Liberalism and the administrative state: The phenomenology of governmental legitimation in everyday life

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


David H. Rosenbloom


Public administration

Subject Categories

Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


The main thrust of the research is an inquiry into the rational grounds of legitimacy of the American administrative state. The work begins with a critique of liberal conceptions of state legitimation. The argument is that the foundation assumptions of liberalism may legitimize a variety of deviant values. Hence, a virtual plethora of values may serve to legitimate the public administration in liberal thought.

Further, there are anomalies within the deep structure of liberal thought which prevent the clear establishment of the socio-political status of the public administration in liberal society. Indeed, liberal premises permit the apparent conflicts in values, structure, and processes between bureaucracy and democracy. Liberalism thus imparts to the public administration contradictory impulses to action, which endows administrative theory with centrifugal tendencies.

The result is that contemporary administrative theory is saddled with three critical problems: First, public administration has embraced an inadequate conception of social action, one that privileges efficiency over other social values. Second, it lacks a coherent conception of its basis of legitimacy, and so has been unable to develop a satisfactory theory of "democratic administration." And third, administrative doctrine has been unable to move beyond earlier conceptions of "public administration as management" inherited from orthodox administrative thought. The result has been the institutionalization of an "administrative ideology" and the foreclosure of theoretical options to modes of organization which are more nearly geared towards the strategic purposes of the bureaucracy than the social purposes of the polity.

Other grounds are sought for establishing the legitimate place of the administrative state which moves beyond the realm of traditional liberal thought. A critical synthesis of sociological, phenomenological, and linguistic theories is made in order to construct a fresh conception of administrative legitimation. What emerges is a theory of legitimation based upon human mutual understanding in local contexts.

Some general principles for an alternative administrative doctrine based on the new conception of legitimation are presented. The general argument is for development of public administration as a mode of democratic "praxis," in which citizens may more meaningfully participate in the determination of administrative action.


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