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Civil society: virtue and trust: implications for the public service ethos in the post-modern world

Barberis, Peter (2001) Civil society: virtue and trust: implications for the public service ethos in the post-modern world. Public policy and administration, 16 (3). pp. 111-126. ISSN 0952-0767

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Abstract

Laments about the decline of public morality and the public service ethos have found expression from across the political spectrum. The age of modernity (or post-modernism) makes more difficult, though by no means impossible, the maintenance of a civil society in which ‘virtue’ and ‘trust’. feed the public service ethos. Indeed modernity has greater need for civil society, virtue and trust at exactly the same time as their stock are receding. Governments have, among other things, applied indiscriminately the ‘heavy’ regulatory regimes necessary to deal with impropriety, in the process stifling the public service ethos. Virtue cannot be commanded; trust is an elusive ‘commodity’. Neither can be secured by administrative fiat, though government can help to create conditions conducive to their nourishment - or, more decisively, stifle their growth. Heavier regulatory regimes and more elaborate codes are understandable and perhaps rational responses to malfunctioning but, if pressed too far, become counterproductive. There should be a retreat from the excesses of ‘management by numbers’. Leadership remains important but, in the age of modernity, no longer suffices as the talisman. There must be greater emphasis upon citizenship.

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