The Official's Guide?

By Monfils, Michael R. | The Public Manager, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Official's Guide?


Monfils, Michael R., The Public Manager


Dobel, J. Patrick, Public Integrity, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1999.

This book is written as variations on the theme of how people exercise integrity in public office. In Professor Dobel's own words, "Public Integrity is about the ethics of people who hold public office--elected, appointed, or hired." In the best sense of the words, it is a "how-to" book for public officials. It answers such questions as, "How do I know when I'm on good ethical grounds?" or "out of bounds?" or "expecting too much or too little of myself or other officials?"

The author examines public integrity in three domains: first personal capacities; next, the obligations of the office; and finally, effectiveness. Personal capacities include not only the abilities of the officeholder but also the personal code of ethics. Dobel uses different descriptions for these domains. He relates each of his topics back to these domains as he proceeds through the chapters, taking pains to ensure that the reader sees public integrity as more than an internal, personal thing. Rather, public integrity is the whole situation in which the official resides--internal and external.

Moral Dilemmas

A friend who asked me to review this book suggested that I read "Chapter 4, Character and Moral Attrition" first and then go back to the beginning. "Character and Moral Attrition" discusses the moral dilemmas of public life, which in this chapter cover the demands of the obligations of office and how they come into play. The office can ask us to do or support things that we might find to be personally offensive. Intriguingly, Dobel uses the main character George Smiley from John Le Carre's spy novels as his primary case study for this chapter. (That delighted this old Le Carre fan.) Indeed, on finishing the chapter, I wrote myself a note: "If I were US President, would I discontinue the Central Intelligence Agency?" (I ultimately answered the question for myself.)

This use of fictional characters ranging from Major Joppolo in A Bell for Adano to Gary Cooper in High Noon gives the reader an opportunity to think of examples in which one can see the motivations behind the actions as the ethical situations themselves.

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