THE PROGRESSIVE IDEA OF DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION.

Author:Novak, William J.
 
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  1. ADMINISTRATION, ANCIENT & MODERN 1823 II. THE IDEA OF DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION 1831 CONCLUSION 1847 I. ADMINISTRATION, ANCIENT & MODERN

    The first thing to acknowledge about administration is that administration is coincident with governance. Far from being a modern invention or some kind of radical departure from an original political or legal tradition, administration is among the oldest practices of governments. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of government without administration. Laws need to be enforced, legislation needs to be implemented, and collective goods need to be secured. Governance is mostly a matter of actions and practices, making administration perhaps the most truly reflective aspect of legal and political culture.

    Bernard Bailyn found the "origins of American politics" in the formidable and positive administrative tasks of the first colonial legislatures, from land distribution to the building of wharves, roads, ferries, public vessels, and civic buildings to the establishment of towns, schools, colleges, and religious institutions. (1) About 60 percent of the laws passed in colonial Virginia, Bailyn noted, were essentially administrative, "pertaining to social and economic problems." (2) Hendrik Hartog followed this trail of administration from colonial legislatures into county courts in eighteenth-century Massachusetts, identifying a "continuum of criminal and administrative action" wherein a court's responsibilities "were defined less by its formal legal jurisdiction than by the needs of governance"--especially the administration of liquor licensing, poor relief, and road building and repair. (3) By the early nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville deemed this pervasive, popular, and local approach to positive administration akin to the essence of democracy in America. Tocqueville drew explicit attention to the array of local administrators, such as "selectmen," "assessors," "collectors," "road-surveyors," and "tithing-men," carrying out the administrative policies of "well-regulated" communities, from the "construction of sewers" and the location of "slaughterhouses" to "public health" administration and "licensing." (4) Formal administrative boards, commissions, departments, and offices were part and parcel of early American governmental tradition.

    Moreover, this early original penchant for administration was hardly confined to local, regional, or municipal governance. In England, as John Brewer and Steve Pincus have most effectively argued, the rationalization and centralization of nation-state administration--especially around fiscal and military prerogatives--was an important harbinger of modernity (and revolution) since at least the seventeenth century. For Brewer, "[t]he late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw an astonishing transformation in British government, one which put muscle on the bones of the British body politic, increasing its endurance, strength and reach." (5) At the heart of this governmental revolution were the clerks--those "pale and shadowy figures" at "the seat of dullness"--who implemented "the growth of a sizable public administration devoted to organizing the fiscal and military activities of the state." (6) Pincus summed up the broad administrative trend that upended Europe from the Glorious Revolution to the French Revolution as "state modernization":

    [A]n effort to centralize and bureaucratize political authority, an initiative to transform the military using the most up-to-date techniques, a program to accelerate economic growth and shape the contours of society using the tools of the state, and the deployment of techniques allowing the state to gather information... (7) Contravening theories of American exceptionalism, this early modernization of national administration did not bypass the early United States. Rather, Jerry Mashaw has now definitively established the long and deep historical origins of American administrative law and a national administrative state. "From the earliest day of the republic," Mashaw demonstrated, "Congress delegated broad authority to administrators, armed them with extrajudicial coercive powers, created systems of administrative adjudication, and specifically authorized administrative rulemaking." (8) Of the fifty-one major federal administrative agencies at the time of the Administrative Procedure Act (1946), eleven traced their origins to statutes passed before the Civil War, and most of those to the extraordinary creation of federal administration in the very first Congress: the U.S. Customs Service, Veterans Pensions, Patent Office, Office of Indian Affairs, Commissioner of Internal Revenue, General Land Office, Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, Passport Division, Office of the Chief Engineers, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and Postmaster General. (9) Mashaw described the vital activities (and internal administrative rules and practices) of a wide range of administrative officers--from the Attorney General and U.S. Attorneys to Treasury and Customs and Postal officials--culminating as early as 1852 in a national steamboat inspection regime that administratively "combined something of the 'New Deal' independent regulatory commission with 'Great Society' health and safety regulation...." (10) Nicholas Parrillo has supplemented this rich portrait with an even wider accounting of the army of administrative officials enabled by the comprehensive fee, prize, and bounty systems that proliferated before the modern "salary revolution" in American government: district attorney fees for successful prosecutions, tax "ferret" fees for detecting tax evaders, naval bounties for captured ships, land officer fees for homestead applications, government doctor fees for deciding veteran's benefits, and so on. (11) National administration and a surprisingly sophisticated structure of administrative law was entrenched in the United States for a century before the so-called invention of modern administration in the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.

    So we now have a new and "long" history of administration to contemplate from 1787 to 1887 and beyond. Clearly administration per se is not a recent American invention. The question remains, however, what exactly the relationship is between the sprawling early American regime of administration acknowledged by Bailyn, Hartog, Tocqueville, Mashaw, and Parrillo and the later changes in administrative regulation that took place at the turn of the twentieth century. Are these regimes of a piece--similar, contiguous, and continuous--reflective of an evolution rather than a revolution? Or are there still some dramatic differences and changes circa 1887 that suggest not a move from absence to presence (historians have certainly slain that beast), but perhaps a transformation nonetheless?

    Despite deep historical roots in the American governmental tradition, the increased proliferation, professionalization, centralization, and rationalization of administration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries amounted to a change in kind--a transformation nonetheless. While commentators such as Tocqueville long recognized the origins of administration in the practical politics of addressing social problems and meeting collective needs (from poor relief to local infrastructural development), the very nature and conception of those problems and those needs were fundamentally transformed in the era of mass society and mass democracy. The basic direction of change moved distinctly from a political culture of particularity with a wide tolerance of distinction to one of generality with a preference for uniformity. Localized, jurisdictional, and quasi-private rulemaking and office-holding ineluctably gave way to a more centralized, political, and distinctly public vision of administration and administrative law. (12) Just as conceptions of national citizenship and constitutional rights grudgingly shed an earlier history of localism, particularity, and discrimination, the nature of social representation through democratic politics and statecraft moved just as slowly--but surely--toward more generalized conceptions of social need and public interest. The political culture of generality involved a new vision of a democratic society autonomously responsible for the production of its own collective future as well as a new understanding of positive and purposeful political freedom. (13) Administration was the primary vehicle of this new vision of state and law--a new public administration and a modern administrative law--committed to serving society's needs and meeting a redefined general public interest.

    Such new and positive ideas of statecraft, law, and administration quickly moved the American polity beyond traditional concerns with the maintenance of public order and early techniques of local-legal policing and fiscal-military organization. A distinctly modern notion of a public service state came into being, self-consciously oriented around the significant new obligations of tackling large-scale public problems and satisfying ever-expanding socioeconomic needs. No one apprehended this functionalist shift from "public authority" to "public service" better than the French legal sociologist and state theorist Leon Duguit. Duguit argued that patrimonial and authoritarian forms of state were in decline amid the rise of new forms of social interdependence and democratic political aspiration. As he observed, "Government and its officials are no longer the masters of men imposing the sovereign will on their subjects .... They are simply the managers of the nation's business." (14) Duguit came to the attention of most Americans through the interventions of Harold Laski who counseled Roscoe Pound that "[t]he most striking change in the political organization of the last half century is the rapidity with which... the state has been driven to assume a positive...

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