Are Administration and Politics Dichotomy Practical/Workable? Derek Brown
The issues of politics and administration dichotomy first raised by Woodrow Wilson continue to generate debate among scholars of public administration in modern time. Why some think Wilson’s idea was useful, others reject the idea as impossible. And in your opinion, is that distinction practical and workable? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using such a dichotomy today as a way to advance that field of study? Discussion
Interests in public administration dates back in time as far back as Plato’s The Republic, in which Plato discusses administrative issues of governance. However, in the last 100 years public administration has become a formal field of study in North America. This movement was lead by thinkers known as the Progressives - namely men like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Frederick Taylor. The Progressives view of public administration was that there was one best way to govern the people. Their works focussed on setting up a system of administration that was rooted in this one best way of thinking.
Over the past 100 years, scholars have built on the thinking of the Progressives, elaborating on their core concepts, descriptions of government and normative theories. One of the many areas that it focuses on areas Wilson’s political vs. administrative dichotomy. He defined public administration simply as "government in action; it is the executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself" . If you read Woodrow Wilson "The Study of Administration", it describes his thoughts about using ministrant (function of the government) and constituent ideas to represent political and apolitical branches respectively and relates that constituent functions were given very important tasks, such as the protection of liberty, life, and property, while ministrant functions were necessary for advancing societal interests. The paper concludes that he attempted to outline a coherent and somewhat revolutionary idea about public administration and politics and how each should be separate, yet work together. He was concerned with the implementation of government and not just its principles defined by documents such as the Constitution. Wilson analyzed European history and saw a pattern where educated leaders debated the nature of the state, yet the question of how should the law be administrated was relegated to a lowly "practical detail". Wilson then described the growth of modern governments, starting with absolute rule, progressing to popular rule based upon a constitution, and then finally leading to a stage where the people undertake to develop administration as a science. Wilson insisted that "administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics" and that "general laws which direct these things to be done are as obviously outside of and above administration" . A politics-administration dichotomy is an administration that can be apolitical. No administration has ever been formed that has ever come close to being apolitical. Politics is what a government does and administration is how it does it. "What do I do?" and "How do I do it?" are related questions no matter what field you're in. Politics-administration dichotomy not only cannot be sustained, it cannot be initiated. One creates the other. To separate the two would beg the question "Why are we doing this?" To have a government with absolute rule wouldn't set very well in society. That being said, our country would be that of a dictatorship rather than a democracy. The opposite of which our country's founding principles are based.
Wilson, Woodrow, The Study of Administration; Retrieved from http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=465
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