Public service

service provided by a government to people living within its jurisdiction

Public service is a service intended to serve all members of a community.


  • Public services, in other words, are owed by the state — and its governors — to the governed. They are nothing like a favor that the state generously extends toward the governed, despite the negative connotations years of liberal polemics have imposed upon the phrase "the welfare state." Léon Duguit, one of the most important theorists of the public service, made this fundamental point at the beginning of the twentieth century: it is the primacy of the duties of those in power in relation to the governed that forms the basis of what we call the "public service." For Duguit, public services are not a manifestation of state power, but a limitation of governmental power. The public service is a mechanism by which the governors become the servants of the governed. These obligations, which are imposed on those who govern as well as the agents of government, form the basis of what Duguit calls "public responsibility." This is why the public service is a principle of social solidarity, one which is imposed on all, and not a principle of sovereignty, inasmuch as the latter is incompatible with the very idea of public responsibility. This conception of the public service has largely been suppressed by the fiction of state sovereignty. But the public service nonetheless continues to make itself felt by virtue of the strong connection citizens feel toward what they still consider to be a fundamental right. For the citizen's right to public services is the strict corollary of the duty or obligation of state representatives to provide public services. This why the citizens of various European countries affected by the current crisis have demonstrated, in diverse ways, their attachment to public services in their daily fight against the coronavirus: for instance, the citizens of numerous Spanish cities have applauded their healthcare workers from their balconies, regardless of their political attitude toward the centralized unitary state.
  • Two relations must therefore be carefully separated here: the citizenry’s attachment to the public service, and healthcare in particular, in no way suggests adherence to public authority or public power in its various forms, but rather suggests an attachment to services whose essential function is to meet the public's need. Far from disclosing an underlying identification with the nation, this attachment gestures toward a sense of a universal that crosses borders, and accordingly renders us sensitive to the trials our "pandemic co-citizens" are enduring, whether they are Italian, Spanish, or live beyond European borders.
  • Performance appraisal (PAR) of public sector employees is the appraisal committee's impersonal evaluation of the public service rendered by public servants in their impersonal capacity in a public organisation; hence there is nothing "personal" about PAR.

See also



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