In the mandatory text in this week’s seminar “Bringing the State back in” by Theda Skocpol, the author stresses the present underestimating and the now reoccurring interest of “the state” as an actor in politics.
Particularly interesting from my point of view was the part of the text that dealt with “autonomous state action”, especially when she was referring to Timberger’s “Revolution from Above”. In her study, Timberger focuses on historical cases in which autonomous bureaucrats seized power in the government of a state to press reforms to reorganize the economy and the society in their country.
From the examples Skocpol mentions I chose the Japanese Meiji Restoration as the most useful example to illustrate my point in this blog.
The Meiji Restoration was a period of political restoration that took place in Japan in the 1860’s and helped Japan transform into a more modern state. Basically the main part of the restoration was led by a small group of bureaucratic oligarchs in the Japanese government who pressed social and economic reforms to modernize Japanese society and get away from the old feudal system which was still in charge by then.
I think this is maybe the most illustrative example for Timberg’s and Skocpol’s point that a group of skilled experts and bureaucrats can use the power of the state effectively to reform its politics and economy. Though it must be stressed out that Skocpol labels this as “nonconstitutional ruling”, which leads us to our next point; exploring the possibilities for experts and bureaucrats to harness this power in constitutional conform ways.
Skocpol gives the US-American agricultural reforms during the New Deal period as a good example for autonomous action within a state.
I asked myself the question whether we could find more recent examples for constitutional autonomous state action by skilled experts. First we need to realize that this actions, as also stated by Skocpol, happen in a certain opportunity frame, mostly when the country is facing a serious crisis in one or more political fields. In the case of Japan in the 1860’s it was the threat of western colonial powers and their interest in eastern Asian, in the case of the USA it was an overall economic crisis and the aftermath of the World War I.
Facing these facts I would claim that a good recent example for autonomous action by skilled experts in a state would be the Italian government under Mario Monti. Monti, himself not a politician but a financial expert was installed as head of the state after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in 2011 to lead a technocratic government to face the Italian debt crisis.
This example could show a new development of Skocpol’s point, for in the Italian case we don’t have a group of experts using their knowledge and skills “silently” but are assigned to do so in times of crisis.
The use of expertocratic governments in a democratic state if they match the constitutional rights could therefore be a short-term solution to face severe crisis in said state. Even better though would be a stronger tie between experts and politicians in the first place to even try and prevent further crisis and still uphold the democratic process of participation of the citizens.