Bureaucratic Discretion: Citizen Officials and the Choice to Resist
Hoffman, Christopher Andrew
Alford, C. F.
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In the realm of political theory, absolutism has largely dictated the conception of bureaucratic duty. Thus the ideal has seen bureaucrats as bound to obey the dictates of the sovereign, usually seen as the body that makes law. Empirical approaches to public administration have, quite naturally, pointed out that human beings, even bureaucrats, do not merely follow orders. Yet, even if one adopts an approach that sees the problem in terms of principle and agent, the concern remains of ensuring that the sovereign controls the official. I argue that this perspective has overshadowed the republican tradition, which saw magistrates as citizens first. In other words, there is a long tradition in political theory that offers scope for officials to exercise discretion on behalf of their political communities through acts of positive resistance. Mere passivity in the form of resignation or non-compliance is sometimes insufficient. A republican conception of magistrates has long afforded these officials the capacity to act on how they see things. The need for an emphasis on this approach increases as the political community itself becomes increasingly incapable through lack of knowledge or information of acting in its own interests. In fact, it sometimes happens that officials alone possess the knowledge necessary to take action on behalf of the community. The republican tradition provides a basis for rationalizing this in theoretical terms once we accept that all officials today are both citizens and magistrates in the traditional sense.