The Timeless Appeal of Technocracy in Global Governance

The Timeless Appeal of Technocracy in Global Governance, 23 January 2019

Speaker: Professor Jens Steffek, Technical University of Darmstadt

My presentation is about the rise and fall of the doctrine that international relations should be managed by technical experts, bureaucrats and lawyers, rather than by politicians and diplomats. Praise for technocratic governance has been a persistent theme in the discursive (self-)legitimation of international organizations (IOs) of the functional type, and it was put forward by practitioners and academics alike. Scrutinizing historical evidence from the entire 20th century, I argue that the appeal of technocratic international governance must be understood in the light of modernization theory. The ‘organization’ of international relations through bureaucratization, legalization and the turn to scientific expertise was part of an encompassing project of societal rationalization, which first the Western industrialized countries and successively most other parts of the world embarked on. Typically, proponents of technocratic international governance drew on three themes when legitimating IOs: technical competence, efficient problem-solving and impartial defense of the public interest against political rent-seeking. Recent popular resistance against IOs, evident especially in the European Union, may be interpreted (at least in part) as a backlash caused by the unanticipated consequences and unfulfilled promises of this technocratic utopia.

23 January 2019, 14:00-17:00, Raeburn Room, Old College, University of Edinburgh