Should We Defend the Administrative State?

Public Administration Review (2020)

41 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2019 Last revised: 9 Apr 2020

See all articles by Alasdair S. Roberts

Alasdair S. Roberts

University of Massachusetts Amherst - School of Public Policy

Date Written: February 14, 2020


Troubled by actions of the Trump Administration, some academics have defended the administrative state. This may be a mistake. The scholarly definition of the administrative state has shifted over decades, and today scholarly usage of the term diverges substantially from popular usage. When academics invoke the concept, they may unwittingly trigger negative associations in the minds of non-academics and defeat their own cause. This mistake is easily avoided, because academics often do not need to talk about the administrative state at all. Scholarly inquiry would be improved by using different terms to describe three distinct ideas: the state, the administrative component of the state, and the administrative state, a type of state that emerged at a specific moment in American history. If academics want to defend the public service in the realm of politics, it would be better to do so in those terms, rather than using a phrase that triggers fears about big and irresponsible government.

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Alasdair S., Should We Defend the Administrative State? (February 14, 2020). Public Administration Review (2020), Available at SSRN: or

Alasdair S. Roberts (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts Amherst - School of Public Policy ( email )

Thompson Hall
Amherst, MA 01003
United States
6175999029 (Phone)

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