Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Power, Legitimacy and Performance

Edited by B. Guy Peters, Patrick von Maravić and Eckhard Schröter

What is the relationship between the composition of the public sector workforce and the nature of the society it serves? Taking a comparative and analytical perspective, the authoritative and accessible chapters illustrate the salience of representative politics in diverse societies. The book explores the wide variety of practice based on different political systems, administrative structures, and cultural settings, and discusses topical issues of public bureaucracies worldwide.

Chapter 4: Reconsidering political and bureaucratic representation in modern government

Patrick von Maravić and B. Guy Peters

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics, public policy


Political systems are distinct in the way they institutionalize the relationship between political and bureaucratic representativeness. Political representation is generally considered to be the hallmark of modern democratic government and its absence a feature of authoritarianism. Yet, the locus in which representation is anchored – parliament or administration – varies among countries and across political systems. This chapter therefore sets out to explore the way political systems organize and balance this relationship and what consequences arise from it. It seeks to understand the logic and institutionalization of representation both across different types of political regimes. Two major institutions characterize the rise of modern democratic government since the nineteenth century: professional bureaucracy and representative government. Concomitantly with the rise of these twin institutions in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, dominant theorizing of modern representative government has implied the doctrine that representation lies in parliament and government and not in bureaucracy. Authors as varied as Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, Reinhard Bendix or Robert Dahl emphasized this point in their writings. Reinhard Bendix (1980: 235), for example, argued “representation is to be distinguished from government”, formulating an idea that shaped our thinking about the relationship between political and bureaucratic representation in the twentieth century. The reification of public administration or the bureaucracy as an apolitical and neutral tool of politics (in parliament is representation, in bureaucracy not) has become a master narrative in modern democratic theory, classic administrative theory and modern public management reform parlance.

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