- The Rise of Scientific Virtues in the Danish Central Administration:From Anti-parliamentarism to Objective Expertise1
Det er Erkendelsen, den objektive, upartiske Erkendelse, der har svigtet, i højeste Grad naturligvis i de Lande, hvor Propaganda og Ensretning har naaet de største Højder, og hvor Opdragelse til Kritik af den nationale Selvforherligelse og af Nationalismens Førere har været svagest.(Frederik Zeuthen 1945, 8)
(It is recognition, the objective, unpartisan recognition that has failed, naturally most in the countries where propaganda and regimentation had reached the furthest, where education in critical thinking about the national self-pride and nationalism's leaders remained the weakest.)2
These words were written in the months after the liberation of Denmark. The end of the occupation had created a ferocious debate about what to do with Nazi sympathizers and, on more general lines, whether democracy could and should defend itself with undemocratic means. The slogans "Ordet eller Sværdet" (The Word or the Sword) [End Page 461] and "Frihed for Loke såvel som Thor" (Freedom for Loki as well as Thor) sum up the orientation of this debate in the Danish intelligentsia.3 So, what made Frederik Zeuthen (1888–1959), who by then was a respected professor in economics, feel compelled to turn attention away from which political means a democratic state could legitimately use and toward, for lack of a better word, epistemology?
Zeuthen's intervention was highly indicative of how the civil servants by this time had turned to objectivity and notions of science as a remedy against all sorts of social and political evils. The intellectual context of his early career can show us what lies behind Zeuthen's emphasis on unpartisan objectivity. From 1913 to 1930, he was a civil servant in different consultancy positions. A degree in economics excluded him from the position of fuldmægtig (senior clerk), a coveted status that had been monopolized by the jurists formally until 1919 and informally until the late 1930s.4 With a closer look at Zeuthen's statement, his background as a civil servant5 becomes apparent. Objectivity is associated with being unpartisan and thus contrasted with the party-based political system that is parliament. The implied concern was that parliamentary politics are based on subjective and somewhat erratic values. Objectivity in the sense presented here is not primarily about being disinterestedly neutral, but specifically about not belonging to any parliamentary party. It was—and still is—not unusual for civil servants to use objectivity in this sense.6 However, Zeuthen's particular proposal, linking an ostensible lack of objectivity with the rise of Nazism, was badly timed and did not gain any real traction in the immediate postwar years.7 It does nonetheless present an interesting continuation of a pre-war skepticism widespread among the civil service toward mass politics as it had become embodied in parliamentarism; the only difference was that by 1945 the likes of Zeuthen [End Page 462] would frame this skepticism as a defense of democratic institutions, following the masses' susceptibility to Caesaristic leaders. This article will, through a focus on central administrative publications, uncover connections between this interwar skepticism and the concurrent rise of scientific virtues among the civil servants, meaning their emerging self-legitimation and identification as objective experts.
The article follows the changing discursive strategy that Danish civil servants employed as they struggled to maintain social standing and control over the state apparatus in the crucial period between the two world wars. I argue that the civil servants constructed a scientific-administrative persona in their institutional struggles with parliament in the interwar period. This disputes the common thesis by Tim Knudsen and others of a tacit historical compromise between parliament and the central administration slowly relegating the civil servants to an apolitical expert role. On the contrary, I find that the very vocal struggles of the interwar period are essential in the formation of this role. The period from 1916 to 1920 is determined to be the height of the civil servants' self-esteem following their part in the successful wartime management of the economy. The argument then turns to a period of...