Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Deontological Dimensions of Administrative Ethics, Revisited

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Deontological Dimensions of Administrative Ethics, Revisited

Article excerpt

The administrator is always to some extent an initiator of values, partly as a representative of some interest group or groups, but also independently, in his own right. He can never by completely governed by others, and, as a matter of fact, he has considerable latitude of choice before the consequences of his decisions will bring reactions that threaten survival. -- Simon, Smithberg, and Thompson, Public Administration, 1950

Administrative procedures are more important in effectuating the basic principles of government than is substantive law. -- David M. Levitan, "Political Ends and Administrative Means," Public Administration Review, 1943.

What is the purpose of a public servant's life? What is the driving force of his career? Who is she? How are they connected to the past, and how do they auger the future? How do they relate to their fellow citizens, to their friends and neighbors, to the country, to the Constitution, to such values as civic friendship and the common good? Can the love ethic of agape be applied to their work? Who are they, this fourth branch of government? Is their performance a lens through which to view American democracy at work? If public administration is indeed the law in action is their law a guarantee of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

We begin by noting that the public service has had different characteristics in different eras of American history. We also note, however, that a similar theme has run through each of these eras, and this theme has been classical, Judeo-Christian, humanitarian, and democratic. It has not been procedural, instrumentalist, or managerial. We sometimes forget that Americans began constitution building long before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and that for a hundred and fifty years before those fifty-five worthies we call the Framers gathered in Philadelphia, the colonists were defining and re-defining what "public" and "service" meant.

For the Puritans who came to New England in the Great Puritan Migration of 1630--30,000 strong--it was to establish the New Zion, the City on the Hill, in which each citizen agreed to a life of service, in covenant to strengthen, defend, preserve, comfort, love, hear, rejoice, mourn, labor, and suffer with one another. It is instructive to compare these verbs of John Winthrop in his sermon aboard the Arbella just before the Puritans landed, with Governor Morris' verbs in the Preamble to the Constitution. The people of the United States would now in 1787 form, establish, insure, provide, promote, secure, ordain, and establish a new form of government and a new way of life. There is not a passive or intransitive verb of being in either list. They are all active transitive verbs of choice, energy, and risk. Although the new republic was a secular undertaking in comparison to the Puritan divine mission into the wilderness there could be little doubt that the success of the second experiment--the one in democracy--was directly related to the first experiment in establishing a Holy Commonwealth. The same points of character would be involved: trust, loyalty, benevolence, unselfishness, prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, faith, hope, and love.The Puritan and early republican commitment to what they called virtue was reflective of yet another experiment in combining the theocratic and democratic impulse, in the Greek city-state where the goddess Athena presided. The community's ideals are expressed in the oath taken by every citizen of Athens.

The Athenian Oath

We will never bring disgrace to this our city by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks;

We will fight for the ideals and the sacred things of the city, both alone and with many;

We will revere and obey the city's laws and do our best to incite to a like respect and reverence those who are prone to annul or set them at naught;

We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of public duty;

That thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us. …

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