a particular French model of the state. The uniqueness of the state in France rests on the combination of two phenomena.

The first of these phenomena is the state's social autonomy, which is guaranteed by a series of protective arrangements. In France, this autonomy is accentuated by its combination of three different dimensions: an organic autonomy, which clearly defines the state's contours and ensures its uninterrupted functioning; a legal autonomy, which is expressed in the application to the state apparatus of distinct rules which form exceptions to common law; and, finally, a symbolic autonomy, in which the state presents itself as the incarnation of a general interest that transcends the particular interests which dominate the private sphere. The foundations of bureaucratic organization (only a few examples of which existed under the Ancien Regime and only at the ministry level) were laid under the Empire, but it was not until the end of the 19th century that the logic of professionalism was imposed through the spread of recruitment by examination and the granting to civil servants of guarantees against the arbitrary nature of politics. The state's autonomy was reinforced by its legal emancipation from the common law. Here again, even if some foreshadowing elements are to be found under the Ancien Regime, the appearance of a body of administrative law dates from the creation of the Conseil d'Etat in the revolutionary year eight. The state's special status was thus guaranteed by the powers of legal dogma, contrary to the British notion of the rule of law. Finally, the ideology of the general interest exists to maintain a belief, on the part of both public servants and private citizens, in the uniqueness of the public sphere: the state is set up as the organizing and totalizing principle which permits society to achieve integration, to make its unity real by overcoming individual identifications and sectarian selfishness.

The second and closely related phenomenon is a social supremacy, illustrated by France's deeply rooted tradition of interventionism. Already under the absolutist regime, the state had broad and diversified functions, not only those associated with the monarchy but also social, cultural, and economic functions. This interventionism did not weaken at any time during the 19th century. Despite a liberal discourse which advocated strict controls on the state, justified by the primacy of the individual and by a belief in the benefits of a "natural" order, the state continued to take on wider functions. Although the nature of its social interventions changed at the end of the century, the state remained active in the economic sphere, maintaining regulatory services, creating the basic infrastructure indispensable to the expansion of production, and taking the place of private enterprise in running unprofitable services. Based on these traditions and nourished by a belief that state management was justifiable for the sake of the public interest, the welfare state gained acceptance easily in France. Even more than in other Western countries, the state then established a veritable protectorate over social life through the linked development of functions of economic regulation and of social redistribution.

This notion of the state was obviously propitious for the development of an administrative science. On the one hand, the sharp differentiation between the state and society implied the need to create a specific body of knowledge concerning public administration, with no question of diluting it in a more general science of organization. On the other hand, the state's preeminent status justified the study of the structures and functioning of the apparatus through which the state carried out its social interventions. All the conditions indispensable to the existence of an independent science of public administration were, therefore, present, a fact which explains the rapid emergence of such a science in France. …