The French Civil Service: Bureaucracy in Transition

By Walter Rice Sharp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI INITIAL SELECTION OF PERSONNEL

We have seen that throughout the scheme of competitive selection for the French public service there runs a general dogma, namely, a profound belief in the efficacy of literary exposition as a device for discovering intelligence. To the Frenchman, it is intelligence, or what is sometimes merely supposed to be intelligence, which marks off par excellence the élite from the rank and file. In the educational system, "all French examinations are conceived as tests of intelligence operating over a broad perspective of co-ordinated knowledge rather than as attempts to cheek up a small body of new ideas without roots and without relationships. Aside from certain immediate casual connections, the latter are inevitably more or less a reflection of the memory, as compared with the long-range thinking required to systematize a great field of interdependent ideas." 1 This, in short, is the ideal behind the selective process for the administrative services, at any rate in their middle and upper reaches.

Practice and ideal most closely meet in the celebrated examination for the agrégation, which is the title required of all full-fledged lycée and university professors. Here "qualitative elements assume exclusive importance. . . . The candidate draws the topic for his oral test in medieval history say at 7 a. m. He is conducted to the library, given all the specific aids he can think to ask for, and there labors on 'The idea of papal power in the Middle Ages' until one o'clock. Then he takes his place at a little table facing a board of from four to six judges drawn from among the best scholars

____________________
1
Learned, p. 55.

-140-

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