Challenges and Prospects
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Edited by John Fenwick and Janice McMillan
Chapter 2: Modernism Redux: Po-Mo Problems and Hi-Mo Public Policy
Wayne Parsons INTRODUCTION The theory and practice of public policy and policy analysis quintessentially represent a modernist project. The growth of the modern liberaldemocratic state has been a story of a discourse in which government has sought to present its decisions in terms of an appeal to rationality. Tyrants, dictators and those whose authority is rooted in a claim to derive their decisions by reference to a higher authority or a sacred text do not have to give reasons based on rational explanations or science, although they may well use such arguments, since it is enough that they – the supreme leader or the father of the nation – have said it. Modern democracy, however, is (in a Deweyian sense) a method of problem solving in which reasons and rationale matter. In a democracy government has to give good reasons: it has to put forward policy. And this policy has to constitute a kind of theory of the problem, and a plan of action. Of course, when we use the term ‘policy’ itself we are using a particular Anglo Saxon concept: in many languages there is no special word for policy. Policy is simply read as ‘politics’. In this sense, when we use the term ‘policy’ itself we are using an expressly modern interpretation of the word. The use of politics to describe ‘policy’ (as in Spanish, ‘políticas públicas’) is in many ways much closer to the ‘premodern’ sense of the word as a form of deceit and Machiavellianism. Using...
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