Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States

Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States

Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States

Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States


This collection provides valuable information about the structures and composition of the higher civil service and its position in the political structure through a comparative analysis of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Denmark, and Sweden. The book explores how higher civil service has developed in the light of the massive changes in European societies in the past thirty years.


Edward C. Page and Vincent Wright

A Nineteenth-Century Institution?

Civil services give many outward appearances of being an institution stuck in the nineteenth century. Many senior French civil servants are educated in the École Polytechnique, a school set up during the Revolution, and on formal occasions wear early nineteenth-century military uniform, whilst others belong to grands corps, most of which owe their existence to Napoleon. the terminology of bureaucracy in Germany reflects ideas that would not be out of place in the work of Hegel; all civil servants have a Dienstherr ('service-master') and have to swear an oath, a Diensteid. Moreover, the legacy of the past extends beyond the symbolic to the essence of the civil service. Recruitment patterns to the upper echelons of the British civil service still reflect the principles of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of 1854 which specified the recruitment of the kind of candidate for senior office that Oxford and Cambridge have overwhelmingly supplied ever since. Modern civil services were, especially in continental Europe, shaped in their formative years by their position in the nation state, ruled by governments, and governed by the principles of the Rechtsstaat. They were created as part of a legal order that stands above the mix of particular social and economic interests that constitutes civil society. Many features of contemporary bureaucracies reflect this: the preponderance of legal professionals in the recruitment process, the security of tenure, as well as the endurance in many countries of the seniority principle for promotion.

The Rechtsstaat principle, although not necessarily its practice, gave enormous power to the senior civil service. Our understanding of this principle and the position of senior officials within it is dominated by German ideas of bureaucracy and the state as passed on to us through thinkers such as Hegel (1972) and Weber (1972). As a description of administrative reality such ideas have to be treated with caution inside and outside Germany. However, in an 'ideal type' of bureaucracy, the power of the senior . . .

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