Dissertation: Public Administration in the Public
by Paula D. Gordon, Ph.D.
Author's Retrospective Comments: August 30, 2004
Public Administration in the Public Interest was completed in
1975. In this dissertation I described a new paradigm of public administration
that provided a prescriptive analysis of the role that American government
and public administration should play in addressing complex societal problems,
threats and challenges. At the time, the new paradigm bore the closest
affinity to the value-based school of development administration and the
mainstream and also value-based lineage of public administration that
includes Woodrow Wilson, Paul Appleby, and Dwight Waldo.
I examined the underpinnings of then current (and still largely current)
"value neutral", process-focused paradigms of administration
and management and called the set of assumptions, values, and beliefs
underlying such paradigms "the positivist metaphysic".
I also proposed an alternative to "value neutral scientism"
and the "positivist metaphysic" that permeated so much of the
activity of academia, business, and government then as now. I called this
alternative approach the "democratic humanist metaphysic". "The
democratic humanist metaphysic" would enable rather than impede our
efforts to address today's greatest challenges.
Had I written the dissertation after the year 2000, I would have changed
very little. I would have mentioned Margaret Wheatley's critique of the
Newtonian paradigm and her view that the Newtonian paradigm has lost its
explanatory value for the "soft" social and political sciences.
(Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science) I would have concurred
with Wheatley's assessment that the Newtonian paradigm and empirical methodology
have limited utility in increasing our understanding of human behavior
in groups, organization, and society, particularly in the turbulent times
in which we live. I would have echoed Wheatley's view that chaos theory,
quantum mechanics, and complexity theory shed far more light on our understanding
of human behavior in groups, organization, and society than does the older
explanatory paradigm, a paradigm that had been rooted in ill founded assumptions
concerning the predictability of behavior and the nature of man.
I also would have included in my dissertation a quote from Evelyn Fox
Keller concerning her views about what I refer to as "value neutral
scientism". Echoing Arthur Koestler from the past, Keller stated
in an interview on PBS in 1986 with Bill Moyers that we need to "redeploy...the
wonderful creative resources [of science] in more productive ways for
the future survival and well being of humankind".
Value-neutral scientism (or what I labeled the "positivist metaphysic"
in my dissertation) has come to permeate much of government and government
policymaking, not to mention private sector endeavors. This penchant for
value neutrality and objectivity along with a deep rooted desire for predictability
and control have too often resulted in the factoring out of common sense,
reason, a sense of responsibility, judgment, experience, intuition, knowledge,
understanding, wisdom, and humanity. In my dissertation, I described an
alternative "metaphysic", an alternative to value neutral scientism.
This alternative "metaphysic" is called the "democratic
humanist metaphysic". Fundamental to the "democratic humanist
metaphysic" is a reverence for life or simply an appreciation of
the primacy of the value of life. That same umbrella metaphysic can extend
to the lives of those who believe in the essential sanctity of life.
I would also incorporate more recent thinking I have done concerning the
problems, threats and challenges facing us today. Such elaborations can
be found in the work that is posted on my gordonhomeland.com Web site.
The perspectives presented in Public Administration in the Public Interest
seem to me to be as pertinent today as they were in 1975. There have been
new voices added to the critique of value neutral scientism; there have
been new calls for a redeployment of science, knowledge, understanding,
and commonsense in ways that accrue to the benefit of humankind. The arguments
that I offered in 1975 seem to me to be no less true and no less needed
now than they were in 1975. Indeed, owing to the new higher stakes in
our post 9/11 world, these arguments and the case that I have tried to
make have greater importance now more than ever before. With the advent
of homicidal/suicidal terrorists and asymmetrical destructive capabilities
of those who do not value life, the future of humankind is in an even
more precarious balance today than it was then. As that realization hits
home, we may all become more mission-driven to do what we can to ensure
that the forces of civilization, freedom, and humanity succeed in this
war over the forces of chaos, anarchy, enslavement, and the destruction
of all that is human and of all that makes life worth living.
the dissertation "Public Administration in the Public Interest."
Acrobat Reader required. (Free
* * *
Dr. Gordon is a member of the practitioner faculty of Johns Hopkins University.
She is a writer, analyst, and consultant. Since 9/11, she has focused
much of her effort on homeland security concerns. Her analysis and recommendations
concerning homeland security and other related work is posted at http://gordonhomeland.com.
Dr. Gordon's bio is also posted at gordonhomeland.com.
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.