Goodnow. Frank J.

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Goodnow. Frank J.



The impact of Frank J. Goodnow (1859–1939) upon the study of public administration in the United States has been quite durable. Goodnow’s classic treatise Politics and Administration (1900) was the intellectual point of departure, along with Woodrow Wilson’s “Study of Public Administration” (1887), for much of the work in the field up to World War ii. It is a book still frequently cited to day, although not always praised.

Goodnow began teaching administrative law at Columbia in 1883 and remained there throughout his professorial career. In 1914 he resigned from the Columbia faculty to become president of Johns Hopkins University, a position he held until his retirement in 1929. Goodnow was one of the principal founders of the American Political Science Association and became its first president in 1903. He helped to redraft the New York City charter in 1900, served on President Taft’s commission on economy and efficiency in 1911-1912, and in 1913 went to China as legal adviser to its president.

Much of Goodnow’s scholarly work was in the field of municipal government. Although his approach to the study of municipal institutions was primarily legal in character, his works also reveal a keen awareness of the realities of city politics around the beginning of the twentieth century. They remain quite useful to students of urban political development in the United States, since current trends and problems in urban government and politics are still structured by the cleavage between bossism and reformism, which was so prominent an issue in Goodnow’s day.

A focal point of controversy in political science has been the distinction Goodnow delineated in Politics and Administration between politics, as the sphere in which the will of the state is articulated, and administration, as the range of methods and techniques through which the state’s purposes are carried out. This functional separation of powers had a great deal of practical utility in the early movement to reform the organization and operation of public administration in the United States, since it justified the introduction into the public service of practices and values—e.g., efficiency, hierarchy, and discipline—altogether alien to the egalitarian ethos of American politics itself. The distinction also helped carve out a sphere of autonomy for public agencies at a time when these administrative units were hard pressed to maintain professional standards in the face of pressures from spoils-oriented and sometimes corrupt party organizations. When it was first formulated, the separation between politics and administration was to a large extent an effort to free administrators from political harassment.

Intellectually, however, the separating of these two segments of governmental activity has not fared very well at the hands of recent critics. Since World War ii the study of public administration has been largely “politicized”—in the sense at least that the role of bureaucracy in modern government has increasingly been studied from the point of view of the tactics that agencies follow in securing resources upon which their survival depends, including appropriations, constituency support, and statutory authority, or with a focus on the involvement of administrators in the framing of public policy. The modern tendency has been to point up and to some extent justify the role of administrators in the political process.

However, although Goodnow’s distinction between politics and administration was to serve more often as a target for criticism than as a model, the issues he first raised in a systematic way are still very much at the center of scholarly concern. Dwight Waldo, for example, has noted that the dichotomy between facts and values in the work of Herbert Simon, since World War II one of the central figures in the study of public administration, is closely analogous to Goodnow’s own distinction between administration and politics (Waldo 1963, pp. 187-188). The entire effort to create a “science” of administration in modern times does in fact ultimately turn upon the possibility of singling out a sphere of managerial expertise which is distinct from and independent of political preferences and policy goals. Thus, Goodnow’s work retains its intellectual relevance today, even though it no longer has the authority it once commanded. From the point of view of governmental structure, there can be no disputing the fact that the distinction has been an important force in the development of American institutions. Merit systems and a variety of other devices have been established at all levels of government to provide administrative agencies with some degree of legal protection against the grosser forms of political interference. At the same time, there has been a continued effort to limit the political role of executive agencies, for example, by statutes designed to prevent them from engaging in “propaganda” or lobbying activity. Public policy in the United States has thus sought to separate politics and administration, however much the two spheres may overlap in the actual day-to-day work of government.

Francis E. Rourke

[See alsoAdministrative Law; Civil Service; Commissions, Government; Political Process; Public Administration; Public Law.]


(1893) 1903 Comparative Administrative Law: An Analysis of the Administrative Systems, National and Local, of the United States, England, France and Germany. 2 vols. New York: Putnam.

(1895) 1897 Municipal Home Rule: A Study in Administration. New York and London: Macmillan.

1897 Municipal Problems. New York and London: Macmillan.

(1900) 1914 Politics and Administration: A Study in Government. New York: Macmillan.

(1904) 1910 City Government in the United States. New York: Century.

1905 The Principles of the Administrative Law of the United States. New York and London: Putnam.

(1909) 1919 Municipal Government. 2d ed. New York: Century.

1911 Social Reform and the Constitution. New York: Macmillan.

1916a The American Conception of Liberty and Government. Providence, R.I.: Standard Printing.

1916b Principles of Constitutional Government. New York and London: Harper.

1926 China: An Analysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.


Hainzs, Charles G.; and Dimock, Marshall E. (editors) 1935 Essays on the Law and Practice of Governmental Administration: A Volume in Honor of Frank J. Goodnow. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. → See especially pages v-xv for a biographical sketch.

Macmahon, Arthur W. 1958 Frank Johnson Goodnow. Volume 22, pages 250-251 in Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner.

Waldo, Dwight 1948 The Administrative State: A Study of the Political Theory of American Public Ad ministration. New York: Ronald Press. → See especially pages 106–109.

Waldo, Dwight 1963 Comparative Public Administration: Prologue, Performance, Problems and Promise. Indian Journal of Political Science 24.177–216.

Wilson, Woodrow (1887) 1953 The Study of Public Administration. Pages 65-75 in Dwight Waldo (editor), Ideas and Issues in Public Administration: A Book of Readings. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Goodnow. Frank J.

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