Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The Growth of Authoritarianism: A Challenge for Public Administration—Part 2

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

By Tom R. Hulst
June 5, 2023

I wrote about the “dangerous drift toward authoritarianism in America” in Part 1 of The Growth of Authoritarianism: A Challenge for Public Administration, PA Times, March 6, 2023. This issue has been a concern for many other writers in the PA Times recently also. In Part 2 I will draw on the ideas expressed by some of these authors—and a few others—concerning this important public policy problem.

Many thought leaders have recently acknowledged the danger of authoritarianism to democracy both here and abroad. Ruth Ben Ghiat has written in, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, WW Norton & Co, 2020, “Ours is the age of the strongman, of heads of state who damage or destroy democracy, use masculinity as a tool of political legitimacy, and promise law and order rule—and then legitimize lawless behavior by financial, sexual, and other predators.” The authoritarian threat poses a risk to democracy and to public administration. According to Erik Devereux in Public Administration in “Post-Democracy” America: Part 2—Knowing Good from Evil, PA Times, April 17, 2022, “if the United States becomes an authoritarian state, the longstanding “firewall” between politics and administration must collapse. The loss of democratic consent means that public administrators are automatically embedded in a political system, not an administrative one, and therefore those in administration who continue to serve evil purposes are being political.”

This authoritarian challenge to public administration is, therefore, two-pronged: it threatens the structure of constitutional democracy itself within which the public service is imbedded; and it undermines and destabilizes the public administration by perverting the values that undergird public service in a democracy. Leaders and practitioners in the field of public administration have clearly established that effective administration in a democracy occurs through collaborative, humane and ethical principles of leadership rather than through authoritarian notions of autocracy, oppression, lust for power and cult of personality.

In the chapter titled Civilizing Mission of Public Administration, in the anthology Public Administration in Transition, Dimitrios Argyriades, et.al. 2007, p. 265, Gerald Caiden wrote, “So it is not so much the forms of democracy that have to be in place but the whole bloodstream of all public administration (including intelligence, military, police, correctional and custodial branches) that has to flow with a democratic spirit, with a sense of right and wrong, justice and mercy, fairness and fair-play. . . democratic public administration requires principled agents loyal to democratic humanitarian values. . .” Both Devereux and Caiden echo Alexander Hamilton’s ideas who wrote in Federalist No. XXVII that, “I believe it may be laid down as a general rule, that [the people’s] confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.”

PA Times contributors have shown that public administrators employ ethics, compassion and equity in their leadership repertoire. Lisa Saye writes artfully in the PA Times on April 27, 2022, The Beauty Among the Kangaroos: The Perennial Season of Democracy “. [D]emocracy insists that all are worthy. . . Worth is an unenumerated right inferred from other natural and fundamental rights. Thus, there is no daylight between worth and humanity. Their notions are interchangeable. There is also no daylight between public administration and good public service. Democracy is its serious machinery, and that machinery must operate deep in the marrow of government.” Again, in the PA Times on September 25, 2022, Saye in Co-Relative Areas of Public Management: Democracy, Public Service and Recruiting writes, “Without a democratic structure in which to administer policy and programs, public service would be homeless. What public service does for a democracy is tilt its intentions toward mercy.”

In Radical Reset: Facilitating Empathy and Ethics in Public Administration Praxis and Pedagogy, PA TIMES, October 17, 2022, Karen D. Sweeting says that “We are recovering from a global pandemic and reckoning with attacks on civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, voting rights, climate change, economic inflation, global strife and war. Radical reset calls for the facilitation of empathy, equity and ethical responsibility in public administration praxis and pedagogy to reckon with our current reality and political and partisan polarization.”

In another recent PA Times piece titled POSDCORB, Meet Leadership, August 5, 2022, Patrick Malone offers a new paradigm for the acronym, POSDCORB. “After all,” he writes, “leaders provide the vision, harness the resources and nurture the environments where managers thrive. So maybe it’s time to take a run at giving leaders the gift of a post-COVID version of POSDCORB.”  Malone provides the following new version for consideration: P – Patience; O – Optimism; S – Sensitivity; D – Diversity; Co – Commitment; R – Relationships; B – Belonging. *

PA Times’ authors accentuate the reciprocal relationship between the ideals of democracy and the principles of public administration. They set forth bold ideas to eliminate barriers, improve civic engagement, increase transparency, promote empathy and civility and reaffirm a commitment to the rule of law. Faithful adherence to these ideals and principles by the profession and the public should thwart the drift toward authoritarianism in the political sphere as well as within the field of public administration.

*The original acronym POSDCORB, developed by Luther Gulick, stood for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and Budgeting.

Author: Tom R. Hulst received an MA in public administration from Washington State University. He served as policy advisor to Washington Governor Daniel J. Evans, superintendent of Peninsula School District, and administrator in the State Superintendent Office of Public Instruction. He published The Footpaths of Justice William O. Douglas in 2004 and currently teaches political science at Tacoma Community College.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *