COMMENTS ON THE PAPER "SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, TECHNOCRACY AND DEMOCRACY"
(1979). by SIMON SCHWARTZMAN
Luiz Alberto Bahia
The central merit of the work presented by Simon Schwartzman is very well
synthesized in the conclusion. The expectations of the managerial positivism
of science and social engineering of the 19th century and the technocratism
of the 20th century have not been confirmed, as regards their capacity to
construct and operate a society without vices and defects, the antithesis
of a political society open to uncertainty and characterized by inequality
of opportunity and results.
It was not only science in general, but also science at the service of politics
that frustrated these hopes. The principles of science applied to governing
men did not correspond to the supposed relationship between the rationality
of the means and the Reason of the ends. The means may have undergone the
positive impact of scientific and technological efficiency. But there is
nothing to show that the same impact has in any way increased the degree
of Reason as far as the ends of human society are concerned. That is to
say, neither science nor technocracy applied to the administration of
the relationships among men -- we are not speaking here of relationship
between man and nature -- have produced valid alternatives for political
life defined as the practice of social conflicts of interest.
The author is right to stress the continuity of the legitimacy of political
life vis-a-vis technocracy, that is to say, science applied to the administration
of human relationships.
It should be noticed that neither science nor technocracy have shown a lack
of interest in its decision-making processes. They themselves are mired
in the very conflicts of interest that justify the existence of politics
as a practice and also as a science of conflicts and compromises. In this
sense the Marxist attempt to give itself the cognomination of "scientific
socialism" is a contradiction. Socialism is at the service of specific
interests, and therefore it cannot claim a position of objective awareness
free of contradictions, both c)n the level of the rationality of the means
and the Reason of the ends that it proposes.
Simon Schwartzman is right when he points to the conservative nature of
both science and technology. In the case of technology applied to human
relationships, the conservatism of technocracy is in no way inferior to
the conservatism of the so-called social classes with property interests
to preserve or of the political power that comes from property.
It is impossible to support the Weberian thesis of the rationality of technocracy
once it starts to represent the social interests in question. That is to
say, starting from the very moment that it possesses decision-making power.
In other words, the so- called representative irrationality that is only
attributed to political bodies elected by suffrage, is in fact intrinsic
to technocracy. The charisma of technocratic rationality -- technocracy
being the group of social scientists with the power to run society -- has
the conservative function of all ideologies. While apparently transcending
the social reality, it is in fact maintaining it.
Technocratic rationality legitimizes irrationality as regards the use of
power in the same way that the principle of Divine Right rationalizes autocratic
power. The same observation can be made in relation to the charisma that
legitimizes the absolutism of the will of the people manifested in universal
The author clearly sees the fact that technocracy, in order to legitimize
itself as a rational-charismatic power, criticizes the irrationality of
the democratic decision-making process. And, at the same time, it resorts
to all the symbologies of traditional power -- ritual and consanguineous
-- to manipulate the political process of conserving and increasing the
power of technocracy. On the one hand, it attempts to legitimize itself
through the mystification of disinterested rationality; and on the other,
technocracy, as the science of governing man, resorts to the traditional
Emotions that make it possible to manipulate people, through the adoption
of new techniques of communication and education. As Simon Schwartzman shows,
the conservation of power is achieved by the creation of a "benevolent,
A type of society that is perfectly adapted to the power poli tics of the
sovereign "accumulative State", the State that seeks to conserve
itself and to grow through the accumulation of patrimonial power. The principal
agent of the modern accumulative State is technocracy. Hence the increasing
and ill-controlled power of the technocracies in developing countries, where
the tradition of democratic parliamentary controls has not taken firm root.
In these States, the challenge of poverty justifies, in a direct and prima
ry way, the model of the "accumulative State" and its agent, technocracy.
Representative democratic power is accused of being the agent of distributivism,
of anti-accumulation, of anti-development, in that it is subject mainly
to the present, immediate demands of the electors.
Technocracy and the accumulative plan constitute the antithesis of the democracy
of the consumer and of the contributor, without the latter pair possessing
adequate means to control the decision- making process. First, because the
idea of the consumer is itself ambiguous; the consumer is also a producer
and is also concerned with the values of accumulation and the greatness
of his own State; second, because Congress or Parliament in developing countries
is seen as anti-accumulative and traditionalist, third, because it tends
to be seen less as representative of the Third Estate, the bourgeoisie of
the accumulating contributors, and more and more as an organ of the Fourth
Estate, supposedly distributivist and representative of the non-contributors,
that is to say, low-income workers. Universal suffrage would tend to elect
a Fourth Estate majority of non-contributors.
These are the reasons for the systematic claim for uncontrolled power on
the part of the technocracy that represents well- organized corporative
powers, both public and private, that do not wish to have their advantages
balanced-out or moderated by the restraints of representation based on universal
In Brazil we have a typical case in which Congress, the representative power,
has in fact lost its democratic attributions in the decision-making process
of economic policy, and with this it has no chance of controlling, a
priori, the decision-making mechanism of the technocracy, which monopolizes
economic policy according to priorities of development (accumulation) and
A tentative proposal has been put forward for controlling the technocracy's
performance. The representative Congress would judge the success of the
plan, making a comparison between what was promised and what was achieved,
and also assessing the unauthorized alterations in the plan's objectives
and any unforeseen changes in priorities determined by the effect of pressure
groups and special interests on the bureaucracy.
But how can there be any a posteriori control without the a
priori power to deny budgetary resources? A Congress without the power
to deny the Executive resources is an impotent power, whatever other punitive
powers it may be given by the innovatory constitutions of the incipient
democracies of the developing countries.
* * *
Technocracy is power in the modern, accumulative State, in the sovereign
States that seek to overcome the inequalities of wealth among nations on
the assumption that it is feasible, by way of forced accumulation, to overcome
the national patrimonial scarcity that the actual order of the sovereign
States creates and conserves, and takes the form of a rigid hierarchy of
power and control of the world's patrimony.
* * *
The author of the paper stresses that only democratic political life can
achieve a balance between the satisfaction of the values and priorities
of the accumulative technocracy of power and the demands of representative
democracy for social well-being and the possible satisfying of needs. That
is to say, Democracy in its deepest sense as a regime of equality of opportunity