Education of civil servants


I was wondering what would happen, if we required the people who serve in top positions in a democracy (president...) to go through a dedicated school, that would be free for anyone who wants to enroll, and exclusively based on merit, run by the state.

The idea would be to prepare the future leaders of that democracy through a solid education in history, geography, economics, ... and of course Philosophy!

I do believe that running a State is incredibly hard, and that being prepared would be productive, and in the interests of the citizens. I think it should be open to anyone though, as long as you can demonstrate that you have the capacity (hence that school will be all based on merit, and not on money, no buying anything here).

I am not sure what to make of the fact that it might de facto exclude some citizens, i.e. those who might enroll, but then fail along the way. Would that make the system not democratic? Also, I would be curious about any reference on that topic, I'm sure there are plenty already.


Posted 2017-01-14T00:50:59.783

Reputation: 360

Similar principles were though through in the Platos Republic; it wouldn't surprise me if it had a role in adoption of mass education in the West... – Mozibur Ullah – 2017-01-14T00:57:40.103

I will check out Plato's Republic. What do you think of the idea, @Mozibur? – Frank – 2017-01-14T02:25:36.720

The idea has merit! – Mozibur Ullah – 2017-01-14T04:32:00.647

Plato suggests that guardians are ready to be leaders only when they reach 50 years of age, after (among other things) 10 years of maths (!), 5 years of "dialectic" and 15 years of "apprenticeship", if I understand correctly. That is exactly what we need nowadays - at least because it would discourage politicians who "are in it" for the wrong reasons, hopefully. The more strenuous the learning process, the more would be discouraged and give up. – Frank – 2017-01-14T06:02:14.543

I think he changed his mind on math, they were guidelines after all; plus it meant something different to him than is meant to day; its the study then of proportion, amongst other things; in the Timeaus, which comes after the Republic, he just says music & gymnastic; Confucious made roughly the same point about age, maturity and education. – Mozibur Ullah – 2017-01-14T06:21:41.717

How is what you're suggesting different from normal education? Don't leaders and civil servants already go through an education in History and Geography, isn't that just called school? – Isaacson – 2017-01-14T07:35:13.737

@Isaacson: It isn't; but given how much effort today is given to turning education into profit-centres and education into just another commodity; its worth reminding ourselves that there is a difference. Anyway, I think the key word there might be 'dedicated'; the French system for example has les grande ecole d'adminstration created only in 1945 to 'democratise access to the senior civil service'.

– Mozibur Ullah – 2017-01-14T11:34:20.367

It would be quite different, in a few was: 1. it would be dedicated indeed, to whatever is required to really be proficient at matters of State ; 2. it would be free and merit-based, but selective: you might get in (on an exam), but you might be eliminated along the way if you don't work hard enough or don't have the capacity ; 3. most important: only graduates of that school can be elected to top positions. That is probably the biggest different: it restricts which citizens can access top positions. It's like Plato's guardians: leadership is no longer open to all citizens. – Frank – 2017-01-14T14:53:54.033

@Mozibur - yes about maths - also, it was probably a way of educating them on the Ideas, right? Or it could have been exposure to logic and abstraction - but not sure if Plato already put that in his version of "maths". – Frank – 2017-01-14T14:55:15.380

@Isaacson - that's where the interesting philosophical questions lie IMHO: opening up top positions only to "guardians" which form a smaller group than the body of all citizens is not the idea in a usual democracy. What are the consequences of that? Is it dangerous? Is it unjust? (which was explicit in my question - I want to look at the consequences of setting up such an "exclusionary" system). – Frank – 2017-01-14T15:04:54.607

@Mozibur - do you have references to the debate (if any) that prompted the French to setup the ENA? There might be interesting books, papers, articles... that led to that decision and would examine the question of consequences? Although in France, graduating from ENA is not a requirement to get elected - as in "my" proposed system. With ENA, I think the only consequence is that there is a ready contingent of technocrats to be tapped into, but the top positions (president...) are still open to any citizen. – Frank – 2017-01-14T15:10:32.067

I just took a look at the subjects on the entrance exam to ENA - it is open to any EU citizen with 3 years of university, basically, and the subjects are quite "philosophical" or economy and law oriented, some questions very technical (details of laws between France and the EU). It makes me think that just to get "in", you already need a very serious understanding of law, philosophy, social issues,... So there is a strong assumption built into this system that education (and not just primary) is essential to running the State. Which is also an assumption we could discuss. – Frank – 2017-01-14T15:30:07.057

@frank: I was thinking that in the British system, kids are taught mathematics from around the age of 7 to 16; starting with counting blocks, multiplication tables, algebra, geometry & calculus; this isn't far off ten years...! – Mozibur Ullah – 2017-01-15T02:20:44.917

@Mozibur - hehe. Indeed. Same in France, actually from 5 to 18. Here is another angle: is education after high school required for citizens to be elected to top positions in the State? Should the curriculum up to high school be enough for any citizen, if he/she wants to be e.g. president? – Frank – 2017-01-15T02:25:23.790

Too bad there are not more takers for this question :-) I thought this would be a good topic for, but apparently not :-) – Frank – 2017-01-15T22:48:14.293

Didn't Confucius bring this about in China? – Dave – 2017-01-18T14:49:31.977

@Dave: probably - so we have Confucius and Plato saying something about education and running the State - we must be onto something :-) – Frank – 2017-01-18T15:30:24.497



It's not a new idea. Haileybury School in England was set up by the East India Company to train civil servants to administer India. By its standards it was very successful, the school still exists but obviously not for this purpose.

Note, though, that it's not at all clear that the people administered by the alumni of Haileybury necessarily agreed that they did a great job. This, I think, hints at the flaw in the idea.

By necessity, if you train all your civil servants in one school/college, they'll have an outlook that reflects that training. That's presumably the point of doing it. This requires, however, that the curriculum and ethos of the college instills the right outlook. But what is right in this regard? Is there one true way to govern? Would we not be better with various viewpoints and outlooks? I don't think the answer is at all clear cut.


Posted 2017-01-14T00:50:59.783

Reputation: 1 687

the other half of the proposition is to restrict citizens in elections to choose only from people from the school. But maybe that's not relevant in the case you cite. As for point of view, how about we restrict the education to be administrative? Competent technocrats would be all we need to run the State efficiently. Ideology might not be required, and that should restrict the number of "viewpoints": all that's required is that budgets be balanced ... which should not be subjective? – Frank – 2017-01-18T15:29:31.367


I think that "idealistically" it would be of benefit to those being governed, to have competent, knowledgeable, ethical, honest, etc. civil servants. However, "realistically" it does not happen, because those being governed can't (or don't want) differentiate between those leaders/persons that have (or meet) the "good" requirements, from those that "claim" they have them, or even those that "obviously" don't have them! This is one of the reasons we have the "Electorate College" to try to avoid fools from electing incompetent, dishonest, unethical, etc. civil servants, but as history has shown, we have not done that great.
Although I don't expect great improvement, your idea has the potential to improve the system, and if implemented, I feel it would be no worse than the current system.


Posted 2017-01-14T00:50:59.783

Reputation: 1 686

Is this a strong argument? If there was, say in the US, a constitutional amendment to require e.g. the president to only come from that hypothetical school, then that school would confer the "good" stamp unambiguously. That school could not be one of the for profit schools we commonly find in the US. It would have to be a states-sponsored school paid for by taxes. I would pay for such a school. – Frank – 2017-01-17T22:30:26.933


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Posted 2017-01-14T00:50:59.783

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