The Founders, the Constitution, and Public Administration

A Conflict in World Views

Michael W. Spicer

"A very important book . . . Students, practitioners, theorists and administrative reformers will gain much by taking Spicer's argument to heart."
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Viewed alternately as an obstacle to justice, an impediment to efficient government, and a tool by which some groups gain benefits and privileges at the expense of others, public administration threatens to become the whipping boy of American government. In this innovative look at the nation's bureaucracy, Michael W. Spicer revisits the values of the Constitution in order to reconcile the administrative state to its many critics.

Drawing on political and social philosophy, Spicer argues that there is a fundamental philosophical conflict over the role of reason in society between writers in public administration and the designers of the American Constitution. This examination of worldviews illuminates the problem that American government faces in trying to ground a legitimate public administration in the Constitution. Defending and developing the Founders' idea that political power, whatever its source, must be checked, he critically examines existing ideas about the role of public administration in American governance and offers an alternative vision of public administration more in line with the Founders' constitutional design. This book will provide fresh insights for anyone interested in the role of public administration in the United States today.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction: The Uneasy Status of Public Administration

2. Rationalist and Anti-rationalist Worldviews

3. The Worldviews of Public Administration and the Constitution

4. On the Checking of Power: The Logic of a Constitution

5. Visions of Public Administration

6. An Anti-rationalist Vision of Public Administration

7. The Ethics of Administrative Discretion

8. Summary and Conclusion




"Spicer has posed an elegant intellectual dichotomy between the assumptions of the Constitution and the implicit values of American public administration, contending that the gulf between the two impedes efforts to legitimize public administration . . . The argument is provocative, fresh, and succinctly stated, drawing on a masterful understanding of familiar as well as unfamiliar political philosophy . . . The book is on the cutting edge of public administration theory."—Charles Goodsell, Center for Public Administration and Policy, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

"A very important book . . . Students, practitioners, theorists and administrative reformers will gain much by taking Spicer's argument to heart."—David H. Rosenbloom, Distinguished Professor of Public Administration, School of Public Affairs, The American University

"Represents a major contribution to the ongoing discussion of legitimacy in the field of public administration . . . . Fashioning a new vision of public administration as 'constrained discretion,' Spicer advocates the use of common law reasoning and consensus, along with personal honesty, as key ingredients in constructing a role for public administrators that is truly consonant with the constitution."—Guy B. Adams, associate professor and director of graduate studies, College of Business and Public Administration, University of Missouri-Columbia


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Michael W. Spicer is a professor of public administration and urban affairs at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University.

128 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-581-7
Mar 1995

128 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-582-4
Mar 1995

128 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-872-3
Mar 1995

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