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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.
Recent scholarship has linked the rise of the Progressive movement in America to the creation of an “administrative state”—a form of government where legislative, executive, and judicial powers are delegated into the hands of administrative agencies which compose a “headless fourth branch of government.” This form of government was largely constructed during the New Deal period. The influential legal theorist Roscoe Pound provides the paradoxical example of a Progressive who balked at the New Deal. While many commentators have concluded that Pound's opposition to the New Deal was based on a departure from his earlier Progressive thought, his opposition was in fact based on a consistent Progressive philosophy. Pound therefore provided a vision of an alternative administrative state, which would achieve the ends of the Progressive vision but without the means of the administrative state.
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