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Global Perspectives of Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Prospere Charles

From a global perspective, public administration still raises passionate debates. Many of us presume to know the virtues of a globalized world, where commerce flourishes without barriers, cultures intertwine with each other, communication and technologies connect distant places to local villages and even to one’s living room. We probably agree that globalization creates a sense of togetherness, a feeling that events on one side of the world concern people living on the other side and that democracy and good governance are globalized aspirations to which people of all nations are prime subscribers. We soon realize however that globalization carries within it an insatiable spirit of competition and greed. The idea that the fittest, the strongest ultimately destroys the weakest, is straight from the jungle. The notion that globalization facilitates the overhauling of established norms and values, for better or for worse, is very much practicable.

Charles augustWhat are public administrators to do when globalization seems to threaten the very customs and values that glue their society together?

According to Marc Mazower, a professor of history at Columbia University, the end of the 20th century was characterized by the beginning of political resistance movements from many societies in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, which wanted to oppose the idea of a one-fit-all system of administration that was being promoted aggressively by western civilizations and institutions. According to Mazower, the system of governance promoted by western powers to Third World countries, does not take into consideration the cultures, the mores and the historical perspective of these civilizations. “It is a system rather designed to facilitate western countries’ dominance in these societies’ affairs,” he argued.

The notion that public administration is a global phenomenon, subject to universal principles of moralities and values is tantalizing but questionable. A particular form of governance seems to work well for societies with common cores principles and traditional heritage, while another form of practice seems to facilitate better the development and aspirations of citizens in other corners of the world. Public administrators are first and foremost responsible for the management of their constituent’s affairs. They should dedicate their time and energy to respond to the aspirations and desiderata of their people and within the established boundaries of their societies. Public administrators seem to be more effective when they are inspired by concrete societal goals and objectives rather than when they are driven by a subjective sense of universal morality and goodness toward mankind. Too often, we have witnessed senseless wars and targeted killings in the name of subjective greater goods and selfish interests.

In 1762, Jean Jacques Rousseau, the famous French author, noted, “I would prefer to live in a society that has only one master, the local citizen, rather than the powerful international community.” Rousseau was afraid of what may happen to a nation when the decision of one master, its people, does not coincide with the decision of the other master, foreign countries or institutions. Le Baron de Secondat, Charles de Montesquieu, another great French philosopher, argued that “each nation has the form of government it deserves.” He said “the cultures, the traditions, the environment, even the quality of the soil, all play a role in determining the form of administration that should govern a country’s citizens.” Public administration, therefore, should not embrace the same characteristics in a globalized word. The Romans were considered great by their own people but brutal bastards by the Greeks. The United States is viewed as a bastion of democracy and freedom by many, but as an imperialist hypocrite by others. In both cases, both the Romans and the Americans have designed a system of administration that seems to fit the need of their people locally, while these systems arguably manifest themselves in very different ways abroad.

Nevertheless, the world is interconnected and public administrators have to deal with internal as well as external issues outside of their national borders. International laws and regulations require that countries’ citizens behave in a certain manner toward fellow neighbors that certain principles of coexistence such as respect for diversity and basic understanding of human rights and dignity are undeniable. Public administrators in a globalized world have to focus on these ideas and create structures that essentially characterize these viewpoints.


Author: Prospere Charles, Ph.D received his doctoral degree in public policy and administration from Walden University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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