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Book Review Essay: The End of Public Administration?

PAM, Vol. 4 No. 4, (1999)

Is the end of public administration at hand? Aaron Wildavsky asks:
what is left if public administration\'s search for the best hierarchical form
of organization and its search for efficiency are rejected? (Lynn, 1990,
p.xiv) Robert B. Denhardt answers this question with the proposition that a
new theory of public organization is possible. This distinguished past
president of the American Society of Public Administration offers a
compelling prescription in which he draws from the intellectual traditions
of Marxist humanism, Freudian psychoanalysis and his understanding of
Jeffersonian democracy. He proposes to test his arguments as to how
organizations of all kinds might be made more public, more democratic and
better able to express the values of society.
His major works, In the Shadow of Organization (1981), Theories of
Public Organizations (1993) and In Pursuit of Significance (1993) offer a
critique of Rational Theory and suggest replacing the positivist
understanding of human behavior with a framework of individual autonomy
and democracy. His radical reconstruction of organizational theory gives
primacy to the growth of the individual rather than to the efficiency of the
productive process. He expands his a philosophy of life as an alternative to\"
the ethic of organization\" view of the world. Denhardt moves beyond the
theoretical to offer a method of integrating theory and practice built on a
system of personal learning. The format of his body of work meets the
criteria for a new Discipline. It absorbs public administration into a larger
study of organizations. The adoption of his work by academics and the
acceptance of his widely acclaimed In Pursuit of Significance by
practitioners and professors alike means in practical terms that a new
generation of public leaders may not need public administration anymore.
An interesting side result of this body of work is that if accepted, then the
debate over whether public administration is a social science or a sub field
of political science or a professional field expires with the discipline itself.

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