Harmon Responds

Public Administration Review, November-December 1996 | Go to article overview

Harmon Responds


More than anything else, the essays by Professors Burke and Cooper illuminate one of the chief barriers to reframing conventional, but nolonger-useful debates between rival philosophical factions. Faced with criticisms of their favored position, representatives of each faction automatically assume that those criticisms must issue from the standard alternative position with which they have traditionally been at odds -- and therefore marshal their arguments against it, rather than against what has actually been written in criticism of 60th sides. When this happens there is little genuine engagement, obliging the proponent of the reframed understanding of the problem to expend greater effort clarifying what he did say than defending his argument against

Regrettably, that is the circumstance in which I find myself regarding the present criticisms of Responsibility as Paradox. To Burke my argument represents a dubious mixture--a rocky marriage, in his words--of an especially conservative branch of communitarianism coupled with a therefore contradictory encouragement of ethically autonomous action and moral criticism by public administrators. To Cooper I seem to be recommending a dangerous brand of administrative discretion unfettered by moral, legal, or institutional constraints--a kind of throwback to the anything-goes radical humanism of the 1960s. Were either of these interpretations even minimally consistent with what I wrote, I would surely endorse many of Burke's and Cooper's criticisms of the book. Neither is accurate, however, owing chiefly to the failure of both critics to engage the book's central proposition: that the word "responsibility" has come to connote during this century two opposing--though, under felicitous conditions, reciprocal -- meanings, thus precluding as even theoretically possible the equation of responsibility with definitive moral or authoritative resolution of problems of administrative action. Responsibility as Paradox thus presumes not only an imperfect world, but a world shown to be radically imperfect precisely because of that theoretical impossibility.

I shall organize the major portion of my reply around three questions raised in the Burke and Cooper essays. My short no -- while Burke's and Cooper's answers are exactly the reverse:

1. Can obligation construed as passive consent -- whether tO moral principle, constitutional authority, or a combination of the two -- provide a sufficient and plausible basis for a practical theory of administrative responsibility?

2. Can the idea of paradox both explain the pathologies generated by the rationalist conception of responsibility and, from a revised understanding of paradox itself, suggest ways of ameliorating those pathologies?

3. Is it possible to identify foundational moral or empirical truths, including beliefs about "human nature," from which to derive or defend a theory of responsibility?

The final sections briefly describe two new paradoxes-in addition to the four I discuss in the book--unintentionally revealed by Burke's and Cooper's essays. I call the first of these the "paradox of exit," which explains the perverse consequences that would predictably follow were resignation from office the sole alternative for public administrators to passive compliance with organizational practices and policies. The second, the "paradox of reason," explains why the rationalists' belief in reason as the preferred standpoint from which to define responsible action excludes the very possibility of responsibility as a moral concept.

The Problem of Obligation. Burke's critique is written chiefly in response to my critique (in chapters 3 and 5) of his own work, Bureaucratic Responsibility (1986). Here he develops a "consent" theory of political obligation, which asserts that public administrators, having freely shouldered the responsibilities of public office in a democratic polity, have a moral as well as a legal obligation to comply with legitimate political authority. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Harmon Responds
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.