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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2021

Joseph Postell*
Politics, Hillsdale College, USA


When the modern administrative state emerged in America during the Progressive Era, at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was typically grounded on the premise that administrative officials are experts who should be insulated from politics. This theory, combined with emerging ideas of scientific management, contributed to the intellectual justification for the administrative state. However, progressives never fully reconciled the tension between this theory and the democratic nature of American politics. Because of this ambiguity and tension in the progressives’ theory of expertise, the politics/administration dichotomy was abandoned shortly after the administrative state was constructed. The place of expertise in the administrative state is still ambiguous, even in the twenty-first century.

Research Article
© 2021 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation. Printed in the USA

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Social Science Division, Politics, Hillsdale College,


1 Dwight Waldo, The Enterprise of Public Administration: A Summary View (Novato, CA: Chandler and Sharp, 1980), 10 (emphasis in original).

2 Wilson, Woodrow, “The Study of Administration,” Political Science Quarterly 2 (1887): 210 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Ibid., 210.

4 Ibid., 209-210.

5 Goodnow, Frank J., Politics and Administration: A Study in Government (New York: Macmillan, 1900), 18 Google Scholar.

6 Wilson, “Study of Administration,” 216.

7 Frederick Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, rev. ed. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915), 5. Subsequent references to this book are cited in the text as Principles followed by the page citation.

8 For a treatment of the relationship between Taylorism and Progressivism, see Samuel Haber, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).

9 Oscar Kraines, “Brandeis’ Philosophy of Scientific Management,” Western Political Quarterly 13 (1960): 191–201, describes the impact of Brandeis’s citation of Taylor, noting that scientific management became a major news topic as a result of Brandeis’s attention to it during the hearings.

10 Even during the Progressive Era, the efficiency movement was most closely associated with municipal reforms. See B. P. DeWitt, The Progressive Movement: A Non-Partisan, Comprehensive Discussion of Current Tendencies in American Politics (New York: Macmillan, 1915), chap. 15: “The Efficiency Movement,” 319–40.

11 Haber, Efficiency and Uplift.

12 Woodrow Wilson, “Democracy and Efficiency,” The Atlantic (March 1901).

13 Wilson, “Study of Administration,” 214.

14 Ibid., 207.

15 As president, Theodore Roosevelt told a foreign diplomat that Lippmann was “on the whole the most brilliant man of his age in all the United States” (William E. Leuchtenburg, “Introduction,” in Walter Lippmann, Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest, reprint [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985], 1). Subsequent references to this work are cited in the text as DM followed by the page citation.

16 See also DM, 98: “You have in a very literal sense to educate the industrial situation, to draw out its promise, discipline and strengthen it …. You have to see to it that technical schools produce men trained for such work; you have to establish institutes of research, that shall stimulate the economic world not only with physical inventions, but with administrative proposals. You have to go about deliberately to create a large class of professional business men.”

17 Croly, Progressive Democracy (New York: Macmillan, 1914), 349. Subsequent references to this work are cited in the text as PD followed by the page citation.

18 Mosher, Democracy and the Public Service, 74.

19 As with any major political movement, Progressivism was not a monolithic movement. There was considerable intellectual diversity among Progressives, including a diversity of views on the relationship between bureaucracy and democracy. Many Progressives were skeptics of the administrative state, especially Louis Brandeis and Roscoe Pound. For further discussion of the strain of progressivism that was skeptical of centralized administrative expertise, see Sabeel Rahman, Democracy Against Domination (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Joseph Postell, Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State’s Challenge to Constitutional Government (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2017), 190–204; Postell, “The Anti–New Deal Progressive: Roscoe Pound’s Alternative Administrative State,” Review of Politics 74 (2012): 53–85.

20 Waldo, The Administrative State, 17.

21 The following description is a summary view of the debate between the New Freedom and the New Nationalism that appears in Postell, Bureaucracy in America, 190–204.

22 Roosevelt, Theodore, The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Scribner’s and Sons, 1923), 425 Google Scholar.

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24 Woodrow Wilson, Papers of Woodrow Wilson (PWW) 25: 75, cited in Sidney Milkis, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009), 211.

25 Wilson’s concerns did not appear out of nowhere. In 1908 he shuddered at the prospect of establishing centralized administrative authority: “The government of the United States was established to get rid of arbitrary, that is, discretionary executive power …. If we return to it, we abandon the very principles of our foundation” (Woodrow Wilson, “Law or Personal Power,” PWW 18: 264).

26 See Pestritto, Ronald J., Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), 255, 259–62Google Scholar; Milkis, Theodore Roosevelt, 271.

27 Croly, “The Two Parties in 1916,” The New Republic (October 21, 1916), 286, cited in Milkis, Theodore Roosevelt, 272.

28 Redfield, William C., The New Industrial Day: A Book for Men Who Employ Men (New York: Century, 1912)Google Scholar. For Redfield’s discussion of scientific management, see especially 35–40.

29 Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1922). Hereafter cited in the text as PO followed by page number. See also Lippmann, The Phantom Public (New York: Macmillan, 1925).

30 John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, in John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925–1953: 1925–1927, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008). Subsequent references to this book are cited in the text as Works followed by page citation.

31 Quoted in Westbrook, Robert B., John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 294 Google Scholar.

32 John Dewey, review of Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, in The New Republic, May 3, 1922, p. 288.

33 Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, §1; Federal Reserve Act of 1913, §10.

34 Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, ch. 104, §11.

35 Customs Administrative Act of 1890, ch. 407 §12.

36 Aditya Bamzai, “Taft, Frankfurter, and the First Presidential For-Cause Removal,” University of Richmond Law Review 52 (2018): 691-748. As Chief Justice, of course, Taft would go on to write the opinion in Myers v. United States, which asserted the president’s constitutional removal power. See Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52. The only other president to remove “for cause” a protected official was Richard Nixon. See Bamzai, “Taft, Frankfurter, and the First Presidential For-Cause Removal,” 694 n. 16.

37 295 U.S. 602 (1935).

38 Franklin Roosevelt to William Humphrey, August 31, 1933, cited in Humphrey’s Executor, at 619.

39 Ibid., 624.

40 Ibid., 628.

41 Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick, Papers on the Science of Administration (New York: Institute of Public Administration, 1937); Nicholas Henry, “The Emergence of Public Administration as a Field of Study, in A Centennial History of the American Administrative State, ed. Ralph Clark Chandler (New York: The Free Press, 1987), 44.

42 Paul Van Riper, History of the United States Civil Service (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson and Co., 1958), 335.

43 Brand, Donald, “The President as Chief Administrator: James Landis and the Brownlow Report,” Political Science Quarterly 123 (2008): 71 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 Report of the President’s Committee on Administrative Management, 36.

45 Herring, E. Pendleton, “The Political Context of the Tariff Commission,” Political Science Quarterly 49 (1934): 421–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Herring, “Political Context of the Tariff Commission,” 422.

47 Ibid., 426.

48 Ibid., 439.

49 Simon, Herbert A., Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Government (New York: Macmillan, 1947)Google Scholar.

50 Henry, “Emergence of Public Administration,” 47. Henry cites other critics of the traditional approach to public administration, such as Robert Dahl and Dwight Waldo, as contributing to the abandonment of the older theory, but he attributes the primary role to Simon.

51 John Gaus, “Trends in the Theory of Public Administration,” Public Administration Review 10 (1950): 168. Gaus was a Harvard professor of public administration who was prominent in the field. Today, the American Political Science Association awards the John Gaus Award and Lecture to honor lifetime achievement in political science and public administration.

52 Kaufman, “Emerging Conflicts in the Doctrines of Public Administration,” American Political Science Review 50 (1956): 1057–73.

53 Ibid., 1057.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 1063.

56 Ibid., 1067.

57 An important exception is David Rosenbloom, Building a Legislative-Centered Public Administration: Congress and the Administrative State (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000). Rosenbloom argues persuasively that Congress asserted its control over the administrative state in the latter half of the twentieth century and that this model of accountability is superior to the “orthodox” public administration view that the president should be the locus of accountability.