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The Politics-Administration Dichotomy

This paper aims to furnish a well-rounded argument against the topic "Politics can never be successfully separated from administration". Since the later part of the 1880s, when public administration became a topic of academic debate, the function of public administration in politics has been a topic of concern. It is important to policymakers and scholars to understand the relationship between political processes and public administration since it has significance for institutional development, autonomy and disciplinary integrity of public administration (Peters, 2018). To argue against the topic, the paper elaborates on the three principal schools of thought of the public administration and politics dichotomy. The "politics-administration dichotomy" is a theoretical construct that creates a separation between the roles of the two and declares the formal relationship between the administrators and the appointed officials in a democracy (Guo, 2019).

The function of public administration in the workings of the political processes has always been a debatable topic, and it was in 1887 that Woodrow Wilson outlined the famous article on the political-administrative dichotomy (Putera & Pasciana, 2021). The dichotomy was a theoretical construct that clearly separated the features of politics and public administration. In the article, Wilson mentioned that public administration is a subject that lies outside the domain of politics. The foundations of the politics-administration dichotomy lie on the structural and functional perspective of the government, distinctly separating the authority of the elected officials of the government and that of the administrative official. Wilson's fundamental ideas evolved gradually in a public administration model, with the backing and contribution of several scholars and received popularity due to the impact it had on the rational identity distinctiveness of public administration until the 1940s. However, the post-war years saw a substantial number of critiques, and the politics-administrative dichotomy lost quite its normative and theoretical allure, giving rise to the growth of alternative frameworks. Although the legacy of the dichotomy has faded over time, it has not concluded the actual position and function of administration in political functioning. Over the years, the intellectual enquiry over this matter of public administration has not been concluded and still remains a topic of controversy. The scholarly discussions regarding the future of the profession of public administration and its identity are served well by this long-standing debate. To understand the functions of administration in politics and their distinctness, policymakers and scholar have proposed several theories and explanations in the past years (Overeem, 2017). This paper will discuss these efforts of the scholars with the help of the three distinct schools of thought, namely, the political, separation and interaction. The separation and the political school of thought are known to be polar extremes, and, in the middle, lies the interaction school carrying some common features from both the extremes and offers a deep understanding of the dependencies of public administration on politics. The schools each have strong perspectives that undertake conceptual, historical and empirical approaches.

Three Schools of Thought

The separation school of thought clearly states its affiliation in its name, and "separation" signifies the agenda of distinctly separating administration from politics for practical as well as normative considerations to the greatest possible extent. The scholars supporting separation see the governmental arena as being separated into two cells, namely administration and politics. Their approach toward the connection between administration and politics are functional. The role of politics is imparting guidance, or according to Wilson, creating the basis and assigning the tasks for administration. Meanwhile, public administration's role is to impart political guidance and support by taking a neutral position and providing impartiality to the policy-making mechanism (Farazmand, 2019). The elected officials of the government are subjected to the task of imparting political guidance by legislative surveillance and policy leadership. The elected officials of the government are connected to the citizens through policy leadership, while legislative surveillance connects them with the administrators. The policy process involves the public administrators whose principal job is to warrant the concrete implementation of public policies in accordance with the legislative instructions and objectives (Roman, 2017). The separation school views public administration as a separate domain, different from the political realm with its own methods, rules and values. Public administration can never be synthesized into political realms simply because it does not support integration of political processes (Yang, 2019). The separation school teaches that the fundamental values guiding administration are hierarchy, expertise and most importantly, neutrality, making it altogether a defining characteristic of public administration, known as neutral competence. A public administrator's job is to provide competent and neutral advice to government officials (Svara, 2021). Neutrality is what separates it from politics, and neutral competency stands for the capacity to execute a government job effectively while conforming to specified objectives and standards instead of the party, personal or other affiliations and loyalties (van Dorp & 't Hart, 2019). Expertise, neutrality and hierarchy are the three main elements that distance the public administrators from politics. Public administrators are public employees, and their objective is to remain apolitical, non-partisan and non-affiliation to a particular agenda (Ebinger, Veit & Fromm, 2019). Therefore, in an ideal world, according to the separation school of thought, the public administrators and the elected government officials perform their assigned responsibilities separately, and the result is an effective administrative system with competent administrators who are answerable to the elected officials. However, an ideal world is far from being achievable, and the separation model can only work in theory and not in a practical sense.

The Separation School

The political school stands for a broader function of public administrations. The political school of thought is the polar opposite to the notions of the separation school and rejects the distinction and separation between politics and administration. The proponents of the political school consider both administration and politics inseparable from one another. To legitimize the policy function of the public administrators, the political model begins with administrative discretion. The crucial challenges of public administrators encompass ambiguous and indistinct legislation, inadequate knowledge of technical skills among the elected officials, and barriers in regulating and monitoring bureaucratic behaviour. Hence, the supporters of the political school of thought have reasonable grounds for seeing administrators as lawmakers (Öhberg et al., 2017). The argument by the political school of thought for public administration, from a normative approach state, that the role and duties of public administrators should not be restricted to only execution of the policies but should be included in policy formulation and its advocacy. The political school does not support the obedience of public administrators shown toward the political masters and stand for the idea that public administrators should be given the job to investigate the moral ramifications of the policies before exploring ways to their efficient implementation. From a pragmatic viewpoint, political power in the government hierarchy in most developed nations is diffused, which makes all the more sense to engage the public administrators in politics and create and conserve coalitions (Bakir & Gunduz, 2020). The political model does not accept the insubordination of the public administrators and their role in connection to the political officials. In an ideal world, as visualized by the proponents of the political school, public administrators work together with the political officials in search of effective and efficient solutions regarding policy challenges, striving for a better democratic society (Chohan, 2017).

The interaction school is led by some scholars who believe in a substantial level of collaboration among the two groups, public administrators and elected government officials, all the while maintaining their individual features and unique responsibilities. The interaction model pursues a middle ground when compared to the other two models. The interaction school idolizes the concept that public administration and politics can never be separated and are inevitably intertwined. The challenge is to symbiotically associate them, all the while keeping each one in its own position. Another challenge is the comprehension that the position of each will alter through time. The interaction model understands that politics and administration have many differences in perspectives, logic, formal positions and values of the administrative officials and the elected officials. However, interaction school differs from separation school through their huge focus on the collaboration of the administrators and the elected officials in the policy-making process. Due to pragmatic reasons, the interaction school permits a wider policy function for the administrators. This paper, as mentioned before, stands against the notion that the interaction school stands for, that is, separation of politics and administration is not possible due to the ever-growing dynamism and complexity of the social, political, and financial environment related to policy-making, which urges for intense interaction among the administrators and the elected officials. The interaction school of thought is not dependent on the concept of formal hierarchy that the government traditionally puts on the officials, which signifies a relationship between the public administrators and the elected officials in terms of subordinates and superiors. The interaction school also separates itself from the political model, although it has clear perspectives about the seniority in the politics-administration relationship; and considers the elected government officials as seniors in the partnership, indicating that public administrators should remain answerable to the elected officials. The interaction school supporters put forth several rules regarding the acceptable behaviour of the administrators. The administrators, although interconnected with policy-making, should never be inclined towards partisan politics, and the elected officials should not interfere with administrative functions (Jacobs, 2019). Nevertheless, regarding administration and policy issues, the interaction model suggests collaboration of the roles, mutual regard and reciprocal authority between the administrative officials and the elected officials. In an ideal world, public administration officials and political officials maintain an effective partnership, the former assisting and informing the latter in the policy-making process, all the while remaining answerable and accountable to the political officials (Pülzl & Treib, 2017). Acknowledging the possibility of deep engagement between the administrators and the political officials igniting negative dynamics, possibly leading to administrative dictatorship or political corruption, the interaction model finds comfort in the interaction process, that is, the balance of various functions having a restraining impact of values that are respected and reciprocated (Torfing & Ansell, 2017). Therefore, it is imperative that both political responsiveness and administrative competence should strive for reaching their full potential.

The Political School

Separation school, political school and the interaction school has provided an understanding of the interconnection between politics and administration in modern democratic society. Although all the three schools of thought are regularly challenged by scholars, the separation school still stands against the notion that the two realms can never be separated and successfully responds to critics. On the other hand, political schools stand for a morally-conscious political and administrative system, but this concept is bolstered on the assumption of the clarity of the moral ramifications of policies, which is a difficult assumption to rely upon. The interaction school also has certain limitations; it miscalculates the power imbalance between public administration officials and elected officials, and the interaction process can easily be overridden by the one who has more power. In short, interaction might lead to the forfeiture of either political supremacy or administrative competence. The reciprocating values and respect also fail to consider the challenge of role vagueness, whose probable consequences lie in the invisibility of political activity (Svara, 2021). The more the vagueness in roles, the more chances of political activity being unnoticeable. Therefore, the paper stands against the notion with pieces of evidence by elaborating on the three schools of thought. The separation school continues to stand against the storm of critiques to this day, while there are several discrepancies and limitations to the other two.

In conclusion, the discussion reveals that the separation of politics and administration, though it seems impossible, is important for a successful administrative system. To buttress the notion, the three schools of thought are discussed and compared, and in the end, evidence shows that the school of separation stands against the waves of critics and concretes the idea that separation between politics and administration is achievable; however, the other two has several limitations that make them impossible to achieve. Each of the schools has equally powerful approaches, but in the end, the pragmatic approach of the separation school provides a foundation on which further intellectual investigations can be developed.  

Reference

Bakir, C., & Gunduz, K. A. (2020). The importance of policy entrepreneurs in developing countries: A systematic review and future research agenda. Public Administration and Development, 40(1), 11-34. https://canerbakir.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Bakir-and-Gunduz-PAD-2020-Policy-Entrepreneurs-1.pdf

Chohan, U. W. (2017). Public Value: bureaucrats versus politicians. Global encyclopaedia of public administration, public policy, and governance. Springer. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Usman-Chohan/publication/335993038_Public_Value_Bureaucrats_Versus_Politicians/links/5d89fb5492851ceb793adb7e/Public-Value-Bureaucrats-Versus-Politicians.pdf

Ebinger, F., Veit, S., & Fromm, N. (2019). The partisan–professional dichotomy revisited: Politicization and decision?making of senior civil servants. Public Administration, 97(4), 861-876. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/padm.12613

Farazmand, A. (Ed.). (2019). Handbook of comparative and development public administration. CRC press. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/52101160/_Ali_Farazmand_Editor__Handbook_of_Comparative_aBookZZ.org-with-cover-page-v2.pdf?Expires=1648216302&Signature=V-5a5Cp7gIMSw44sPk0APzU297keQqTtC-AokIqtmkmWEn0kSEyk~g7bBR-m3ShWfj~qZarjrUA2UIZSMjUal2REarvmQoBtJuxnSuuAFxMeeC0Kq2pSikymm~4ujyXz6kAuY9M2GCHZZc08TOu65rF1bB5U3WWIhXVc5VbSrr3dnEwLncnexDdjufqUTxE9ba6GJd3wrUxCJOEOoaN3F9uIQGKFrUBjHMGbZ1X7x2pnSQ6t1NZ1GzJb1woxN9wUFzUTsFrKFBf~ppYJhI4PqbIBXDByJwg-qWUdxxn8JxmyCYCEMLyS8zxDhStW7TvSjcSZTrI--t9hw8FahNO3Fg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA

Guo, S. (2019). Political-administrative dichotomy: Its sources, logic and debates. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 7(03), 356. https://www.scirp.org/html/30-1762440_91315.htm

Jacobs, S. B. (2019). The statutory separation of powers. Yale LJ, 129, 378. https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2364&context=articles

Öhberg, P., Munk Christiansen, P. E. T. E. R., & Niklasson, B. (2017). Administrative politicization or contestability? How political advisers affect neutral competence in policy processes. Public Administration, 95(1), 269-285. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Birgitta-Niklasson/publication/298899367_Administrative_politicization_or_contestability_How_political_advisers_affect_neutral_competence_in_policy_processes/links/5e8ef2c092851c2f528d4b07/Administrative-politicization-or-contestability-How-political-advisers-affect-neutral-competence-in-policy-processes.pdf

Overeem, P. (2017). The politics-administration dichotomy: Toward a constitutional perspective. Routledge. https://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CB03DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=politics+and+public+administration+&ots=d6J5nkBvq5&sig=mwG6lDXxqOk_XTeMfmkMaKfDDaA&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=politics%20and%20public%20administration&f=false

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Yang, L. (2019). Public Administration as a Dynamic Balance and Integrative Science across Politics, Management, and Law: Rosenbloom’s Framework and Chinese Experiences. The American Review of Public Administration, 49(1), 79-97. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0275074018759337

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