The comparative study of public administration ought to include the United States as well as other countries. SICA, as the ASPA Section for International and Comparative Administration, can help us understand our own country. When Krishna Tummala, as SICA president, asked me to write an autobiographical account of how my own thinking has evolved, I grasped the opportunity to make this point through an informal essay. During the 1960s, I chaired ASPA's Comparative Administration Group -- or "CAG" is it was called. Although the Group came to be identified with work on the administrative problems of developing countries, its original focus was, more broadly, on the comparative study of all systems of government.
Historically, CAG grew out of an earlier ASPA Committee on Comparative Administration which was created to promote comparativism as a framework relevant to all administrative systems, including our own. A long-standing tradition in American Political Science embraced the comparative study of foreign governments in order to develop ideas that might help us improve public administration in America (Riggs, 1976a). The Public Administration Clearing House sponsored a conference on "Comparative Administration" at Princeton, in 1952 which focussed on "American needs and resources" as an "increased number of American officials must deal directly with administrators in other countries" (Report, 1952, p.1.). However, when the Ford Foundation in 1960 offered a grant to ASPA to support our work, they stipulated a focus on development administration by which they meant the use of American experience to help newly independent countries enhance their administrative capabilities, thereby reversing the traditional paradigm and greatly narrowing the focus of our efforts.
My own preference would have been to use the comparative approach to study and improve public administration everywhere, both in the U.S. and in other countries, but the restrictions imposed by our foundation funding, while offering unprecedented opportunities, also compelled us to focus on one dimension of our concerns. That is also why ASPA changed our name from a Committee to a Group. When, a decade later, CAG was blended with ASPA's International Committee to establish SICA I hoped that, in this new context, SICA would be able not only to continue CAG's work on development administration but also to promote the comparative study of more developed governments, including the U.S. -- and, of course, add the study of international administration as well. It was, indeed, a broad mandate that had a vast potential for enhancing the understanding and practice of public administration in America.
During the following years, although I continued to be interested in third world countries, I also started to work more broadly on the political context and role of public bureaucracies in all countries, including the United States. It is no criticism of the outstanding accomplishments of SICA in promoting the study of development management as a specialization for international consultants to recall that the Section also had a mandate to promote the comparative study of public administration everywhere, including the United States, and to link it with the global context of international administration. Ferrel Heady was the last chair of the International Committee and I know he also held this expectation. Our hope was that SICA could become an important influence in the main stream of Public Administration in addition to its role on the frontiers of development administration.
I have not followed the contemporary work of SICA closely enough to say anything useful about its important continuing contributions to the field of Development Management. However, I think my own recent work on the comparative analysis of American public administration can be helpful to the main stream of ASPA members and it may also be used by SICA if its members want to return to the original concept of Comparative Administration as a universally relevant inquiry that provided the starting point for the CAG -- I urged the need for comparativism in the study of American public administration in a PAR guest editorial (Riggs, 1991a).
The Comparative Study of American Public Administration. Indeed, the mandate to promote "Comparative Administration," expressed in the title of SICA, needs to include the United States. We cannot really understand our own system when we study it in a parochial way that ignores comparisons, especially with those countries that have adopted our "separation-of-powers" constitutional principle. Comparisons with parliamentary systems fail, for the most part, to clarify the central problems of our type of system.
The Socratic injunction, "know thyself," applies not only to our personal lives but to our system of government. During the 1960's CAG was sometimes accused of ethnocentrism, usually in the sense that we said to ourselves, rather arrogantly, that "we are better than they are." However, I think we were also ethnocentric in a deeper sense because we failed to understand ourselves. Like the proverbial fish who learns the importance of water only after being exposed to the air, we cannot truly understand the limitations and relevance of our own situation until after we compare it with the experience of others -- research and consulting assignments overseas gives us an opportunity to do that.
The original conception of ASPA's Committee on Comparative Administration, as noted above, called for the comparative study of public administration in all countries, not just "foreign" or "developing" countries, and traditionally we looked abroad to find good practices we could emulate. The outstanding example may have been our long-standing interest in the British civil service system which we emulated, with radical changes, when Congress adopted the Pendleton Act in 1883.
After the second World War, however, when a host of new states were formed on the ashes of the collapsed industrial empires, the traditional paradigm of comparativism was reversed: Americans began to go abroad to help third world countries improve their administrative performance as a means to help them accomplish their development goals. The challenge of helping these new states led to a self-complacency which led us, rather naively, to assume that our knowledge of public administration, based on our own experiences in America, would equip us to help others in less developed countries improve their administrative performance.
In fact, we generalized pretentiously by writing about Public Administration on the basis of what we knew about public administration in America. I am following Dwight Waldo's practice of capitalizing the names for a field of study while using lower case for the activity that is studied. Even now, for most of us, Public Administration still means only the study of American public administration, and Comparative Public Administration refers to the study of foreign (i.e., non-U.S.) public administration. Nevertheless, Public Administration as a generalized body of theory, needs to be based on experiences everywhere, i.e., it has to be comparative. Not to be comparative is to be naively parochial. Most scholars will, naturally, focus on administration in their own countries: Germans on governance in Germany, Indians on the problems of India, Thais on Thailand, Chileans on Chile and, of course, Americans on the American experience. But none of us should claim that what we see at home can, by itself, justify a universally relevant theory of Public Administration.
Only the comparative study of American administration can liberate us from that kind of parochialism. Moreover, such comparisons need to focus on the relevant experience of countries that have adopted our own constitutional principles rooted in the separation of powers. Comparisons with parliamentary regimes are interesting, but they cannot help us gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. Only after we make appropriate comparisons, can we justifiably talk about public administration in general - - generalizations based just on the American experience are inescapably ethnocentric and, in principle, might not support our efforts to help people in other countries.
The Ford Foundation Grants. Our shift from using the comparative method to study administration in developed countries to help us improve our own system, to the opposite emphasis on using self-knowledge to assist others was, of course, historically determined by the collapse of the industrial empires after World War II. However, this shift was reinforced in the work of ASPA/CAG by the stipulations of two generous grants from the Ford Foundation which restricted our use of these funds to promote the study and practice of Development Administration. This goal was consistent with the Foundation's emphasis on development projects in Third World countries where, they hoped, our findings could be put to practical use. As a result, we had to narrow the CAG focus from its original emphasis on Comparative Administration, a term we were nevertheless able to keep in our name. Although we did "smuggle in" some work on European administration, we were never able to focus directly on American public administration in a comparative perspective.
Moreover, we were not permitted to use grant money to sponsor research, but we were authorized to finance summer seminars and conferences. These activities led to a substantial flow of working papers written by those who were able to do research on their own, including experience gained overseas as consultants. Many of these papers were subsequently compiled into a dozen books, including: Braibanti 1969, Heady and Stokes 1962, Heaphey 1971, Kornberg and Musolf 1970, Montgomery and Siffin 1966, Riggs 1970, Thurber 1973, Waldo 1970, Weidner 1970, and Gable and Springer, 1976. Indirectly, of course, a great deal of unfunded research went into the preparation of all these articles.
A full record of our thinking can be found in these books. As readers will discover, we were not able, nor did we try, to establish a common framework or paradigm. We could not have reached agreement on any prescriptions for consultants on development administration -- or "development management," as it is now called. Instead, our more modest intention was just to provide a lively forum in which many concerns and responses related to development administration could be reported and discussed. We hoped to learn from each other and to provide materials that many others would find useful and instructive, but everyone involved was always free to make whatever use they could of all these ideas and data.
Most of our authors continued to work and write on Development Administration during the following years, making important contributions to the field, as have the many younger people who joined SICA after the 1960s. A full report on the CAG experience can be found in my "Annual Report for 1970/71" (Riggs, 1971) which is available, on request (though without its detailed annexes). This is not the place to repeat or even summarize that report.
However, we should recognize that the implicit premise of our grants was that American administrative experience and know-how could be used by struggling regimes in the new states to enhance their ability to carry out development projects. We assumed that our system of governance was so good and we already knew so much about it that we could promptly go to less fortunate countries and help them improve themselves. We also imagined that if bad practices prevailed anywhere, that was mainly because of ignorance and knowledge of better practices would lead folks anywhere to adopt them.
Whether or not what worked in America would also work in other countries was not seriously questioned, nor did we suppose that people in other countries may have had good reasons for doing what they did or that there were people with vested interests in the status quo who would resist changes that might infringe on their privileges. An ability to recognize the limitations of the American experience as a basis for helping other countries hinged on a deeper understanding of American public administration than anyone can gain without making comparisons with other countries.
The Ford grants also presupposed that our work would be "non-political" in the sense that we would not ask whether the regimes in host countries were democratic, autocratic, or chaotic -- our expertise was to be politically neutral, it was like giving humanitarian aid to starving people. When one can help sufferers, it is inhumane to ask embarrassing questions about their political systems -- except, of course, we were not expected to help regimes under Communist Party domination.
We were also expected to focus on civil servants (excluding military officers) with an emphasis on training programs and organizational methods that they could use to enhance their developmental goals. U.S. Military Advisory Groups worked simultaneously with the armed forces, relying on doctrines and theories borrowed from the work of American military academies and related institutions -- public administration was seen as irrelevant to the management of military establishments and operations. Thus a major dimension of public administration was arbitrarily ruled out of consideration because it was not viewed as part of public administration in America. As we now know, however, public officials in the armed forces are not only involved in public administration but they came to play decisive political roles in many third world countries.
The underlying premise of our funding, therefore, was that we already knew enough about ourselves and that our knowledge would be universally relevant in developing countries. In that context there was no need for research -- our job was simply to make use of what we already knew, or thought we knew. A well articulated statement of that body of knowledge can be found in the UN Handbook of Public Administration (1961) which set forth a set of prescriptions for good administration. Although strongly influenced by European experience, the norms offered in this manual for consultants and governments everywhere were also based on the American experience, as formulated by Herbert Emmerich, senior consultant on the project: he was the highly respected head of the Public Administration Clearing House under whose auspices I had been recruited in 1951 to work in the New York office of PACH as a liaison officer with the UN. My first assignment was to write a report on in-service training, the premise being that once officials knew more about how to administer well, they would reform their practices. That experience provided the launching pad for my own entry into the emergent field of comparative public administration.
The CAG Experience. The ASPA members who joined CAG were, for the most part, advisers and teachers of Public Administration who had spent some time abroad working on development projects under the auspices of the Ford Foundation, the UN's new Department of Public Administration, and a kaleidoscope of U.S. government programs involved in parallel work -- I shall use "AID", the current name of the Agency for International Development, to represent all its various predecessors.
Most of these "returnees" (i.e., American advisers returning from overseas public administration projects) felt confused and frustrated -- they found that the advice based on prescriptions like those found in the UN Handbook was often unwelcome or unproductive and, perhaps, it was not even appropriate. Although they remained confident in the long-term importance and validity of these guidelines for good administration, they were also open to new explanations and approaches.
CAG also included some academic members of ASPA who were interested in studying the administrative problems of different countries in order to learn more about the conditions that led to administrative failures and successes. No sharp lines can be drawn between these constituencies. Some academics became overseas advisers, in part because research funding was not available and they assumed that field experience abroad would be highly instructive and would generate useful knowledge for future classroom use. Some former consultants recruited from government service switched to university careers after returning home. The assumption that on-the-job experience and theoretical knowledge are interchangeable or complementary has a long tradition in American Public Administration and, of course, ASPA itself is organized on the premise of this complementarity.
Overseas assignments as consultants or teachers presupposed an adequate knowledge of what could or should be done. There was no time or support for field research that might have shed more light on the problems and options available to host countries -- in fact, even to ask for research support seemed to imply that one was not well enough equipped to work effectively as a consultant or teacher. At least, that appears to have been the premise of most American and international sponsors -- and the host countries were scarcely able to identify their own situation or needs well enough to guide potential researchers.
Had we admitted how little we really knew, we would not have been rewarded with research funding -- rather, all support would have been terminated. That is what happened to CAG when our funding terminated at the end of the 1960s. Without new funding, we could not continue to sponsor the seminars, workshops, papers and books that proved so fruitful during the previous decade. Without such support, we could only maintain such no-cost activities as annual ASPA panels and workshops, newsletters and correspondence.
ASPA's older and more prestigious International Committee also entered the picture at this time. Its distinguished members had, for many years, coordinated relations between ASPA and the International Institute for Administrative Sciences, primarily by selecting the American participants to join its summer roundtables and advising those who wished to attend its congresses. Ultimately, with leadership from Ferrel Heady and Richard Gable, the two groups were united and renamed the "Section for International and Comparative Administration" or SICA -- it continues to the present day to provide stimulating initiatives within the context of ASPA's regular program. SICA's primary focus now is on problems of Comparative Public Administration and, secondarily, on the administration of International Organizations, especially the UN and related agencies. Original hopes for activities that would link these subfields appear not to have materialized [see Heady's article].
Understandably, there was a sense of let-down among some ASPA members because interesting activities that had previously been supported could not be continued. Various criticisms were brought to a focus in a PAR symposium organized by Dwight Waldo, its editor at that time. Dwight convened a group of younger scholars who had become interested in comparative administration and asked them to write evaluations of the movement. Their sharp criticisms were published in PAR (1976, Vol.36, no.6) and make interesting reading today.
Ethnocentrism. Unfortunately, I cannot review and comment on all these criticisms here, but I did respond to some of them at the time: see Riggs (1976b and 1980). However, I will focus on the charge of ethnocentrism which I mentioned above. This word has such fuzzy connotations that it can mean quite different things: it usually carries connotations of cultural insensitivity and, no doubt, we were often guilty of that. Since the 1960s, however, there has been a real effort on the part of American consultants working overseas to be less didactic, to establish collegial rather than authoritative relationships with their counterparts, and to behave like participants in a joint enterprise rather than "experts" catapulted from an outside world. More sensitivity to the deep flaws in our own society -- poverty, racism, inequities, and corruption -- have also made Americans more modest in their overseas work.
However, there is a deeper sense in which we have been ethnocentric -- we have not understood our own system of government well enough to know when it provides relevant experience for export to other countries, and when it is not appropriate, when exporting our own practices could actually do more harm than good. We usually assume that the institutions and procedures for implementing public policies that we had evolved are universally appropriate and that we can help any country by offering them the benefits of our superior knowledge. This assumption is evident in everything we write about public administration in general that is actually based solely on observations in the United States. Such reports may be quite accurate, but their relevance outside our own country is often quite limited. When we encounter resistance to our ideas and efforts overseas, we often assume it is because of misunderstandings or capricious reasoning, not any fundamental limitations of our own knowledge and practice of public administration. Yet, the only way to know whether American administrative practices are relevant anywhere else is to base knowledge about ourselves on comparisons with the experience of other countries.
Since the 1960s, I have come to believe that American experiences in the management of public affairs are so exceptional that they are often irrelevant in other countries -- the context which makes these practices work well in the U.S. differs so much from the contexts found in other countries that we should, indeed, expect many of them to be irrelevant elsewhere. Had this idea occurred to us in the 1960s, we might have seen that first priority in the comparative analysis of public administration should have involved the study of our own country and its system of governance. Had we put the spotlight of comparativism on America, we might have learned things about ourselves that would have humbled us and made us more willing to learn and less eager to teach in our overseas work.
To support this view, let me explain some of the things I have recently learned about American public administration: frankly, they were invisible to me while CAG was active. It took me a long time to reach these conclusions and I expect most readers will not agree with me. Nevertheless, I want to explain what I now believe and how I reached these conclusions. In retrospect, during the 1960s, what CAG ought to have done -- but obviously could not do -- was to assess the American experience first before trying to help others.
My Personal Experience. My own interest in learning about the American experience is rooted in my childhood experiences as the son of an agricultural missionary. My father went to China in 1916 with the utopian expectation that his knowledge of American agricultural practices could be used to help Chinese farmers improve their techniques and productivity. Surely this was more plausible than our expectation that American administrative practices could be exported -- just as a tractor or plough is simpler than a position classification or a budget. After years of field work in a remote southern city, my father went to the University of Nanking where he established, during the 1930s, the first Department of Agricultural Engineering in China. By that time he had also learned that almost none of the tools and machines used by American farmers had any relevance to the needs of Chinese farmers.
Given the technical, physical and cultural constraints experienced by the Chinese, my dad realized that they had accomplished miracles -- their ability to feed a vast population on an ancient and widely eroded land, using limited resources and pre-industrial technology was indeed astonishing. The only way that agricultural productivity in China could be increased, my father argued, had to be based on an intimate understanding of existing practices and resources, augmented by the invention of some new crops, materials, and facilities that could, incrementally, bring about useful adaptations and improvements.
This experience taught me great respect for the Chinese and also raised questions in my mind about our American "achievements" -- for more details, see (Arora 1992, pp. 1-34, and Tummala, 1995). It also led me, when I went to Thailand in 1957 for a year of field research under a grant from our Social Science Research Council, to focus my attention on the way the Thai government had been organized to administer agricultural development programs -- especially in all dimensions of rice production, processing, marketing and use, both at home and internationally.
This approach sprang directly from my father's experience because it did not start with any presuppositions about what America had to offer abroad nor what I would find in Thailand. I knew, of course, that rice was the stable food of the Thai people and the main crop grown by its farmers. Because, as a boy, I had seen my father's experiments with rice breeding and milling, I thought I also knew something about this subject. What I discovered was illuminating and unexpected -- it led me to formulate a theoretical framework that I called the prismatic model. Although my latest work has moved on to other subjects, the prismatic model remains central to my understanding of the world today, especially of countries cross-pressured by their own traditions and foreign imports.
The basic premise of American technical assistance projects -- and of our ethnocentrism -- involves more than the American experience. That experience rests on a pervasively Eurocentric world view: we saw the third world as "backward" or "traditional," and the Western world (especially in America) as "progressive," "modern," or "developed." We felt challenged to bring the fruits of our experience to the unfortunate people who needed our help so that they could jump onto a moving escalator called development or modernization that would carry them -- no doubt after years of struggle and trauma -- to a promised land in which they would all become "like us," partners in an increasingly prosperous and happy world, indeed, a world without history and a world blessed with capitalism, democracy, and efficient public administration.
This perception was, of course, not limited to those of us interested in Public Administration -- it was a general bias shared by almost everyone living in Western countries in all fields of knowledge. It was part of our cultural heritage and we could scarcely detach ourselves from it. Ethnocentrism is the normal human condition which we can only escape by exposing ourselves to cultures quite different from our own, as I had to learn from personal experience.
My own youth spent on the borders of Chinese and American lifeways set the stage for my appreciation of the Thai experience. Here I saw a realm where ancient traditions and religious beliefs were deeply rooted, and grave suspicions prevailed about the outside world, its political/economic aims and its cultural practices. The Thai people did not want to become carbon copies of Westerners and they feared the negative consequences of foreign-born innovations. However, they were also realistic in their belief that they would have to sway with the typhoons of Western imperialism -- they saw their own survival as dependent on change. The challenge accepted by the Thai people involved efforts to preserve their most treasured cultural values and practices, while importing from abroad whatever might be necessary to accomplish this goal, including adaptations that would please foreigners and win them acceptance in an increasingly interdependent world. Unfortunately, they could not have foreseen some of the adverse effects these innovations would cause.
Confronting a Paradox. Before going to Thailand -- building on my experiences in China, including a year as a student at the University of Nanking -- I formulated models of two contrasting life ways that led me to articulate the polarized notions of agraria and industria -- see (Riggs, 1957). After reaching Bangkok, however, I came to see the need for a metaphor that could help us understand the cross-pressures or juxtapositions that occur when two contradictory and different ways of life are juxtaposed. Can we visualize a complex cross-pressuring syndrome formed by superimposing an insistent external world on a resistant internal world, by the struggle to reconcile incompatible values and contradictory pressures, to combine industria and agraria as elements of a syndrome? My experiences in Thailand led me to think of a prism as the metaphor that could most easily symbolize this paradox, a cross-pressured world.
When white light is diffracted by a prism into a multi-colored rainbow, we can visualize a process whereby polarizing impulses are held in an unstable equilibrium. The prismatic experience is not a synthesis based on the dialectical model, nor a stage on a moving belt advancing from tradition to modernity: rather, it is an enduring dilemma for peoples trapped between two different worlds, a trap that generates its own dynamics, its own inescapable logic and onerous contradictions.
To use a different metaphor, reject the linear model of an escalator that moves only upwards, from A to B, in favor of a prism or triangle -- it enables us to think of the traditional and modern models, points A and B, as vectors generating the apex of a triangle, C. C escapes from both A and B by means of a third dimension -- it has its own dynamic stability. Although the results may be lamentable, they can also be attractive. The traditional norms or structures that persist may be quite humane and situationally sensitive whereas the externally imposed standards may be more efficient but also arbitrary and rude. The prismatic model strives for a synergy composed of these contradictory elements. They may not be reconciled, however. Instead, they may be held together in perpetual tension.
After two years in Southeast Asia, I stopped in New Delhi to offer a synthetic view of the three contexts of traditional (fused), modern (diffracted) and conflicted (prismatic) public administration -- see (Riggs 1961). These preliminary ideas provided the basis for a more elaborated theory of prismatic society (Riggs 1964) which I published during the CAG years. Many if not most of our American members found it overly complex and unreal: it was not generally accepted in the CAG-sponsored volumes mentioned above. In many new states, however, the prismatic metaphor was widely seen as relevant to experienced realities. A festschrift for me that was published in India offered an opportunity for quite a few third world authors to bear witness to the utility of this notion (Arora, 1992).
I sought to clarify some of these ideas in PAR essays (1968 and 1980) and in a follow-up monograph (Riggs, 1974). Subsequently, however, my work led in a different direction: instead of continuing to explore the implications of the prismatic model in third world countries, I came increasingly to see that we also needed to look more deeply, using comparative methods, into the dynamics of governance and public administration in America. Actually, the prismatic model can help us understand some of the paradoxes in our own country where a continuing flow of immigrants has confronted us with contradictory norms, and the concurrent presence of affluence and efficiency mingled with poverty and crime, even in Washington, DC, our Capitol city. However, a deeper connection exists which I will try to explain by means of the Thai experience.
Thailand. It was the prismatic design of a bureaucratic polity in Thailand that led me, step by step, to reassess the constitutional design of governance and administration in the United States on which this account focuses. However, I need to share with you the steps in my own thinking that led to this conclusion -- the transition from Thailand to America lacks face validity and needs some explanation.
The "promoters" of 1932 intended to transform Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a parliamentary democracy -- a truly revolutionary goal and one that modernizers cheered. However, the military officers and civil servants who joined forces to promote this revolution soon found that the elected Parliament resisted their ideas and interests as much as the king had. They coped with this clash by reducing parliament to a puppet assembly. A multi-party system and free elections were indeed instituted. However, the regime assured support for all their policies by naming officials (military and civil) to half the seats in the assembly. Moreover, they put icing on their cake by coopting many elected officials: they promised "pork barrel" benefits in exchange for votes. Those who refused to go along got no largess, and their complaints persuaded foreign observers that the new regime was "democratic," a nice lure for foreign aid.
Both the traditional monarchy and the modern parliament, therefore, existed as veneers behind which appointed officials, led by military officers, ran the country. A detailed account can be found in Riggs (1966). The political dynamics of a bureaucratic polity, as seen in Thailand, have recurred since 1932 in many of the new states created by collapsing Western industrial empires. They are typically launched by a coup d'etat, often followed by successive counter-coups.
Only military officers can seize power by violence -- civil servants lack the necessary means of violence -- but the result is bureaucratic domination since civil servants share the power. Armed officials are as bureaucratic as unarmed ones -- it is one of our historical quirks to equate public administration with the civilian functions of governance. Yet the armed forces are also part of our public administration even though they are excluded from the formal study of Public Administration in America. They exercise a lot of influence in virtually every country of the world -- Costa Rica excepted because it manages without an army. We deceive ourselves to think of any regime like Thailand's -- before parliamentarism triumphed in 1992 -- as military. Civil servants participated in its coups and cabinets, enabling appointed officials to become politically dominant.
The Impact of Modernity. At first I thought the Thai situation was unique, but during the last half-century, similar coups have occurred in many other countries. Although revolutionary violence and the replacement of kings and emperors often occurred in pre-modern polities, the seizure of power by appointed officials was almost without precedent until modern times. The reasons are not hard to see. Modernity rests on industrialism, relying on mass production, high energy, and advanced technology. The process has made the expansion of bureaucratic functions both necessary and possible. As a result, the capacity of appointed officials (led by military officers) to seize power has escalated.
Modernity has also replaced monarchies with representative governments -- the democratic principle of popular sovereignty has supplanted royal sovereignty. However, this transition has not been easy: it involves a basic reshaping of traditional values and institutions, notably the sacred foundation of royal absolutism (Hocart, 1927). The principles of representative government, rooted in secularism, evolved gradually and painfully in the West, but they could not suddenly be established as viable premises for the new regimes in countries that had only known imperial domination or traditional structures of autocratic power. Frequently, therefore, the make-shift democracies that the imperial powers sometimes (certainly not always) sought to establish in their former possessions were usually weak and conflicted. By contrast, the structures of colonial administration bequeathed to these countries by their imperial masters were well established and, often with foreign assistance, could be expanded and re-shaped to cope with the new challenges brought by industrialization. In retrospect, it is not surprising that these fragile states could not maintain effective control over their bureaucracies, including their armed forces.
In fact, the emergence of bureaucratic polities became increasingly common in many Third World countries. My experience in Thailand, as updated in Riggs, (1981, and 1982), led me to study the phenomenon elsewhere, seeking to discover what conditions were most likely to generate bureaucratic polities or enable democratic institutions to maintain control over their expanding bureaucracies. Although quite a few scholars have studied this problem, they almost always focus on the military, attributing coups to the ambitions or greed of army officers, while ignoring the role of civil servants and paying little attention to the historic transformations that have made governance through representative institutions so frail.
One exception can be found in the work of Ferrel Heady whose masterly treatise on public administration in a comparative perspective pays serious attention to the rise of military regimes (Heady, 1996). His leadership during the early days of the CAG was an inspiration for all, and his role in launching the very successful College of Public Administration in the Philippines was a notable accomplishment. In important respects, however, his conclusions and mine differ from each other.
As I saw it, domination of a polity by appointed officials puts military officers into the leading positions but they need the help of civil servants who typically support them and often participate in carrying out a coup. Without the help of experienced civil servants, especially the technocrats who understand how to manage the complexities generated by industrialization and international interdependency, military officers are ineffective rulers.
Moreover, bureaucratic domination lacks legitimacy in terms of either traditional or modern theories of governance. Consequently, to maintain their power, bureaucratic polities rely on formalistic facades: they sponsor democratic practices that they can control in order to secure foreign assistance, while they simultaneously maintain traditional institutions that can retain the mass support of their own subjects. In some countries, moreover, as in Thailand itself, political pressures to establish, or re-establish, genuine democracy have hounded bureaucratic rulers from the very beginning -- from 1932 until the present day. Their lack of legitimacy is an Achilles heel that makes all bureaucratic polities fragile, and certainly does not guarantee their rise to power. After having identified the salient features of a bureaucratic polity (military regime), it struck me that a comparative analysis of all third world countries might shed some light on their dynamics, i.e., what factors contribute to their rise?
See related papers by Riggs: