Technocracy within Representative Democracy

Christina Ribbhagen’s new paper on “Technocracy within Representative Democracy: Technocratic Reasoning and Justification among Bureaucrats and Politicians”: ” How can you possibly have ‘Technocracy within Representative Democracy’, as suggested in the title of this thesis? Shouldn’t the correct title be ‘Technocracy or Representative Democracy’, the sceptic might ask? Well, if technocracy is strictly defined, as rule by an elite of (technical) experts, the sceptic obviously has a point. Democracy means rule by the people (demos) and not rule by (technical) experts. However, in tune with Laird (1990; see also Fischer 2000), I argue that merely establishing the absence of a simple technocratic ruling class is only half the story; instead a more subtle interpretation of technocracy is needed.
Laird (1990, p. 51) continues his story by stating that: ‘The problem of technocracy is the problem of power relations and how those relations are affected by the importance of esoteric knowledge in modern society. The idea that such knowledge is important is correct. The idea that it is important because it leads to the rise of a technically skilled ruling class is mistaken. The crucial issue is not who gains power but who loses it. Technocracy is not the rise of experts, it is the decline of citizens’. Or as formulated by Fischer (2000), ‘One of the most important contemporary functions of technocratic politics, it can be argued, rests not so much on its ascent to power (in the traditional sense of the term) as on the fact that its growing influence shields the elites from political pressure from below’. The crucial issue for the definition of technocracy then is not who governs, rather it lies in the mode of politics. As argued by Fischer (2000), too often writers have dismissed the technocratic thesis on the grounds that experts remain subordinate to top-level economic and political elites. A consequence of this, he continues, is that this argument ‘overlooks the less visible discursive politics of technocratic expertise. Not only does the argument fail to appreciate the way this technical, instrumental mode of inquiry has come to shape our thinking about public problems, but it neglects the ways these modes of thought have become implicitly embedded in our institutional discourses and practices’ (p. 17). Thus, technocracy here should not be understood as ‘rule by experts’, but rather ‘government by technique’ focusing on the procedures and content of politics, suggesting that technocratic reasoning and justification has gained ground and dominates the making of public policy (Boswell, 2009; Fischer, 1990; Meynaud, 1969; Radaelli, 1999b;). To be sure, indirectly this will have consequences as to who will win or lose power. A policy issue or process that is technocratically framed is likely to disempower those lacking information and expertise within the area (Fischer, 1990; Laird, 19903), while supplying those with information and expertise with a ‘technocratic key’ (Uhrwing, 2001) leading to the door of political power.”