Thomas Woodrow Wilson was elected as the 28th president of USA in 1913. He was a professor of political science and also an administrative scholar. He was elected as Governor of New Jersey before he became president.
He published an essay titled " Study of Administration " in political science quarterly in 1887. This essay laid the foundation for studying Public Administration systematically as a separate discipline separating it from Political Science. For this reason, he is considered as " Father of Public Administration ". [ Frank J. Goodnow is called " Father of American Public Administration " ].
In this context, Peter Self noted " The study of Public Administration developed as an off-shoot of Political Science or Public Law and until recently administration as an academy subject was the very plane step-sister of these older disciplines "
Prior to this essay, many attempted to study Public Administration like Kautilya's Arthasasthra, Confucious's Philosophy, Aristotle's politics...etc were undertaken. For instance, Arthasasthra was written in 15 volumes and covers every aspect of administration and is no match to a couple of pages of Wilson's Essay. Even contemporaries of Wilson like Dormon Eaton, Richard Ainley & Frank Goodnow, whose works were more significant than that of Wilson yet It is Wilson who is considered as Father of Public Administration. This is because it was not the " content " of the essay but the " impact " that it made in studying public administration as a separate discipline. In fact, later scholars agreed it was one of the undisputed contributions of Wilson.
In this context, Nicholas Henry has observed " The most uncomplicated and unambiguous of Wilson is that he propounded the argument that Public Administration needs to be studied "
Woodrow Wilson was a professor of Political science when he wrote this essay. The essay was a response to the spoils system of administration practiced in America. It is called spoils because the idea is similar to war spoils. When an elected President enters the Office he brings in his own bureaucrats and takes them back when he leaves. This political patronage created widespread corruption, nepotism, and maladministration. Therefore according to Wilson, the time has come to study Public administration as a separate subject.
So Wilson Observed " it is getting harder to run a constitution than to frame one ".
Vision of Wilson
Wilson's Vision of Public Administration can be broadly classified as
- Introductory Idea
- Public Administration needs to be studied
- Thematic Idea
- Public Administration should be studied scientifically - Science of Administration
- Public Administration should be detached from politics - Dichotomy
- Public Administration should be less-unbusinesslike - means more business-like
- Public Administration should be comparative - Comparative Pubic Administration
Public Administration needs to be studied
Political Society moved through three stages
- Period of Absolute Rule
- Period of struggle for Constitutionalism
- Period of Popular Rule
From absolute Rule to Popular rule, state transformed from police state to welfare state. Subjects to be ruled became citizens to be served. Political science which studies the philosophy of the state, nature of the state, and essence of sovereignty is no longer enough to deal with complex administration. Therefore Public administration needs to be studied as a separate discipline.
Public Administration needs to be studied scientifically - Science of Administration
By the science of Administration Wilson meant a systematic and disciplined body of knowledge that improves the efficiency of administration. The scientificness in the administration had two aspects
- Scientific Administration based on science rather than public opinion
- Scientific recruitment based on merit instead of a spoiled system or patronage system.
According to him, the American administration is in-efficient while European administration is efficient because the American administration lacked science in it.
He argued " public opinion " is given more importance in America than government plans due to " popular sovereignty ". He argued administration in a democracy is more difficult than a monarchy because of " multitudinous monarch ". He also argued public opinion gave rise to " clumsy nuisance ". However, he was aware of the importance of public opinion. He said public opinion can function as a watchdog but not unnecessary interference.
He also advocated for " moral intellectual reforms as the goal of civil service reforms ". i.e utilize merit-based recruitment to achieve a moral and intellectual sense of duty towards public efficiency.
Public administration should be detached from Politics - Politico - Administration Dichotomy
Wilson was one of the initial proponents of the dichotomy between politics and administration. In this context, he argued " The field of administration is the field of business. It is removed from hurry and strife of politics " because he believed administration becomes the casualty in political conflicts and wanted administration to play just an instrumental role in implementing policies with the efficiency of business organization.
In this context he made a popular observation " Administration lies outside the sphere of politics, administrative questions are not political questions ". But he was aware of complete inseparability of politics and administration is neither possible nor preferable. So in his essay, he quoted " Administration can't be divorced from its connections with branches of Public Law without being distorted and robbed of its true significance. Those permanent and deep principles of politics are its foundation ".
What he meant was politics and administration is strongly linked yet their focus is different. Public administration has an action part in achieving liberty, equality, justice ...etc which are the foundational principles of political science. Complete divorce will make public administration foundationless or baseless. So administration should be kept away from political interference and political patronage, at the same time administration should not lose sight over the values of political theory. In this context, he observed " Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, its chiefs as well as its rank and file. Its motives, its objects, its policy, its standards must be bureaucratic ".
So F.W. Riggs commented " For Wilson not only politics and administration are closely intertwined but administrative actions are hardly conceivable in any sense except that they are the implementation of political parties. Thus Wilson was under no illusion that administrative development to take place in political vacuum ".
Public administration should be less unbusinesslike
Wilson wanted Public administration should be " less unbusinesslike " i.e more business-like qualities of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness should be the concerns of Public Administration.
In this context, he argued, " administration is business and like a business does not involve itself in the question of politics ".
However, he clarified " Administration is not business, it is organic life " meaning fundamental concern of public and private administration is different. By organic life, he meant public administration has
- Diverse goal
- Dynamic goal
- Humane goal
While in case of private administration they have a
- homogeneous goal
- static goal and
- the commercial goal of profit maximization.
Public Administration should be comparative - Comparative Public Administration
Wilson is also considered as the founder of comparative public administration as he was the 1st one to emphasize on a comparative study of administration. Later on, comparative public administration became a distinct sub-field of Public Administration in the 1950s and 1960s.
He noted, " Administration is the most suitable field for comparative learning ". By comparative study, we can know our strengths and weakness vis-a-vis others. Many commentators criticized the comparative study as imitation and administration of other countries are contextual and socio-economic culture-specific and may not be applicable to America.
In this context, he quoted " Administration stands on the different basis on democracies and other states. Lesson learned from the other countries would have to be filtered through the cultural lens of the borrower ". That is just copying good features leaving bad features of foreign administration.
Therefore he remarked " If I see murderous fellow sharpening the knife cleverly, I can borrow his way of sharpening the knife without borrowing his probable intention of commit murder with it "
Critical Appraisal of Wilson
Wilson's essay " The Study of Administration " in 1887 created significant interest among scholars to study public administration as a separate discipline on scientific lines. Many theories were developed along the lines suggested by Wilson directly or indirectly. However, his essay faced certain criticism on the following lines
- His ideas were naive, elementary and unrefined
- Inconsistency in his ideas
- Vacillating stand or ambivalent on his ideas
- Not to be regarded as Father of Administration
Naive, elementary and Unrefined Ideas
Richard Stillman a prominent critic of Wilson critiqued that Wilson's idea was naive and in-cognizable. His essays raised more questions than providing answers and couldn't amplify on what study of public administration should entail? For example
- Wilson prescribed administration should be business-like but didn't elaborate on how to make it business-like.
- But In Wilson's defense, later thinkers like Taylor, Gullick, and Urwik gave scientific principles and methods to make Public Administration business-like.
- Wilson's public opinion should be a watchdog and not allowed to be an administrative nuisance. But how to achieve this is left unsaid.
- But in Wilson's defense, it can be said the essay suggested certain essential ideas of Public Administration. Later thinkers came up with more details on specific dimensions. At times, he himself suggested things like scientific recruitment and technical training for public servants to make it merit-based
Moreover it is unfair to claim he didn't give any in depth suggestion. He even recommended comparative study to make administration more efficient. Like any initial theory of a discipline his ideas were simple yet precise and practical and not naive or elementary or unrefined.
Inconsistency in Ideas or Lack of focus
Wilson's essay was criticized that he didn't have any coherent, consistent plan or idea instead he was moving from one suggestion to another.
Diwight Waldo argued " In the opening paragraph of essay Wilson says that the objective of the study is to discuss what the government can properly and successfully do and how ; But the essay is largely devoted to separability of politics and administration and this is a serious inconsistency "
Richard Stillman also observed " After the study of Wilson's essay the reader remains uncertain about his actual substance as Wilson likens administration to business methods, emphasized on instituting civil service reforms, fixing responsibility on public for the problems of disturbing constitutional authority; this is indeed exasperating for the readers "
In defense of Wilson we can argue that his core vision is to improve public administration and despite seemingly heterogeneous suggestions, actually all the suggestions he made are interrelated with the aim to improve administration. Excessive focus of dichotomy was because, at that point of time, administration suffered from excessive political interference.
On multiplicity and vagueness of his ideas, he himself noted " The study of administration is too broad, too general and too vague "
Ambivalence or Vacillating Stand
One of the strongest points of criticism is his vacillating stand on his suggestions and ideas. His essay was critiqued as full of ideas that are mutually contradictory.
- He criticized public administration as a clumsy nuisance but later he calls it a beneficial and indispensable mechanism of scrutiny of administrative action.
- Similarly, he calls administration as a business but later he argued the administration is not business, it is organic life.
- He emphasized the need for administration politics dichotomy but later he said complete divorce is not possible
But on careful analysis, his ideas were not mutually contradictory instead it was a case of " thoroughness of ideas ". He completely analysed every suggestions he made from all possible perspective. He gave to pros and cons of every suggestions he made so as to help future thinkers and administrators to weigh his options and strike a balance as per requirements.
Not to be regarded as father of administration
Although Wilson is widely regarded as the father of public administration, few scholars disagree and argue that his contributions were not enough to be called as the father of public administration
In this regard, Paul Van Riper observed that " Wilson's essay has no influence on evolution on the study of public administration in the USA and its main focus was only political and administration dichotomy " he further argued " Atmost Wilson was only one of the founders of administration in America, the difficulty with equal or greater recognition of these scholars lies in the fact that none of them went to become president of USA "
In support of this argument, France recognized importance of administration even before America. As early as 1812 Charles Jean Bonin published " Principles d' Administration Publique " (Principles of Public Administration). As a systematic study Viven published two volumes ' Etides Administration ' (Administrative Studies) in 1859.
But in defense of Wilson, it is true some of Wilson's contemporaries like Dormon Eaton, Richard Ainley, Frank Goodnow whose work were significant but none of them gave a comprehensive focus to study public administration as a dedicated field of knowledge. Their contributions were relatively disjointed and issue-specific. Whereas it was Wilson's essay the created interest among scholars and momentum towards study and analysis of public administration as a separate discipline.