The ascent of the administrator. by Gerardo Muñoz

Today the political surface only seems to obfuscate the analyses of the real forces that move at different pace underneath the crust. When recently Emmanuel Macron referred to the popular unrest protest as “la foule…pas de légitimité face au peuple qui s’exprime souverain a traversé ses élus”, he was not only speaking as the sovereign, but as something more specific; that is, as an administrator. If the old sovereign stood metonymically for the totality of the whole constituent body, Macron’s political rhetoric cleverly distinguishes between the “groups” or “masses” (this is also the same term that Sigmund Freud deployed in his contestation to Le Bon’s theory of the multitudes in 1921), and the institutional mediation of the “People”. What is interesting, in any case, is the cleavage between the two figures becoming well delimited: one being on the side of political legitimacy, the other on its inverse pole of apolitical illegitimacy. The logistics of administration (or what I have called in recent research the administrative nexus) serves to conjoint this specific separation. By the same token, we should not let pass the occasion to recall that if Macron is a hyperbolic political commander of the West, it is precisely because he stands as the executive force at the helm of the administrative legitimacy (as a political elite, he was shaped at the École nationale d’administration).

What do we mean by administrator in this specific historical conjuncture? It goes without saying that modern French public law has a long and important history of droit administratif, which in France is structured around a dual jurisdictional system enshrined by an extensive legal case law and its juridical principles. The French system of droit administratif, however, is not to be understood as an amalgamation a posteriori of classical separation of powers, but rather a concrete institutional design within public powers. This was an institutionalist design that profoundly impacted Schmitt’s thought on the concrete order in the first decades of the twentieth century. The bureaucratic institutionalization was an integral organizational mechanism of legislative congressional practice. The rise of the administrative state differs from droit administratif insofar as it represents liquidation, as well as a thorough transformation of the modern system from within. In this sense, the rise of the administrative state is an excedent to bureaucratic legitimation – and Schmitt was right to characterize as the ‘motorization of law’, a force that he saw unleashing already in the overall tendency of European public law of the 1930s, although only taken to its fulfillment in the United States (something that Schmitt did not foresee) [1]. And if we were to sketch out a minimal phenomenological reduction of administrative law today we could state that it consists of the overflow of executive power through the exercise of the principle of delegation and the extension of intra-agency policy-police enforcement. What early on administrative law professors termed the revolution of an ‘administrative process’ has now come to full extension by subsuming the tripartite structure of the separation of powers to the administrative oversight of the space of social reproduction.

That Macron can only frame his political analysis in terms of “la foule” entails that he is already occupying (at least tendentially; and I can not speak myself for the concrete institutional transformation of the executive office in the French political system) and envisioning role of executive branch as a presidential administration. In an academic legal article that will exert an enduring influence in American public law, “Presidential Administration” (Harvard Law Review, 2001), Judge Elena Kagan stated that the era of executive administration had arrived; which rather than the supremacy of an institutional branch over others, it aspired to defend the orderly equilibrium to the total functioning administration of the whole system [2]. It is important to note that today’s ascent of the administrative state across the Western Anglo-Saxon public law is not rooted in maximization of bureaucratic rationalization nor in the authority of the charismatic office of a Reichspräsident as in the Weimar Republic (I have previously shown its difference), but rather in the production of delegation and deference of political authority that flows from executive power, while remaining bounded within a logistics of balancing and equity (in fact, the notion of equity has become the administrative unity of enforcing a positive production of exceptionality, but this is a discussion for another occasion). In other words – and as paradoxically as this may sound – the Macronite experiment with executive action based on Article 49 of the French Constitution, bypassing Congress, is a thoroughly habitual and normalized practice in the American legal system, which have led some jurists to claim a last farewell to the legislative body of the State – the same branch that Woodrow Wilson would describe as the ‘body of the nation’ in his seminal Congressional Government (1885).

All things considered, whenever Macron’s technocratic politics are described there is an amnesia to the concrete fact that Americanism is not just economic planning or the drive towards indexes of productivity and financial credit standards; it is also a specific governmental stylization. And this stylization is the administrative government, whose stronghold on public law should not be taken for granted. This means at face value that the empire of judges and congressmen (the “elected representatives” upheld by the Macron internal doctrine) is ultimately marginalized in the new center stage government occupied by an elite cadre of administrators and regulators in charge of grand policydesigns in virtues of expertise, rationality, adjudication, and compartmentalized decision-making process – that Kagan recommended should orient “a coherent policy with distance from politics and public opinion” [3].

Contrary to Macron’s republicanist rhetorics, the true and concrete ethos of the administrator is no longer at the level of classical modern political representation (elections, legislative body, judicial restraintment), but rather on the production of statute rulemaking balancing (equity) that unifies the aggregation of private preferences and calculations to the specific determinations of broad and discretionary public interests. At the level of the analytics of ideal types, this transformation sediments the passage from the political elite to the executive administrator of new normative indirect powers. The ‘americanization’ of Macron’s policymaking universe is centered on the exclusion of political governance or judgement in favor of abstract administrative principles (the so-called ecological transition tied to metropolitan or specific territorial energy hubs, to cite one example) and optimal regulatory determinations. What emerges at the threshold of modern republican politics is, then, the rise of a fragmented ‘la foule’ and the activation of police-powers (legality) through the procedures of statute enactment oriented at the unruly state of contemporary civil society.




1. Carl Schmitt. “The Plight of European Jurisprudence”, Telos, March, 1990, 35-70.

2. Elegan Kagan. “Presidential Administration”, Harvard Law Review, 114:2245, 2001, 2385.

3. Ibid., 2262.