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In Defense of Politics in Public Administration

A Value Pluralist Perspective

Written by Michael W. Spicer

Publication Year: 2010

Scholars of public administration have historically too often been disdainful towards politics in the field, viewing political activities and interests as opportunities for corruption, mismanagement, and skewed priorities. Supporters of this anti-political stance have become even more strident in recent years, many of them advancing scientific models for the study and practice of public administration and governance.
Michael Spicer argues that politics deserves to be defended as a vital facet of public administration on the grounds that it can promote moral conduct in government and in public administration, principally by bringing to the foreground the role of values in administrative practice. Politics can facilitate the resolution of conflicts that naturally arise from competing values, or conceptions of the good, while minimizing the use of force or violence. Drawing on the writings of Isaiah Berlin, Bernard Crick, and Stuart Hampshire, In Defense of Politics in Public Administration argues that value conflict is an integral part of our moral experience, both in making our own moral choices and in dealing with those whose values conflict with our own. This book is a spirited declaration of principles and a timely contribution to a dialogue that is redefining public administration, both in theory and in practice.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book seeks to provide a defense for the practice of politics in public administration. Notwithstanding the sometimes shabby reputation of politics, not just among citizens but also among many academics, I argue here that politics is crucial to protecting the array of conflicting values or conceptions of the good that constitute our moral experience as human beings, both in our private lives ...

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1. Introduction: Anti-Politics in Public Administration

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pp. 1-17

The purpose of this book is to offer a defense for the idea and practice of politics in public administration. Admittedly, defending politics nowadays is a challenging task in light of the fact that politics and politicians are not especially popular and, in fact, candidates for elected office of a variety of ideological stripes often make great play of their desire to take politics out of government and to make ...

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2. Value Pluralism and Moral Experience

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pp. 18-36

The central argument of this book is that politics plays a crucial role in helping societies manage conflicts among different values or conceptions of the good. To understand better how politics plays this role, we must first understand and appreciate the idea of value pluralism. Put in its simplest terms, value pluralism is the idea that our moral values or conceptions of the good are many and varied ...

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3. Politics, Conciliation, and Value Pluralism

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pp. 37-52

In the previous chapter, it was argued that conflicts arise among incompatible and incommensurable values or conceptions of the good not just within in dividuals, but also within societies or communities. This chapter will examine how the practice of politics helps societies and communities in dealing with such conflicts. I argue here that politics can help protect and foster value pluralism by expanding...

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4. Politics and the Limitations of a Science of Governance

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pp. 53-69

Notwithstanding the virtues of politics that were claimed in the previous chapter, the sentiment has persisted that there must surely exist some better, some more scientific way of dealing with the various conflicts of interests and values that arise among us as human beings, one that would either substitute for or perhaps at the very least usefully augment the practice of politics. Indeed, as was indicated...

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5. A Pluralist Approach to Public Administration: Adversary Argument, Constitutionalism, and Administrative Discretion

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pp. 70-90

When we think about what might constitute a pluralist approach to public administration, it is useful to begin by examining more closely what exactly it is about politics that makes possible the political conciliation of conflicting interests and values. In this chapter, I shall argue that, at a bare minimum, a political resolution of conflicts among competing values requires some sort of ...

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6. Conclusion: Practical Moral Reasoning in Public Administration

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pp. 91-106

In this book, I have argued that our political practices, notwithstanding their limitations, serve to promote moral conduct by allowing us to resolve conflicts among values or rival conceptions of the good while avoiding the use of coercion. In the previous chapter, I argued that our historically situated institutions of politics help us to resolve value conflict in a nonviolent fashion because they ...


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pp. 107-116


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pp. 117-120

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316853

Publication Year: 2010