Administrative thought and ethics

1. According to Michael Spicer’s book, The Founders, the Constitution, and Public Administration, why should public administrators concern themselves with constitutional theory and the worldview of the Founders?

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Public administration needs to be made legitimate yet this has not been possible due to the gap between the implied values of public administration and the constitution’s assumptions (Rosenbloom, 2003). Public administrators thus need to concern themselves with constitutional theory and worldview of the founders so as to be made legitimate. Earlier, founders did not have much to say with regard to public administration.

This has changed and some of the authors like Rohr John (1986), have even sought legitimacy for the administrative state in the views expressed by the founders and have argued that it is possible for an energetic and active administrative state to be justified based on founders’ writings (Spicer, 1995, pp. 5-6). It is further argued that the founders’ idea of separating powers was consistent with the blend of judicial, legislative and executive powers found in most administrative agencies.

The founders’ work is in fact seen as an empowerment to modern public administrators in playing a constitutional role that is independent. As noted by Rohr, the administrative state is a credible expression of the order of the constitution predicted in the argument of the great public during the time the republic was being found (Spicer, 1995, p.6).

The attempts to make legitimate a considerable role of the constitution for public administration with regard to the founders’ thoughts are understandable. Through the constitution, the rules by which the public affairs of Americans are conducted are established. Public administration thus has to be defined in a way that is consistent with such rules for it to be viewed as legitimate (Spicer, 1995, p.7). It is for this reasons that the public administrators need to concern themselves with constitutional theory and worldview of the founders.

2. According to Spicer, what would an anti-rationalist approach to public administration look like? In other words, what implications does the anti-rationalist perspective hold for public administration issues such as administrative discretion, power, and the role of citizen participation?

Among other beliefs, the antinationalist view holds that human affairs are way too complex and thus unpredictable to be comprehended and controlled. In the same vein, it is argued that the matters of a whole community cannot be controlled. Holding such a view would throw public administration into a total confusion because no cooperation can exist between individuals with conflicting interests (Spicer, 1995, p.20). Everyone will be going after their own interests thus a difficulty in running any form of administration.

To limit the human conflict, government plays a major role by enforcing rules, yet this view holds that the same government is not so much an instrument of reason but of group and individual interests and passions. There is thus need for rules to restrain the government yet it is the government to enforce rules (Spicer, 1995, p.21).

The role of reason is completely lost if public administration is viewed from the anti-rational view. It would also not be possible to maintain any social order and the help of experts would not be sought because of the anti-rational view that they may pose a danger due to their constricted vision of what knowledge is made up of (Spicer, 1995, p.21). Public administration would not even be possible if the anti rationalist approach was to be followed.

3. According to Spicer, from the perspective of the anti-rationalist worldview what are the principle characteristics associated with an ethic of administrative discretion?

The rights of the constitution have to be connected to man’s interest as this would help control any attempts of abuse by the government, which in essence reflects human nature. Depending on people would thus be used as a way to control the government (Madison, 1788). Tradition and custom are important in public administration.

Administrators cannot ultimately handle all the matters of a society or community because of the complexity of the matters of the individuals involved, some of whom are unknown to the administrators (Spicer, 1995, p.20). Administrators also need to know that individuals under them may not necessarily agree with certain things in the administration (Spicer, 1995, p.20).

 The anti-rational view holds that adhering to rules has to be based on moral habits and sentiments and not on reason and that modifications should be made with caution and be on the basis of experience and tradition and not on abstract principles (Spicer, 1995, p.22). Society needs to be guarded against oppression of their rulers as well as from injustices by other parts of the society (Madison, 1788). Political power, irrespective of its source, should be checked thus the need for public administration to be in line with the constitutional design of the founders (Rosenbloom, 2003).


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