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Governance Through Social Learning

Gilles Paquet

Part III - New Directions

Chapter 11. The Strategic State1

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  • 1 Previously published in three parts in Ciencia Ergo Sum, 1996, 3(3), 257–261; Ciencia Ergo Sum, 19 (...)

Government is the most precious of human possessions; and no care can be too great to be spent in enabling it to do its work in the best way: a chief condition of which is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under conditions of time and place.
– Alfred Marshall
Our politics are Greek, but our administration is Roman.
– Dwight Waldo

1The Canadian state is in crisis — at a point of decision. On the external front, the ground is in motion. Canada lives in an environment where knowledge-and time-based competition have become the determining sources of competitive advantage; the mortgage of geography has waned and a dematerialization of economic activity and a deterritorialization of the economic process have ensued; a new regionalization of trading blocks has emerged in which cross-border partnering and new forms of government-business collaboration appear to be required strategies; and growing interdependencies within this transnational world have made the notions of “domestic firm” and “national economy” rather fuzzy (Paquet 1990a, 1991).

2External pressures from this global knowledge-based economy have translated into greater demands on the state to provide standards, a sense of political and social identity, and new forms of public–private risk-sharing arrangements. These demands have come at a time when the ligatures pulling society together have been loosened, old solidarities have been eroded, and Canada’s sociocultural support for the state has weakened in subtle but important ways. The public realm has come to be governed by warring private interests that are either paralyzed by conflicting tensions or swayed by decisions appearing to most citizens as increasingly arbitrary or capricious. And the polity has imploded after the demise of the Westminster model of “club government” (based on parliamentary sovereignty and the public service acting as a passive executant) in the face of internal pressures for accommodation that call for power-sharing and negotiated adjustments within an increasingly heterogeneous and diverse society (Dahrendorf 1988; Marquand 1988; Reich 1991).

3The tensions between the new demands for strategic state intervention and the old political apparatus have triggered many reactions. One has been an argument for the deliberate downsizing of the state and a plea in favour of the market as the only mechanism capable of constructing a meaningful order in this maelstrom. This has been articulated by a neoliberal ideology that has brought about a vacuum at the heart of the political economy: the public purpose has come to be seen as the sum of private purposes. Another reaction has been an obstinate defense of the old Keynesian state with all its paraphernalia, even after it has become clear that it is ineffective and that it can be maintained only by saddling the country with unprecedented debt. These are the neoconservative and the neosocialist routes, respectively. There must be a third way.

4To discover what this third way might look like, one must go back to first principles: to prospect anew the boundaries of private and public matters and understand the co-evolutionary nature of the public and private realms; to gauge the extent to which the public infrastructure has become inadequate and why; to identify some of the foundational values and the design principles in the construction of the new state and the process of accommodation required from society, polity, and economy; and to examine some of the features of the new state and the sort of leadership it demands.


5The boundaries between the private and the public spheres are neither well-defined conceptually nor well-delineated statistically. This is because they do not correspond to a rigid frontier, but rather to a wavering and evolving fracture zone.

6Yet whenever the scope of government activities is debated, there is a frantic search for “technical” characteristics decreeing that an activity should fall in the private or in the public sector. These attempts to propose more or less “objective” criteria of “publicness” or “privateness,” to apportion responsibilities between spheres have foundered. The degree of publicness is fundamentally as dependent on values and political choices as it is on technical characteristics of goods and services, and any change in prevailing values or any reorientation of public organizations may redefine the boundaries between the public and the private spheres without much reference to the technical features of the particular activities (Pelletiere 1989).

7In the language of Karl Popper (1972), the boundaries between the public and the private spheres are evolving as a result of the interaction between the forces of World 1 (the world of material and geotechnical realities) and the forces of World 2 (the subjective world of values, mind, preferences, plans, and intentions); this constructed boundary zone constitutes a part of World 3 (the world of objective structures — organizations, laws, institutions, rights, etc.) produced wittingly or not by human beings.

8The most insightful x-ray of this fuzzy boundary zone has been proposed by François Perroux (and developed independently by Kenneth Boulding a decade later) at a time when humanistic social sciences were still in good currency (Perroux 1960; Boulding 1970). Both identified three generic ensembles of organizations more or less dominated by a different mechanism of integration: quid pro quo exchange, coercion, and gift or solidarity. These mechanisms were explored by Karl Polanyi (1968) in the 1940s as dominant features of the concrete socioeconomics of the past. To map out this terrain, Boulding used a simple triangle with each of these mechanisms in its purest form at one of the apexes: the inner territory represents organizations and institutions embodying different mixes of these integrative mechanisms (Figure 1, see Introduction).

9This approach provides a rough cartography of the organizational terrain into three domains where the rules, arrangements, or mechanisms of coordination are based on different principles: the economic/market domain (B) where supply and demand forces, the price mechanism, and efficient resources allocation are the norms; the state domain (C) where coercion and redistribution are the rules; the civil society domain (A) where cooperation, reciprocity, and solidarity are the integrating principles. This corresponds roughly to the standard partitioning of human organizations into economy, polity, and society (Wolfe 1989).

10A careful survey of the Canadian organizational terrain reveals that society, economy, and polity each occupy roughly one-third of the organizational territory, and we sit at about the centre of gravity of the organizational triangle. This does not correspond to the statistical portrait emerging from official agencies, mainly because zone A activities are underreported, and little effort has been made to measure them better. Activities in the home, within not-for-profit associations, and in general beyond the market and the state are poorly recorded and remain largely underground (Paquet 1989a).

11A century ago, the state portion of the terrain was quite limited and the Canadian scene was dominated by the other two sets of organizations. From the late 19th century to the 1970s, government grew in importance to the point where probably half of measured activities were state and state-related. More recently, there has been a vigorous countermovement of privatization and deregulation that has reduced the state sector and shifted the boundaries again.


12Governments are one of the instruments through which collective concerns are addressed in human societies and governments may choose to exert different degrees of coercion: to enforce changes in the behaviour of private agents and in the structure of the economy or society; at least to resist private demands but be unwilling to enforce changes in behaviours of private actors; or simply to be the instrument of pressure groups. Such a choice may have a determining impact on the fate and evolution of the overall socioeconomic organization. In the same manner, the institutions of civil society (family, associations, etc.) may be more or less developed and accordingly more or less of the collective concerns may be addressed through the mobilization of interpersonal and particularistic resources like status, love, and community (Foa 1971; Bruyn and Meehan 1987; Marquand 1988).

13One can identify many mixes of political, social, and economic mechanisms (and different modes of interaction among government, business, and society) in different portions of the world. The Anglo-American system tends to emphasize the market mechanism to the point of belittling the scope of state and civil society. But this sort of system represents no more than 25% of the world trade, and a lesser percentage of socioeconomic transactions. Other parts of the world (Western Europe, Japan, etc.) have chosen to assign a much greater role to the state in their national fabric (and to community, culture, citizenship) and unarguably their own brand of mixed organization appears to have generated a much more impressive socioeconomic performance than our own, greater resilience, and faster organizational learning (Choate and Linger 1988).

14This resilience has been achieved through a capacity to maintain the right balance between an emphasis on competition and cooperation in the governing appreciative system, on one hand, and on a learned readiness to adjust the governance of the human organization accordingly and, therefore, to change the structures, technologies, and theories in good currency in the economy, society, and polity, on the other. Because these, in turn, echo more or less accurately the basic underlying values of the members and organizations, their information processing and computing capacities, and their ability to learn and adapt quickly, learning echoes value changes and leads to value changes (Mesthene 1970).

15The state has an important role in maintaining healthy communication in the forum and workable competition in the market. The state must maintain an important intelligence function if it is to act as catalyst in an innovative learning process (Wilensky 1967). As we saw in Chapter 2, the four subprocesses in social learning are: the construction of appropriate theories of reality, the formation of social values, the design of political strategies, and the carrying out of collective action (Figure 5). Social values define what is acceptable; theories of reality depict what is technically feasible; political strategies refer to what will ensure a stable situation, what is politically feasible; and social action identifies what is implementable. Together these subprocesses pose the four questions that are basic to the requisite social learning by the state (Friedmann and Abonyi 1976).

16The basic challenge in organizational learning is to develop innovative competence, for the ability to improve and to innovate is a skill that is vital for survival and resilience (Rugman and D’Cruz 1991). But organizational learning requires the discipline of team learning, a capacity for the different stakeholders to engage in dialogues, in conversations that begin to have a life of their own, to take all parties in directions that could not have been planned in advance. This sort of conversation enables the stakeholders to discover what is acceptable, technically and politically feasible, and implementable. However, such a conversation requires a facilitator capable of carrying the partners beyond the defensive routines (based on presumptions that are supposedly undiscussable and, therefore, preventing learning) toward a willingness to raise the most difficult, subtle, and conflictual issues. This leadership is essential if dialogue is to lead to the collective suspending of assumptions (Senge 1990).

17Vertinsky (1987) has analyzed the internal decision processes in Japanese companies, the way intercompany interactions proceed, and the structure of the government decision process and its role in guiding the economy. He has discovered the many ways in which the process of dialogue is being actively promoted at all levels and the manner in which organizational learning appears to proceed effectively. Vertinsky describes in the following terms the situation he has observed in Japan:

While swift and radical intervention is taken in a crisis to secure the collective survival, it is the market which ultimately prevails. When a crisis dissolves and market forces dominate, government policy retreats to a subsidiary role of keeping options open, disseminating information, and ensuring a smoother transition to the new state dictated by the market.

18How is this balance maintained between collective control and cooperation and individual competition? And how is the switching mechanism operated? These are central questions. In animal collectivities (slugs) and in sophisticated social organizations (Japan), it would appear that the secret is not size but flexibility, adjustment is effected through

Flexible behavioral mechanisms rather than expensive investment in physiological or morphological adaptations... [in the first case] — and through flexible exercise of controls and influences upon the private sector, rather than the strengthening of a permanent public sector infrastructure and its share in the economy [in the second case]. [Vertinsky 1987]

19Co-evolution of polity, society, and economy calls for this sort of flexibility and this depends much on an ongoing multilogue among partners. This, in turn, requires a facilitator, a leader capable of acting as a quarterback in the process of organizational learning, in the balancing of the short-term competitive forces and of the long-term cooperative forces, and in ensuring a smooth transition from one regime to the next. Organizational learning is, therefore, not only adaptive learning, i.e., about coping, it is also generative learning, i.e., about creating, adjusting goals, norms, and assumptions as required. In this context, the state itself has to become a learning organization and the leader has to develop new skills and abandon moral agnosticism to be effective, for the leader’s new work is building learning organizations, and this is not value-free (Senge 1990).


20The present social technology of the Canadian state does not manage resilience and learning well. The state would even appear to have chosen the wrong strategy: heavy investment in physiological and morphological modifications, and a bulky, centralized state system geared to producing centralized technical answers to public management problems. This bulky apparatus has had very limited success in designing flexible controls and influences on the private sector: it has generated little resilience and not much learning (Grimond 1991).

21The main critiques of the brand of the Keynesian state in good currency in Canada and in many other advanced socioeconomics have been well documented. They may be subsumed under a few headings (Duncan 1985):

  • overgovernment and government overload: the state is presented as “a kind of arthritic octopus, an inept leviathan” unable, despite massive growth, to do much to meet the demands of the citizenry; as a result, it has triggered weakened citizen compliance, growing civic indifference and much disillusionment (King 1975);
  • a legitimation deficit: the depoliticized public has by now ceased to believe that the state has any moral authority or technical ability to deal with the issues at hand; this would explain the disaffection and the withdrawal of support by the citizenry (Habermas 1973);
  • a fiscal crisis: revealing the incapacity of the state to reconcile its dual obligation to attenuate social difficulties and to foster the process of capital accumulation without generating fiscal deficits that are in the long run unbearable (O’Connor 1973);
  • social limits to growth: the three crucial dimensions of our social organization (liberal capitalism, mass democracy, and a very unequal distribution of both material and symbolic resources) cannot coexist easily: democratic egalitarianism (in society) generates compulsive centralism (in the polity) to redistribute more and more resources with little success in reducing inequality, but growing shackles on the productive capacity of the economic system (Hirsch 1976).

Modern democratic capitalist states face... a crisis, because they appear incapable of carrying out established and expected tasks, tasks which they have over the years accepted, because of the absence of necessary resources, both financial and civic, or because they cannot meet claims and expectations fostered by the economic and social systems themselves. [Duncan 1985: 274]

22This overall crisis of the state has been analyzed historically as a two-stage process. First, it evolved as a crisis in the economic realm: coordination failures became more and more important in advanced market-type economies, thereby creating a demand for intervention and regulation by the state (the economic crisis was, therefore, shifted to the state). Second, the state crisis developed as the legitimation deficit grew: the state was failing to mobilize the requisite commitment of citizens to be able to do the job; out of despair the state made an attempt to effect an “epistemological coup,” to obtain a “blank cheque” from the citizenry. The argument was that because management problems were so technically complex, the citizenry should pay its taxes and demand no accountability from the professional experts. This coup has failed, and “cognitive despotism” has not succeeded in suppressing the autonomous power of the community to grant or withhold legitimacy (Habermas 197S; Wiley 1977; Paquet 1977). The polls have recorded this story line.

23Why has such a situation developed? The central reason would appear to be that the public institutional framework built after the Second World War was presented to the citizenry as designed for instrumental purposes: to combat a depression, raise standards of living, provide public goods not otherwise produced, assist the needy, etc. As a result, citizens have come to define the state in terms of claims they could make on it: “claimant politics began to overshadow civic politics.” By comparison, “the activities of the private sphere were seen as ends pursued for their own sake.” It is hardly surprising that the instrumental goods of the public sphere were regarded as subordinate to the intrinsic goods of private life (Bellah et al. 1991).

24Even though governments were major flinders, underwriters, and regulators and, therefore, the fundamental bedrock on which the economy and society prospered from the 1940s to the 70s, Canadians have continued to occlude the importance of the state: “the dominant strains in our culture... [remained] a vigorous individualism, a suspicion of interest groups as self-serving and subversive of democracy, and a skepticism about pervasive social and economic planning by the state” (Fournier in Banting 1986). This ideology of Lockean individualism has continued to prevail despite the fact that government activities had grown so much by 1980 that very little remained absolutely private in a meaningful sense.

25In a more and more global context, the private sector made ever greater demands on public institutions at a time when the capacity to supply services from the public sphere could not expand further. This was due to the fact that participation, trust, and creative interaction (on which politics and the public sphere are built) had all but disappeared, as had the sense of community that underpinned civil society and the collective/private ways of meeting the needs of strangers.

26In this world of rugged individualism where most citizens are strangely unaware that the government has been the prime mover in the postwar period of prosperity, private enterprise at public expense has become the rule. The lack of commitment of emotional, intellectual, and financial resources to refurbish the public infrastructure could only lead to demand overload, and the frustration generated by the policy failures of the 1970s set the stage for citizens to suggest that the best way to strengthen democracy and the economy was to weaken government.

27Jacques Parizeau saw through this charade:

It is one thing to be convinced that the policies of yesterday have produced a number of unwanted results, that governments have become inefficient, wasteful and slow; it is quite another thing to accept that in a number of areas, government responsibility should be suppressed. [Parizeau 1988]

28In a world of ever-growing interdependence on a world scale, the need for collective decision-making is growing. The solution, therefore, is not less government or a weaker government, but a different sort of government. There is a need for a new framework, for a transformation in our democracy (Dahl 1989), but this new framework for social and economic policies, capable of guiding nations in the years ahead, has not yet been articulated in Canada.


29Much of what David Marquand (1988) has said about Britain also applies to Canada and to some other advanced socioeconomics: at the core of our difficulties is a moral vacuum. The notion of public purpose is alien to us. We need first and foremost a philosophy of public intervention, a philosophy of the public realm.

30First, one must recognize the need to fill that moral vacuum with a “national ethic” (Grimond 1991), then fill it before getting too far into the design of the new state. To proceed otherwise is to presume wrongly that we already know what the public institutions to be constructed are to be in aid of. Second, one must be able to sketch briefly the sort of design principles that are likely to underpin the social architecture of the new strategic and learning state. The leader must be in a position to identify and promote the institutional setting capable of ensuring the requisite amount of social learning in the Canadian system.

Guiding Values

31One fundamental element in the definition of the new state is the recognition that, despite statements from social scientists and the fact that it is not fashionable to say so, the state is a moral agent, not a morally neutral administrative instrument. Both on the left and on the right, there is a longing for civil society to provide the well-defined codes of moral obligations that underpin the realization of the good society. However, the “built-in restraint derived from morals, religion, custom, and education” that were considered by Adam Smith as a prerequisite before one could safely trust men to “their own self-interest without undue harm to the community” are no longer there (Hirsch 1976).

32The disappearance of this sociocultural foundation has been noted and deplored, and much has been written about the need to rebuild it. But it has also become clear that it is futile to hope for some replacement for these values to come about by “immaculate conception” in civil society. So many have called on the state and on political leaders to accept their responsibility as second-best moral agents (Mead 1986; Wolfe 1989). This does not mean that political leaders should impose values on a community; they should provide a vision, propose a sense of direction, a commitment to ideals, together with the public philosophy to realize them.

33There are many plausible public philosophies (some based on sheer individual hedonism, others on different degrees of commitment to cater to the needs of others both directly through philanthropy and indirectly through the agency of the state), and they should be confronted and compared in public arenas. The citizenry is entitled to ask that its political leaders declare their public philosophy: what are their ideals, their ethics. Such a public philosophy is both constraining (in the sense that it echoes some fundamental choices and, therefore, excludes many possibilities) and enabling (in the sense that it provides a foundation on which to build a coherent pattern of institutions and decisions in the public realm).

34The choice of a public philosophy must be rooted in the basic values of civil society, and on enlightened understanding. This calls not for the least constraining public philosophy, but for one recognizing that the optimal amount of coercion is not zero. Such a position would be the choice of citizens if they had “the fullest attainable understanding of the experience resulting from that choice and its most relevant alternatives” (Dahl 1989). The challenge is to bring about that sort of “fullest understanding” in the population. It means that government can no longer operate in a top-down mode, but has a duty to institute a continuing dialogue with the citizenry.

35This will require a language of common citizenship, deeply rooted in civil society: citizens have goals, commitment, and values that the state must take into account. But citizens must also insist that they want an active role in the formation of these values, goals, and commitments, and in the making of policies supposedly generated to respond to their presumed needs (Sen 1987). Only through a rich forum and institutions that enhance citizens’ communication competence is an enlightened understanding likely to prevail — both as a result of, and as the basis for, a reasonable armistice between the state and the people.

36In the past, the state has played housekeeping roles and offsetting functions, but these functions require minimal input from the citizenry. In complex advanced capitalist socioeconomics, the state must now play new central roles that go far beyond these mechanical interventions. It must become involved as a broker, as an animateur, and as a partner in participatory planning if the requisite amount of organizational learning, co-evolution, and cooperation with economy and society is to materialize.

37To be able to learn, the state must develop a new interactive regime with the citizenry to promote the emergence of a participation society (where freedom and efficacy come from the fact that the individual has a recognized voice in the forum on matters of substance and procedures in the public realm and, more important, an obligation to participate in the definition of such matters). The citizen should not be confined to living in a rights society where the dignity of individuals resides exclusively in the fact that they have claims. (Taylor 1985).

Design Principles

38The design principles for a social architecture in keeping with the guiding values mentioned above are clear. First is the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “power should devolve on the lowest, most local level at which decisions can reasonably be made, with the function of the larger unit being to support and assist the local body in carrying out its tasks” (Bellah et al. 1991: 135–136). This applies in the three realms, and the level of empowerment and decentralization may call for the individual or the family or a minute constituency in the market, the society, or the polity to take charge. This empowerment would not translate, for instance, into paralyzing rules that prevent welfare recipients from supplementing their income, but rather into strategies to help them help themselves (Jencks and Edin 1990).

39The rationale for this principle is that the institutions closest to the citizen are those most likely to be organic institutions, i.e., institutions that are likely to emerge “undesigned” from the sheer pressure of well-articulated needs and to require minimal yearly redesigning. Although subsidiarity reduces the vertical hierarchical power, it increases, in a meaningful way, the potential for participation.

40This is not the death of central government, but the demise of big government as the morphological assurance of resilience. When the ground is in motion, the bulkier and the more centralized the government, the more it will flounder. The lean new central strategic state must deal with norms, standards, general directions, and values. The process of ministering to the public and delivering a service well-adapted to its needs must be devolved to the local level. Such a government would provide services within a framework agreed to nationally.

41The second design principle is that of effective citizen-based evaluation feedback to ensure that the services produced, financed, or regulated by the public realm meet with the required standards of efficiency, economy, and effectiveness and are consonant with the spirit of the agreed standards or norms. This is a central cybernetic loop feature in the refurbished state. It is essential if organizational learning is to proceed as quickly as possible (Crozier 1987).

42This sort of evaluation ensures that the process of participation is significantly strengthened. It provides, partially, some content to the silent relation or implicit contract that prevails between the state and its citizenry. This sort of feedback cannot be presumed to materialize organically. Its objective would be to ensure that state activities, standards, and rules have legitimacy in the beneficiaries’ eyes and that they are compatible with everyday morality, rather than incentives to lie or misrepresent their situations. In away, it would allow the ordinary citizen to be heard better, for “politics is not only the art of representing the needs of strangers; it is also the perilous business of speaking on behalf of needs which strangers have had no chance to articulate on their own” (Ignatieff 1985).

43If government is to become a learning organization, then ensuring a continuous dialogue with the citizenry and improving the competence of its citizens to communicate will require some organizational development and institution-building: one cannot rely exclusively on organic feedback. If a capacity to learn at the centre (from the citizen and from the agency delivering the service) and a capacity for quick feedback and instantaneous action when government does not appear to do the right thing are to materialize, then new instruments are necessary.

44The role of the leader is crucial in this process: producing a language adequate for our times, a language of belonging and common citizenship, a language of problem definition that provides the citizen with translation of his needs, usually expressed in unspecialized language, into categories that are both relevant and inspiring. This would be a language of human good that would serve as an arena “in which citizens can learn from each other and discover an ‘enlightened self-interest’ in common” (Dionne 1991).


45These guiding values and design principles, and the language to articulate them, are not cast in stone. Any ideal can be dropped as learning proceeds: our desires and ideals “are not like our limbs: they are not a fixed part of us” (Schick 1984). But the sensible principles developed in the last section entail a somewhat decoupled organizational form of social architecture. Because the centre focuses on norms and the periphery on delivery, there is the serious possibility of lack of coordination unless a clear sense of public purpose materializes and new partnerships, new skills (strategic management, consultancy and advice, evaluation, etc.), along with new moral contracts binding the partners are developed to weave this whole enterprise together.

46There is no good reason to believe that a central government would be unable to maintain effective control of the direction of the socioeconomy, even if much of the operations were decentralized, as long as it kept some key levers at the norms, standards, and general policy direction levels, and it ensured quick action to modify the current governance regime when special circumstances call for such moves. This has been the logic behind the governance model in vogue in Sweden for the last few centuries. It is also the basic logic behind some of the refurbishment of the state in the United Kingdom in the 1980s (Fudge and Gustafsson 1989).

47One might venture a sketch of what is aimed at: a small number of central intelligence units, representing maybe 5% of the civil service (small units concerned with future-oriented and longer-term policy issues, i.e., laws, regulations, appeals, etc.) quarterbacking all sorts of administrative agencies (representing the other 95% of the public service). These agencies would not be given a simplistic role of enforcement of exogenously-generated higher-order government norms, but would be granted the necessary powers to organize activities in a way consonant with the principle of subsidiarity. These agencies must be learning organizations and, therefore, also interactive. They must be negotiating arenas in which there is significant space for interaction between the agency and the citizens; scope for defining and redefining activities, and for re-orienting them “under conditions of time and place”; and ample provision for dynamic monitoring from above and for continuous feedback from below.

48The central challenge posed by this sort of post-modern state “with a weak centre acting as a kind of holding company” (Grimond 1991) is obviously the need to maintain the capacity for social learning and for strategic intervention in the underlying network. This, in turn, cannot be effected either through the old hierarchical method of command or through simple sermons. What has to be found is away to build institutions likely to restore some bonds of community in a fragmented society and modularized polity, both permeated by possessive individualism. The required institutions must be neither built on command (like regiments) or on exchange (like bazaars), but on communication and learning (like a debating chamber) (Marquand 1988).

Preceptoral Politics, Meso-forums, and the Unwritten Plan

49Centrally important in this context is what Charles Lindblom has labeled “preceptoral politics”: leaders become educators, animateurs, people called upon to reframe our views of the public realm, to design the organization of mutual education, and to “set off the learning process” necessary to elicit, if possible, a latent consensus (Marquand 1988). Such learning is unlikely to occur easily and well in a post-modern society through a forum organized exclusively through national institutions. The requisite institutions will have to be middle-range or meso institutions, networks designed to promote communication and cooperation on a scale of issues that mobilizes existing communities, and meso-forums (regional and sectional) likely to ensure the commitment of the citizenry to organizations “ à leur mesure.

50The strategic state must bet on flexible control and on extremely effective organizational learning through such meso-forums. Their triple role — mediating, setting patterns for the provision of services, and educating individuals in their mutual and civil commitments — needs to be revitalized accordingly (Etzioni 1983).

51However, this fluid and seemingly scattered system of governance in the post-modern strategic state must be anchored in a clear sense of direction. There must be a plan. Most state leaders in advanced socioeconomics outside North America have such a plan, a direction for strategic intervention and a public philosophy that will articulate and rationalize it.

They do not publish their plan because it would never gain consent. Yet it is not what one ought to call a conspiracy.... The plan is not entirely conscious or systematic, and it cannot be as long as it is not written, published, debated, revised and so on. But it is not what you could call a secret. [Lowi 1975]

52The importance of this unwritten plan is that it underpins the state’s strategic action and serves as a gyroscope in the definition of actions taken by the personnel of agencies and ministries. It serves as the basis for a double-looped learning process, as organizational learning must be — not only finding better means of learning to do what we do better, but also, and more important, finding the right goals and learning whether the objectives we pursue are the right ones (Argyris and Schon 1974).

53Such learning cannot be accomplished by elected officials alone. Elected officials and bureaucrats must work symbiotically, and elected officials must learn to devolve a greater amount of discretion to bureaucrats, not only in the delivery process, but in terms of feedback from the citizens. Some officials have complained bitterly about the improper devolution of authority from elected officials to bureaucrats (Schaffer 1988; Auditor General of Canada 1991). Such complaints are ill-founded. The bureaucracy’s exercise of power is not improper, illegitimate, or inefficient. In fact, cumulative decision-making by bureaucrats, working within and with a public philosophy appropriately defined, enables the post-modern state to learn faster through decisions based on the particulars of the case, while maintaining basic standards. Clinging rigidly to the old “parliamentary control framework” of the Westminster model is not necessarily enlightened. What is essential is the development of a modified framework, better adapted to the needs of a strategic state.

54In that context, the Foreign Investment Review Agency and the voluntary compliance program of the Bureau of Competition Policy represent the new kinds of institutions a strategic state requires. In both cases, the government has been satisfied with providing a problem setting, to frame the context of the situation and the boundaries of public attention, while allowing the bureaucrats to use their tacit knowledge and connoisseurship to deal with specific situations, and to arrive at decisions on the basis of a “reflective conversation with the situation” (Schon 1983; Argyris et al. 1985).

New Partnerships and Moral Contracts

55Institutionalizing greater discretion for bureaucrats will mean creating some sort of negotiating tribunal, geared to “ex ante harmonization of public and private interests through the guiding conciliation of bureaucrats” (Paquet 1978b). If the governing principles embodied in the unwritten plan become a diffuse but omnipresent public philosophy, the learning process is likely to be accelerated and, therefore, these structures would quickly acquire legitimacy (Paquet 1971).

56The meso-networks so generated are the basis on which one may hope to construct new bonds or moral contracts that ensure tighter ethical linkages between the citizenry and public servants and more responsible professional linkages among the many echelons of the public management structure (Paquet 1991–92a).

57Because policymakers in the post-modern state face more and more ill-structured or wicked problems (where the goals are unclear, and the means-ends relationships are uncertain), elected officials and bureaucrats are ill-equipped to manage in the usual hierarchical, goal-setting, and control mode (Rittel and Webber 1973). The best one can hope for is some norm-holding, and a process of policymaking based on intelligence and innovation: a dynamic monitoring by those closer to the issues, which feeds an innovative learning process. But this new form of public management, based on continuous feedback and constant problem reformulation as experiences accumulate, requires, over and beyond a guiding philosophy, new partnerships between the public and the private realms, between elected officials and bureaucrats, etc.

58These new partnerships must overcome the important problems of mutual distrust that exist at the moment: prisoner’s dilemma problems. A prisoner’s dilemma is a dilemma of mutual distrust. It is best exemplified by a situation in which two people are arrested for a crime they have committed jointly, but for which the Crown has no definite evidence. Each is urged to “squeal” on the other in return for a light sentence. If neither of them informs, both get intermediate sentences. If both inform, both get harsh sentences; given their mutual distrust, in the absence of a strict moral code about informing, the likelihood of both doing so is high. When such a moral code is adhered to (as in the case of the Mafia code of omerta which promises extraordinarily nasty retribution to anyone who squeals) such problems disappear (Leibenstein 1987). The way out of prisoners’ dilemmas is the hammering out of conventions or moral contracts.

59A prisoner’s dilemma exists between employers and employees: unless there is a moral code in the relationship, both will be tempted to shirk, i.e., to work less or to pay less than they should. As a result, a vicious circle is set into motion: the less productive the work, the less pay, and the less pay, the less productive the work. The result is general unproductivity. The same type of problem exists between the citizenry and the state, between government and business, in the federal-provincial arena, and between elected officials and bureaucrats. Mutual distrust leads one partner to shortchange the other, with the result that the other follows suit, and all the benefits of cooperation vanish. All this can be resolved through conventions or negotiated moral contracts among partners. But these contracts must obviously be inspired and molded by the general guiding philosophy contained in the “unwritten plan,” and by the modicum of trust injected by the leader.

60The new strategic state will be forced to manage, much more than previously, through the values and norms embodied in such moral contracts. These negotiated norms are much less rigid and less likely to foster adversarial relations than if the work is done through formal regulations and rules. “The general idea is that if it is possible to agree on the broad principles that particular sets of regulations strive to achieve, it should be possible to produce a flexible set of arrangements that satisfy the interested parties without hamstringing operations” (Morgan 1988: 163).


61Some may argue that this is not a program for a political party, but, at best, a somewhat different way of thinking about realities and, as such, it is not very useful for a political leader. Others may suggest that such an approach is most unrealistic, inasmuch as it presumes that trust and the bonds of community can be recreated. Finally, some may say that it considerably belittles the stature of political leadership. We disagree on all counts.

Reframing as Lever

62In response to the first argument, we believe that there is a fundamental need for a guiding public philosophy as a loose “projet de société,” and that a reframing of Canadians’ vision of the world through such a framework is necessary before one proceeds to develop the electoral platform of a future government. Without such a framework, the program likely to be constructed will be fraught with disjointedness, and the related constitutional, institutional, and organizational plumbing found to be unsafe. The leader of a political party must put forward a modest but clear public philosophy as the general “projet de société” underpinning the “unwritten plan”: this is a sine qua non in the politics of the 1990s.

63In answer to the second argument, we suggest that this approach may not be as unrealistic as it first appears. Three recent events illustrate the power of this way of thinking, and hint at the feasibility of the proposed strategy. The first is the impact of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s expression of concern about the state of Canada’s educational systems (directly, in the summer of 1989, then indirectly through the Prosperity Forum documents in 1991) and his plea for “a new public consensus on learning goals.” This triggered a wave of soul-searching and questioning at all levels, and it is likely that what will come out of it is an agreement on national educational standards that should go a long way toward resolving the structural, organizational, and technological problems plaguing our educational systems.

64The second example is the impact created by Gérald Tremblay (1991), the Quebec minister of trade, industry, and technology, in his September 1991 diagnosis of Quebec’s socioeconomic malaise. Within days, this had heightened Quebeckers’ consciousness and made him a catalyst for all sorts of cooperative arrangements, including multiyear, no-strike collective agreements, and a different way of crafting Quebec’s industrial strategy as a partnership of government, business, and labour.

65A third example of the progress of this way of thinking is the emergence of a new partnership between Canadian environmentalists and polluting chemical and forestry companies to hammer out acceptable environmental standards that they might jointly propose to governments (Geddes 1991).

Leader as Animateur

66In answer to the third argument, one must emphasize that far from dwarfing the notion of political leadership, this approach underlines the new realities of leadership in a post-modern state.

67Post-modernism is a way of summing up major changes in the socio political and intellectual scene. It connotes four major phenomena: an increasing incredulity toward the broad ideological interpretive schemes of the last century, a new awareness of the dangers of societal rationalization, a concern about the dangers and possibilities of the new information technologies, and a recognition of the new post-materialist values and social movements (feminism, environmentalism, etc.) underpinning local resistance to any broad normalizing force (White 1991). This has led to a fundamental rethinking of public discourse and political theory.

68In this fractured and highly uncertain world, nothing seems linear and easily predictable any longer. The leader is no longer able to neatly separate appreciation and policymaking, on one hand, from executive decisions, on the other. All those who are involved must have a shared appreciative system to take an active and effective part in this process. The leader cannot exert authority through command in this network, but has to acquire this authority through, first, the setting and promotion of certain governing relations or norms embodied in the unwritten plan — those “relations” that the state wishes either to maintain or to bring to “some level more acceptable to those concerned than the inherent logic of the situation would otherwise have provided” — and, second, the negotiating of a true moral contract or pact between the leader and the led that is likely to inspire the led, to mobilize them to work within this shared appreciative system, to generate enthusiasm, to bring them beyond the limits of sheer executants to become creative and imaginative intervenants. All this is to be done in a manner not much different from the creative animation of musicians by the orchestra leader (Vickers 1965; Paquet 1978b).

69The heart of the matter is not goal-seeking and control, but intelligence and innovation — the definition of standards and norms and the negotiation of a moral, intellectual, and emotional norm-holding pact built on a multilevel dialogue in which leaders and constituents are in some measure the shaper and the shaped, and the whole institutional process becomes the learning process and the source of the redefinition of norms and standards as a result of experience (Zaleznik 1991).

70Leadership is no longer a matter of personal charisma. It has become a complex phenomenon in which the leader as animateur is literally a kind of soul of the body politic. Affirming values, motivating, achieving a workable level of unity, explaining, serving as symbol, representing the group externally, and being the continuous source of renewal are only a few of the leader’s tasks in this new context. Fundamentally, there is a necessary sharing of these leadership tasks: if the heart of leadership is the taking of responsibility, empowerment of the led by the leader means that leadership tasks are shared and, therefore, responsibility is shared as well (Gardner 1986: 12).

Governing Relations

71Whatever the arrangement arrived at, all human systems are subject to deterioration. Consequently, leaders must first and foremost be capable of setting in motion and maintaining the processes of renewal around some guiding public philosophy.

72For John W. Gardner (1988: 12), the role of the leader is clearly defined:

(1) To renew and re-interpret values that have been incrusted with hypocrisy, smothered by cynicism or simply abandoned; (2) to liberate energies that have been imprisoned by outmoded procedures and habits of thought; (3) to re-energize forgotten goals or to generate new goals appropriate to new circumstances; (4) to achieve, through science and other modes of exploration, new understandings leading to new solutions; (5) to foster the release of human possibilities through education and lifelong growth.

73A former president of the Carnegie Corporation (and secretary of health, education, and welfare in the United States in the mid-1960s), John W. Gardner puts the values component of leadership at the heart of the matter and relegates debates about plumbing to a subsidiary role, unless they have a contribution to make to the greater efficiency of the learning organization.

74What is required at this time is a clearer definition of the governing relations and a strengthening of the leader-led pact to mobilize this dispersed leadership. From those aspiring to define a third way between neoconservatism and neosocialism, this in turn requires reasserting their conviction that there is an important role for the strategic state and being able to say what it is; and finding a way of renewing the conversation between political parties and citizens of the broad and all-encompassing middle class on the strategic action of the state.

75This cannot be accomplished in Canada or in the United States unless and until some limits are imposed on the “moral agnosticism” of political parties. Comments on the fate of the Democrats in the United States have suggested that

Progressives and Democrats have failed to defend the liberal state because Republicans have successfully narrowed the scope for legitimate political action. In that constricted space, from which the middle class feels excluded, and where the government concentrates solely on the fate of the “have-nots” and on the state as safety net for them, the initial support for government initiatives — for acting collectively — quickly dissolves into skepticism and cynicism. [Greenberg 1991]

Politics and the Middle Class

76Some forty years ago, the liberal state embarked on an ambitious program of social reform. Beginning in the 1960s, there was some effort to promote the values that the program was trying to defend. Those were the days of the “just society,” with which the majority of Canadians could identify. But as time passed, both in Canada and in the United States, the fixation on “have-nots” and the underclass (almost exclusively) and futile attempts to rescue people from poverty have led politics to abandon the working middle class. This explains why they hate politics: politics has abandoned them (Dionne 1991). Families have worked harder, and yet they are losing ground. These people are not against specific broad-based programs, they are against a government that has failed to represent them, that does not seem to address their concerns, that has failed to “articulate a rationale for the government’s role in society” (Greenberg 1991).

77It is some thirty years ago that political leaders (Lyndon Johnson in the USA and Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Canada) articulated a vision of a “broad-based state.” It is hardly surprising that the middle class has lost a sense of its ability to attack problems collectively, as the state has made no effort to communicate a message they can understand or that appears relevant to them. Social programs are in danger because most Canadians are only aware of some of their abuses (although these may turn out to be fiscally trivial); they are not aware of what the public sector does for them every day, of the extent to which their standard of living and economic security depend on public policies, of what government is there for. There has been a disconnection between the taxes they pay and the services they are not aware they are getting.

A Language of Common Citizenship

78There is a tacit demand for a language of citizenship that would echo the concerns and values of the middle class and help it become articulate about politics. In the post-modern context, political leadership no longer consists of charisma and pirouettes — it amounts to providing a philosophy of the public house-hold capable of mobilizing a dispersed citizenry. A case could be made for a renewed notion of citizenship (spelling out individual and collective rights and obligations of Canadians, and the exact role of the state in it) as a promising arena where the Canadian identity might be forged, but also where the mandate of the strategic state might be articulated in conversations between the leader and active citizens (Paquet 1989g; Oldfield 1990).

79In Canada, these discussions at the federal level (the definition of both the governing relations in the unwritten plan, and the moral pact of the leader with the constituents) call for a gamble on a substantial amount of decentralization. This is a mortgage of the recent past: the echo effect of the federal government’s compulsive centralism after the Second World War, and its reluctance to return to the provinces the fiscal and regulatory powers borrowed in a situation of emergency. It is also the result of some unwise “coups de force” (especially in the early 1980s) that still linger in provincial memories: the National Energy Program of 1980 for Alberta, and Bill S-31 in 1982 for Quebec.

80One cannot proceed as if these circumstances did not exist. Consequently, the degree of political “roundaboutedness” called for is much greater at present than it technically needs to be, or than it would have been one decade ago. But one can accomplish little if one ignores these constraints.

81I believe that, despite these circumstances, discussion on a renewed notion of citizenship can serve as a way to jump-start a genuine renewal of politics in Canada. This was envisaged, in a timid way, in the first portion of the Clark proposals for shaping Canada’s future, in September 1991. It should be regarded as a good omen that there has been almost no disagreement about this portion of the document. Indeed, some may even suggest that the whole constitutional debate, if reframed as a way to define the rights and obligations of Canadian citizens, might allow the leaders to initiate the sort of creative dialogue that is needed.


82This overall approach to the scope of government has the merit of re-establishing the centrality of state institutions and exorcizing the various theories of the withering of the state. Economy, society, and polity must share the organizational task of redefining the human political socioeconomy.

83The leader of a political party has to jump-start and steer a process of social learning to ensure that the state plays its role as fully as it must, while allowing the other two domains to occupy their own terrains as fully as possible. There are two broad avenues the leader might follow right from the start: one that is modest and one that is more ambitious.

84In the modest agenda, the strategic state does not aim at the optimum optimorum. Instead, the leader only strives for ways of avoiding excesses, for a loose codifying of a sense of limits. This modesty stems from the fact that very few political questions can be handled by simple rules. Therefore, even a wise public philosophy and an efficient process of organizational learning are regarded, at best, as capable of nothing more than establishing agreement on what is not moral, what is not acceptable. Because we intuitively understand what is unjust more easily than what is just, the challenge is to find the path of minimum regret, for that corresponds to the only hope a leader might reasonably entertain in a post-modern state (Shklar 1989).

85In the more ambitious agenda, the challenge is a bit more daunting: the objective is not to seek the Utopian just society of yesteryear, but to develop an active leadership role that would promote active citizenship. This agenda is built on the following premises (Buckley 1990):

  • the Tocqueville lament about the peril of democracy: “not only does democracy induce to make every man forget his ancestors, it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him utterly within the solitude of his own heart”; and
  • the John Stuart Mill statement about social obligations: “every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit.”

86From these premises, three sets of actions follow:

  • The leader must frame a public philosophy aiming at nothing less than a change in the national ethos.
  • The leader must become an “official,” i.e., “a person with duties and obligations,” not only of foregoing private interests in the name of public duty, but also being capable of “getting the ruled to do what they don’t want to do” because what the public wants, or thinks it wants, or thinks is for it, may not be what the public good requires. This entails a “devoir d’ingérence.
  • The citizen needs to be persuaded that he has an active burden of office, that a citizen may act unjustly, not only by breaking a law, but also by remaining passive in the face of a public wrong. This means that the citizen has to be educated into an active citizenship that entails a “ devoir de solidarité” (Tussman 1977, 1989).

87These agendas are rooted in the development of “a national ethic,” but demand different degrees of dynamism on the part of the leader as moral agent. The modest agenda is a backhanded moral approach: a public household that would ensure this sense of limits would already have done much to recreate the civil politics that is so badly needed. The more ambitious agenda would attempt to reframe the national ethos as a way to guide the debate around the size and scope of the state in the year 2000. Such refraining is regarded by all political parties as the central challenge they are facing today.

88The public philosophy in good currency suggests that the modest agenda is the only viable one. Dwight Waldo (1985), one of the foremost observers of the public administration scene over the last 40 years, reminds us that “we simply do not know how to solve some of the problems government has been asked to solve.” For Waldo, the central feature in the discussion of the boundaries between the private and public spheres is the “growth of the ‘gray area’... the fading distinction between public and private, caused and accompanied by increasing complexity of organizational arrangements where what is — or was — government meets and interacts with what is — or was — private, usually but by no means exclusively ‘business.’” And Waldo adds somewhat sharply that any person who claims to have clear ideas about this “gray area” is “suspect as ideologue, scenario writer, or a con artist.”

89Yet the times may call for leaders capable of envisaging a real attempt at a somewhat immodest agenda. Enlightened pragmatism, an emphasis on practice guided by a modest public philosophy, an ongoing and somewhat directed conversation with the situation, “under conditions of time and place,” are the bedrock of the new modern and modest strategic state. But this enlightened pragmatism need not be amnesic and myopic; it must forge new concepts and new symbols, new options and, as “options are thus changed or expanded, it is to be expected that choice behavior will change too, and changed choice behavior can in turn be expected, given appropriate time lags, to be conceptualized or ‘habitualized’ into a changed set of values” (Mesthene 1970).

90This hemi/semi/quasi immodest agenda is not echoed in the triumphant politics of principle developed by supposedly great political leaders, and likely to convulse society, but in the solution of particular cases in an innovative way. Already, there is agreement on the profile of the new type of leader that the times call for. The key features are a capacity to listen, to learn and to entice others to learn, to change and adapt to change, and to inform the public clearly and serenely about the general orientation of the guiding public philosophy; the courage to change one’s mind when circumstances and problems demand it; but centrally, an “ethical attitude” acting as a gyroscope and permitting no concession to opportunism (King and Schneider 1991).

91It is not clear whether what is needed to kick-start this transformation is a fully worked out “projet de société,” an avventura comune, or nothing more than what Aristotle identified as “concord” (“homonoia” “a relationship between people who... are not strangers, between whom goodwill is possible, but not friendship... a relationship based on respect for... differences” [Oldfield 1990]). What is clear is that the leader of the strategic state needs to find a way to energize the nervous system of the economy, society, and polity, for, as Joseph Tussman (1989: 11) would put it, a modern democracy is committed to “governance not by the best among all of us but by the best within each of us.”

Notes de fin

1 Previously published in three parts in Ciencia Ergo Sum, 1996, 3(3), 257–261; Ciencia Ergo Sum, 1997, 4(1), 28–34; and Ciencia Ergo Sum, 1997, 4(2), 148–154. Extracts are from Chrétien, J. (editor). Finding Common Ground. Hull: Voyageur Publishing, 1992, pp. 85–101. Jak Jabes made most helpful comments on an earlier draft of the paper. The assistance of Anne Burgess and Chantal Roy is also gratefully acknowledged.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 1999

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