Theses Doctoral

The Bureaucratic Mentality in Democratic Theory and Contemporary Democracy

Hudson, Jennifer M.

This project draws attention to a contemporary exaltation of competence and swift decision-making that emphasizes the moment of executive power in democratic political practice and within democratic theory. Drawing on Weber’s concept of rationalization and his opposition between the mentalities of the official and the politician, I develop a distinct conception of bureaucracy as a mode of thought. Bureaucratic thinking involves the application of technical knowledge and skills, with a claim to universality and objectivity, in order to produce results and promote consensus and social harmony. I argue that this conception allows us to better recognize the contemporary diffusion of a flexible, decentralized type of bureaucracy and situate it within the history of affinity and tension between bureaucratic and democratic principles. I focus on a tradition within continental democratic theory, which tends to downplay politics by replacing it with administration and regulation. French political theorist and historian Pierre Rosanvallon is its contemporary representative, building on Hegel and Durkheim as well as Saint-Simon and Léon Duguit. Initially, Rosanvallon offered a theory of participation and democratic legitimacy that would work within the administrative state, taking into account his own strong critiques of bureaucracy. I argue that significant shifts evident in his later works, which respond to new realities, explicitly and/or implicitly mobilize bureaucratic thinking and practice to buttress democratic legitimacy within the nation-state and the European Union. I then play Rosanvallon’s earlier anti-bureaucratic arguments against his modified position in order to argue against attempts to reconcile bureaucracy and democracy, understood in its procedural form with equal freedom at its core. My claim is that bureaucratic thinking aims at consensus, encourages passivity, undermines the democratic value of political equality, and obscures values and interests behind policy decisions that are presented as neutral, technical, and fact-based. Methodologically, I use the history of ideas to develop the concept of the bureaucratic mentality, tracing it through the work of exemplary thinkers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Hegel, Durkheim, and Weber.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Urbinati, Nadia
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 21, 2016