This excellent short monograph on the higher civil servants in Peru does not pretend to offer a general description of the country’s overall political process, though it does present some intriguing hints about the intrusion of traditional-transitional politics into formal attempts to “rationalise” the administrative system. The Government Executive of Modern Peru is a product of a United States AID contract with the Institute of Public Administration, under which Hopkins spent 1964-1965 in Lima as a participant observer of the Peruvian bureaucracy, working out the Oficina Nacional de Racionalización y Capacitación de la Administración Pública.
Using his governmental connection, the author attempted to study the upper echelons of the career public service somewhat along the conceptual lines of W. Lloyd Warner’s The American Federal Executive. By means of questionnaires, followed by unstructured oral interviews with a sample of those who responded, he sought information concerning the background, education, family connections, recruitment, career patterns, job expectations, and self-images of top bureaucrats in Peru’s ministries and independent public sub-sector organizations (government corporations). The resulting monograph is interesting and valuable, both for the substantive content of the findings and for the description of the problems encountered in trying to carry on such a project in a country like Peru.
Jack W. Hopkins demonstrates empirically several aspects of the public service in Peru and some other parts of Latin America which already were well known in a general sense and suggests some new factors for consideration. Despite his repeated allegation that other studies of Latin America’s bureaucracies are basically “impressionistic,” a number of able local and foreign observers have described the elite nature of the upper civil service, its tendency toward paternalism, the problem of unwillingness to innovate, formalism, and the like. Hopkins’ findings usefully document these observations, but they are not unique.
The study raises a number of significant points which have not been stressed before. The sense of program continuity often cited by Peruvian respondents is not common in the literature; neither is their claim that their career service suffers from relatively little politically inspired interference. The author’s observation that surprisingly many upper-level public employees in Peru are the offspring or even the grandchildren of bureaucrats is also interesting. But do these conditions exist in most other countries of the region? I suspect that they do not.
Peru began to feel the major results of social-economic modernization only recently, so that continuity of public policy and government personnel, particularly as experienced by long established and well-connected bureaucrats, may reflect traditional stasis to a greater extent than in other countries which have undergone greater change. One suspects that Hopkins would have liked to direct himself to such matters, if he had come to his investigation with longer experience in Peru’s politics and if his semi-official position had not burdened him with professional constraints, which he properly observes. More knowledge and greater freedom to probe might have enabled him to relate the actions of the bureaucracy more fully to the political process and to establish other motivations for bureaucratic practices than those which he was able to discuss in this book. This is not to belittle what he does present or to take him to task for not doing what he could not do in the circumstances, as much as to wish for additional icing on an already tasty cake.
Hopkins is unusually frank in describing some of the crises which he encountered in trying to carry on this sort of investigation, especially in adapting to a transitional situation a conceptual framework elaborated for a highly developed environment. In this sense, the study is a helpful text for young researchers planning to work in the field. His problem of trying to obtain an adequate number of responses to the questionnaire, when the military ministries absolutely refused to participate, duplicates the experiences of a dozen other investigators who have sought to use similar techniques in various countries. The general lack of understanding about the purposes of such an investigation is equally common, even among top rank administrators. So are the confusions inherent in applying a United States research design to a Peruvian setting, especially for an investigator with minimal experience in the local culture. In addition to matters mentioned specifically, such as translation problems or the need to modify or add categories for evaluation, the study suggests difficulties which the author may not have recognized. These include attempting to discover the bureaucrats’ parental occupations by means of a checklist including the classification “farmer.” Even with sub-choices—owner, renter, sharecropper, worker—in the Peruvian context such a category is almost meaningless. Similarly, it may seem significant that, compared with United States data from Warner’s study, a surprisingly high proportion of Peruvian civil servants have had university-level professional training, until one recalls that Latin American universities are organized to offer practically nothing but professional studies. Some of these pitfalls are recognized and openly considered in this study, and others are implied, but all enhance its usefulness enormously.
In sum, The Government Executive of Modern Peru is a practical and welcome addition to the literature. It is as tightly drawn as possible in the circumstances and attains its carefully delimited goals.