Introduction To Wilson’s Vision Of Public Administration

Introduction To Wilson’s Vision Of Public Administration

Woodrow Wilson heralded a new beginning in the thinking on administration. There would probably be considerable agreement among contemporary professional students of public administration that his essay, The Study of Administration is the most distinguished essay of such brief compass in the history of public administration. Published early in Wilson’s career, in 1887, it proved a remarkably accurate prediction of the shape of things to come. Check out woodrow wilson vision of administration summary

Besides, “The Study of Administration”, Wilson’s published writings are numerous. Among the more important are Congressional Movement: A Study in American Politics (1885). The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics (1889); Division and Reunion 1829-89 (1893); An Old Master and Other Essays (1896); George Washington (1896); A History of American People in 5 Volumes (1902). In these papers, it is to be found the explanation of his great popular influence, his genius for simplification of complex issues; and his mastery of the phrase that makes the idea attractive.

Wilson’s first analysis of the field of administration was presented in his paper The Study of Administration. This article of his needs to be appreciated in the background of the prevalent U.S., administrative scenario. The U.S.A. had passed the Civil Service Reform (Pendleton) Act putting an end to the prevalent personnel practice, known as the Spoils System. Andrew Jackson, the U.S., President, firmly held that government jobs were simple and a citizen of average ability could manage them. He also believed that frequent changes of personnel would promote efficiency in the civil services and keep the employees responsive towards the citizens. The spoils system had struck deep roots in the American soil and reached its peak during the civil war period. Assassination of the U.S., president Garfield by a disappointed job-seeker, however, motivated the Congress to enact the Pendleton Act in 1883, paving the way for the personnel system to be based on merit. The Pendelton Act, of which Wilson was an important crusader, was part of the larger civil service reform movement underway in the U.S.A. around this time. Wilson’s article must be studied and evaluated in this background, being part of his larger campaign for civil service reform. 

Public Administration, merited a deeper, independent study, for Woodrow Wilson asserted, It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one. Running a constitution involves administration. This is why administration is called an eminently practical science, which requires serious study. Administration must of course include personnel reform ( ending the spoils system of recruitment as under the Pendleton Act, already passed by the Congress) but much more : it also includes reform of organisation and methods. Although political science was born more than 2200 years ago, the questions which were being discussed generally were political, such as forms of government, constitution, sovereignty, kingly prerogative, separation of powers, etc. In the process, administration claimed little attention. In other words, Political science remained so much so much preoccupied with higher questions like form of government, sovereignty, etc., that it did not pay organised attention to the task of administration. Nor did the experts feel the need for a separate study of administration. At that time, gove government were simple and limited in number. But society was becoming increasingly complex because of fast industrialisation, urbanisation and immigration which may demanded more organised attention be paid to the task of carrying out the county Pubne administration. But this is not easy in counties which practicise a democratic form of pony. Democracy involves instructing a multitudinous monarch, called public opinion which is a much more complex task. It is harder for democracy to organize administration than yo monarchy to do so.

Public administration must be separated from politics. This was the central message Woodrow Wilson. This is the reason why he is regarded as the architect of the politicsadministration dichotomy. To quote Wilson, The field of administration is a field of business. Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative question are not political questions. Although politics sets the task for administration it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices. Earlier, Wilson had identified this distinction in his Congressional Government. One of the pre-requisites of civil service reform lies in the drawing of a sharp line of distinction between those offices which are political and those which are nonpolitical.

Public administration must always remain attuned to popular will and expectations. The sphere of its activities must remain equally removed from active politics. Self-government does not consist in having a hand in everything, any more than housekeeping consists necessarily in cooking dinner with one’s own hands: the cook must be left with sufficient discretion as to manage the fires and the ovens. Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, its chief as well as its rank and file. 

Woodrow Wilson visualized ‘a civil service cultured and self-sufficient enough to act with the sense and vigour, and yet so intimately connected with the popular thought, by means of elections and constant public counsel, as to find arbitrariness or class spirit quite out of question.’

Wilson was confident about the growing importance of public administration as society undergoes the process of ‘industrialization and urbanization.’ Administration is the most obvious part of government, it is the executive, the operative, most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself. It is government in action…..’ Public Administration is the detailed and systematic execution of public law. Public Administration must be strengthened. Not only this, administration is studiously and systematically being adjusted to carefully tested standards of policy, so much so that what is emerging today is a science of administration that seeks to straighten and purify its organization and to crown its duties with dutifulne This is one reason why there is such a science.

This, among others, calls for comparative studies of foreign governments. He emphasized that while democracy is different from autocracy the essential basis of good administration is the same. ‘So far as administrative functions are concerned, all governments have a strong structured likeness, more than that, if they are to be uniformly useful and efficient, they must have a strong structural likeness.’ He claimed, ‘Monarchies and Democracies radically different as they are in other respects, have in reality the same business to look to.

He wrote, “That man is blindly astray who denounces attempts to transplant foreign systems into this country. It is impossible: they simply would not grow here. But why should we not use such parts of foreign contrivances as we want, if they be any way serviceable?… We can borrow the science of administration with safety and profit if only we read all fundamental differences of conditions into its essential tenets. We only have to filter it through our constitutions only to put it over a slow fire of criticism and distill away its foreign gases…. He concluded, …… No where else in the whole field of politics…. can we make use of the historical, comparative method more safely than in the province of administration. We can never learn neither our own weaknesses or our own virtues by comparing ourselves with ourselves. We are too used to the appearance and procedures of our own systems to see its true significance… It is best on the, whole to get entirely away from our own atmosphere and tube most careful in examining such systems as those of France or Germany. Seeing our own institutions through such media, we see ourselves as foreigners might see us were they to look at us without preconceptions.


Woodrow Wilson has been under attack for sometime and his reputation as the founder of the discipline of public administration has been questioned. The study of public administration predates Wilson. This discipline was highly developed in Europe by the 1800s and European literature on the subject was used even by American teachers. The academic field of public administration had matured in France between 1812 and 1859. Post-Wilsonian American scholars were familiar with the writings of French, German and English scholars. Wilson himself acknowledges Bluntschli as his source for the idea of the politics-administration dichotomy. What is more, Wilson’s article was read by almost no one until the 1930s. In the words of Daniel W. Martin, ‘No one including White, Dimock…… identified Wilson as the founder the study, of public administration.’

The second criticism against Wilson related to the theory of the politics-administration dichotomy that, he perpetuated. This was based on his incorrect reading of German sources and was thus fundamentally different from, the European version. Indeed, Wilson soon realized the error and repudiated the politics-administration dichotomy within three years of publication of the historic article. It was in the 1930s and 1940s that Woodrow Wilson was discovered and accepted as an influential founder of the discipline of public administration in the United States.

It would however be unfair to be overly critical of Wilson. Wilson was a liberal ideologue of U.S., history, being deeply committed to liberal capitalism. Wilson wrote his essay in the American historical context of the 1880s. He wrote at a time when the idea of a professional, export civil service had just been discovered. The Pendelton Act as mentioned earlier had become a law in 1883. The Civil

Service Act was only a beginning and more was to follow. The United States during those days, needed to look abroad for relevant experience. Wilson, therefore, emphasized the desirability of comparative study of public administration. Thus emerges as a modernizer.

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