Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Paul Du Gay, Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth, For Public Service. State, Office and Ethics, Routledge, 2022

Book Description
This book develops a particular stance on the subject of public service. It does so in large part by indicating how early modern political concepts and theories of state, sovereignty, government, office and reason of state can shed light on current problems, failings and ethical dilemmas in politics, government and political administration.

Simply put, public service is an activity involving the constitution, maintenance, projection and regulation of governmental authority. Public service therefore has a distinctive character because of the singularity of its ‘official’ object or ‘core task’ – namely, the activity of governing in an official capacity through and on behalf of a state. In pursuing this activity, public servants – civil, juridical and military – have a range of tasks to perform. It is only once the nature of those tasks is appreciated that we are able to identify the unique character of public service. The authors employ early modern political concepts and doctrines of state, sovereignty, government, office and reason of state in order to critically analyse contemporary political issues and offer solutions to problems concerning the status and conduct of public service. This book aims to remind public servants of the status of their ‘calling’ as office-holders in the service of the state, a daunting task given the rising tide of populism and the widespread prevalence of anti-statist, bureaucrat-bashing political discourse. It stresses the governmental dimension of the work of public servants as occupants of official roles in the service of the state, in order to reinforce their legitimate position in articulating public interests against the excesses of private interests and intense partisanship that continue to dominate many societies.

This timely and thought-provoking book will be of great interest to those working within a range of fields in the humanities and social sciences, including political science, history, sociology, philosophy, organization studies and public administration.

Table of Contents
Introduction 1. The State 2. On Office 3. The Bureaucratic Vocation 4. Whatever Happened to ‘Administrative Statesmanship’? 5. Reason of State as an Official Comportment Conclusion: To Serve a State


Paul du Gay is Professor and Director of Research Impact in the School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, Professor in the Department of Organization (IOA) at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and Research Guest Professor at the Royal Danish Defence Academy. His research interests include organization theory, bureaucracy and the ethics of office. He is author, inter alia, of In Praise of Bureaucracy: Weber, Organization, Ethics (2000) and co-author of For Formal Organization: The Past in the Present and Future of Organization Theory (2016).

Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth is Associate Professor in the Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His research interests include the history and status of organization theory, contemporary and historical problematizations of office-holding, bureaucracy and the state and – more recently – the organization of security. His articles have appeared in numerous journals, including Organization, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology and Journal of Cultural Economy.

“Despite its sober title, this book makes a vivid intervention into contemporary debates over the nature and justification of the state’s public authority and the role played by public officials in its exercise. To do so, it launches a series of daring raids on early modern political thought, recovering a series of key concepts—state, sovereignty, office, and reason of state—in support of a crucial practical and political objective. This is nothing less than to deliver into the hands of contemporary statesmen and officials an almost lost ethical and political vocabulary, one that is vital for understanding and defending their roles in the face of a widespread and multi-faceted anti-statism. Paul du Gay and Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth have thus written a tract for the times in the manner of their exemplars Thomas Hobbes and Samuel Pufendorf. By turns learned and passionate, historically informed and politically attuned, For Public Service delivers classical tools for thinking about public authority in a form suited to their immediate use by all those engaged in its exercise or dependent on it.”

Ian Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland, Australia

“Impersonality, reason of state, prudence, ethics of office: if someone had told me that one of the most spirited and penetrating arguments for the ideal of public service would come from such a tired repertoire, I would have wished them good luck. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Resourcing themselves in the history of political thought, Paul Du Gay and Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth breathe new life into a dusty constellation of concepts to remind us what there is to love about the state at a time when everyone seems eager to dismiss it. They argue that public service is not just about acting diligently in the public interest, but also about constituting and safeguarding the authority of the state, and they explain under what conditions such authority warrants our respect. Criss-crossing the fields of international relations, political sociology, intellectual history, public administration, and organizational theory, this brilliant book is a feast of erudition. Above all, it is a moving paean to the impersonal structure of offices we have inherited and to the civil servants whose vocation it is to keep it afloat, and whose primary merit is—against the incantations of new managerialism—to think well within the box.”

Bernardo Zacka, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

“This is a timely, scholarly, compelling and important book which defends the role of the public service as an essential institution for preserving liberty and protecting our common life against populist politicians from both the left and the right. Exercising the objective, critical detachment they seek to reinvigorate in the idea of public service itself, the authors remind us of the ethics of office and the importance of duty and responsibility, as distinct from the predominantly individualistic ethics of contemporary times. They explain the value of public bureaucracy as a crucial cornerstone of constitutional rule.”

Janet McLean QC, Professor of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand

“This book is very compelling. It exhibits a critical ethical dimension in its defense of the plurality of value-spheres,  and its resistance to sweeping, ‘epochal’ critiques of modernity that suggest that there is nothing those of us who regret the decline of state service and its ethic can do but bemoan the misfortunes of our era. In providing a useable set of early modern ‘classics’ by whose lights we can rehabilitate key concepts of state, office, and reason of state, and thus escape both the post-1970s enervation of the state throughout the West and the unhelpfully totalizing (and thus paralyzing) critiques of the former by theorists of the left and right, it strikes me as a vital help to overcoming our collective impasse.”

Blake Smith, Harper Schmidt Fellow at University of Chicago Society of Fellows, USA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: