To Run a Constitution
The Legitimacy of the Administrative State
John A. Rohr
In 1887, the centennial year of the American Constitution, Woodrow Wilson wrote that "it is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one." The context for Wilson's comment was an essay calling for sound principles of administration that would enable government officials to "run" a constitution well. Wilson and his fellow civil-service reformers had a profound influence on the development of American administrative institutions. Unfortunately, the reformers paid more attention to the exigencies of running a constitution than to the Constitution itself. They and their intellectual progeny developed a theory of administration that was at odds with the theory of the Constitution. As a result, we find ourselves living today in what we often call an "administrative state"—a state seemingly bereft of legitimating principles grounded in the political thought of the framers of the Constitution.
In To Run a Constitution, John A. Rohr takes seriously two basic premises: de Tocqueville's belief that citizens are corrupted by obeying powers they believe to be illegitimate, and the view that, despite present political sentiment, the administrative state is here to stay. The book focuses on the important question of whether the administrative state, an abiding presence in American politics, can be justified in terms of the American constitutional tradition.
“In overall impact this book makes a very substantial contribution to our understanding of the uneasy relationship—at least in theory—between the Constitution and bureaucracy over the course of U.S. political development.”
—American Political Science Review
“Rohr’s arguments represent a useful perspective on our 200-year debate about the Constitution.”
—American Review of Public AdministrationSee all reviews...
“In an informative, interesting, and scholarly synthesis of political philosophy, public administration, and American history, Rohr seeks to legitimize the administrative state in terms of constitutional principle.”
“Building upon the avowal that ‘there is need for a normative theory of public administration that is grounded in the Constitution,’ Rohr derives and delineates with meticulous regard for constitutional text and historical context the founding and development of the administrative state in word and deed. Conscientiousness, candor, and conscience pervade his incisive analyses, cogent arguments, and enticing urbane chatting with the reader in this landmark study of Constitutional legitimacy”
—Victor Rosenblum, coauthor of Constitutional Law: Political Roles of the Supreme Court
“A forcefully argued point of view . . . certain to engage the field in constructive argumentation over fundamental issues ranging from constitutional foundations . . . to the current meaning and force of the public administrator’s oath to uphold the Constitution.”
—Chester A. Newland, Editor-in-Chief, Public Administration Review
“In a complex argument that combines boldness with impressive scholarship, Rohr seeks to legitimize the administrative state in history, law, and ‘principles.’ This is a major addition to the literature of public administration, and henceforth all who would be knowledgeable in that area will need to have an informed opinion on the positions it takes.”
—Dwight Waldo, author of The Administrative State
“This is a broad, sweeping, synthesizing account that rests on a firm grasp of constitutional history and principle.”
—Herman Belz, coauthor of The American Constitution: Its Origin and Development
“A very important book that should be required reading for all public administrators in the United States. . . . The scholarship is the strongest of any book published in public administration in a decade or more. It will be a classic.”
—David H. Rosenbloom, author of Public Administration and LawSee fewer reviews...
In addressing this question, Rohr goes beyond considerations of case law to examine the principles of the Constitution both at its founding and in its subsequent development. Reying on the normative character of political "foundings," Rohr analyzes three significant founding periods: 1) the founding of the Republic, 1787-1795; 2) the foundin of public administration, 1883-1899; and 3) the founding of the administrative state, 1933-1941. He judges the last two foundings by the first in developing his argument that the modern administrative state can be justified in terms of the kind of government the framers of the Constitution envisaged.
On the eve of the bicentennial of the Constitution, Rohr's argument advances a new, normative theory of public administration that is intended to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," in accordance with the oath of office taken by public administrators. It is critical reading for scholars in the fields of public administration, political science, and constitutional studies.