The New International Encyclopædia/Civil Administration

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The New International Encyclopædia
Civil Administration
Edition of 1905. Written by George W. KirchweySee also Public administration on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CIVIL ADMINISTRATION. In the most general sense, equivalent to public administration — the conduct of the affairs of the State, or Government, or of any subordinate division thereof. In a more restricted sense, the term is frequently employed to describe the management of the municipal or non-military concerns of the State; and sometimes, more narrowly, as referring to the executive and judicial departments of the Government, as distinguished from the legislative. See Administration; and compare Administrative Law.

The principles and the methods of civil administration vary greatly, from the simplicity and flexibility of patriarchal government or other personal autocracy, to the rigidity of a modern bureaucratic system, like that of France and Russia, and the complexity of a highly developed political system, like that of Great Britain and the United States. There is a general similarity among modern civilized States in the organization and working of the central administration. The great departments of State — those having to do with foreign affairs, with the army and navy, with the collection and disbursement of national revenue, with commerce and industry, and with the post-office — present no great diversity, either in functions or in organization. The chiefs of these departments are ministers of State, the principal and authorized advisers of the Executive, or, as in Great Britain, constitute the real Executive. (See Cabinet.) Usually these chiefs are political and therefore temporary officers, who may come and go without greatly modifying the organization and methods of their departments. Their influence is great while it lasts, but is short-lived: the permanent policy of the administration, as well as its methods and personnel, being for the most part determined by permanent officials of great experience, known as under-secretaries, assistant secretaries, bureau chiefs, etc. As these permanent officials are the persons who really conduct the work of administration, so they are, in everything but the political sense of the term, responsible for the proper conduct of the affairs of their respective departments, and, being so, they are usually unfettered in the choice of their subordinates.

In other matters, however, especially in those of purely domestic concern — as the administration of justice; the maintenance of the public peace; the supervision and control of religion, of morals, and of public education; the levying and collection of taxes, direct and indirect; the conduct of elections, and the ‘internal affairs’ generally of the community — there is as great diversity in the organization and methods of administration as there is in the political character and ideals of the several States. In those countries in which the feudal and monarchical tradition is strongest, whatever the form of the government may be, not only is the civil administration most highly centralized, but it is much further-reaching, more searching and obtrusive than in those countries which have more completely emancipated themselves from that tradition. This is as true of republican France as of monarchical Germany and autocratic Russia. In the free governments, on the other hand — as in the United States, Great Britain, and her self-governing colonies — not only is the administration decentralized, and left, as largely as possible, in the hands of local self-governing groups, but the general administration is rigidly confined to matters of general or national concern, and is not permitted to trench upon the local concerns of the subordinate political groups of the State. In these countries, accordingly, such matters as the building and repair of roads and bridges, and the maintenance of an adequate constabulary or police force, are dealt with by the borough, parish, town, or city, and not by the State; while, in the United States, even the matter of public education, which is conceded to be an affair of State, and is usually governed by State statutes, is, for the most part, turned over to the locality concerned — the city or school district — for administration.

While in no modern civilized State is the administration wholly centralized, or, on the other hand, wholly decentralized, the two systems are, in their principles and methods, if not in their actual embodiment in practice, so sharply discriminated as to call for a few words of comparison. Doubtless a centralized administration is capable of a much higher degree of efficiency than is attainable under the other system. For matters of great moment, requiring time for their maturing, and, when ripe, calling for prompt and decisive action, it is indispensable. No govenment would think of employing any other system in its military and international affairs. Then, too, it achieves a certain uniformity and regularity of action, and thus tends to strengthen the established government by giving its administration an impersonal effect of permanence and solidity. On the other hand, these very qualities of regularity and uniformity of action tend to harden into the inflexibility and routine of bureaucratic system, which, being lifted above public opinion and free from any effective criticism, crystallizes its abuses in the form of hallowed customs, and lends itself too easily to oppression.

The virtues of the system of decentralization are political rather than administrative. It is only under this system that a free government has free play for its varied activities and experiments. And, though its potential efficiency is not to be compared with that of the system of centralization, it has much to recommend it from the purely administrative point of view. While not adapted to the regulation of international relations, or the carrying out of far-reaching measures of policy, its responsiveness to public opinion makes it an efficient agency for supervising and controlling the far more numerous and important private and local interests of the community. Being local and familiar, it is vigilant and sympathetic; and though some of the affairs committed to it may be badly administered, it is probable that the sum-total of its achievement is greater than that of a centralized administration, with its limited knowledge and its indifference to criticism.

The character of the public administration — whether efficient or inefficient, economical or wasteful, pure or corrupt — depends fundamentally on the conception of the proper aim and purpose of government which prevails. Extravagance and corruption, and, with them, the inefficiency they engender, flourish under any government, whether popular or autocratic in form, which is maintained for the benefit of the ruler, whether that be a king, an aristocracy, or a political party. And, on the other hand, the honest acceptance of the principle that government is instituted for the benefit of the governed tends to produce clean and efficient administration, whatever the external form of the State. It is doubtless to the persistence of the feudal conception of the State that we owe the long era of corrupt and, upon the whole, inefficient administration of public affairs which has marked the history of modern States. So long as the executive head of the State is at once the supreme land-owner and the lord paramount, from whom all honor and protection are derived, so long will the offices of administration be regarded as his perquisites, and the treasure derived from taxation of the people be expended for the gratification of his ambitions and those of his favorites. He may, of his favor, or for his own purposes, grant a certain measure of efficient administration; but the extravagance and corruption which are inseparable from that system will destroy the efficiency of the government as well.

The profound modification of the theory of government effected by the democratic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in substituting the welfare of the people at large for that of the governing classes as the end and aim of government, has brought about a corresponding revolution in its administration. This change became apparent in England upon the accession of William of Orange to the throne in 1688, and in France a hundred years later, in the Revolution; but owing to the development of party government in the former country, and the excesses to which that system led, it did not become effective there until the middle of the last century. It is true that more than one administrative reform had been accomplished in Great Britain — as in the provision of Magna Charta, requiring all justices, constables, sheriffs, and bailiffs to have knowledge of the laws of the realm; the statute of Edward VI. (1552) forbidding the sale of offices (except the higher judicial offices); and the extraordinary law enacted in the twelfth year of Richard II. (1388), declaring that “none shall obtain office by suit, or for reward, but upon desert;” yet as late as the period of the American Revolution the ‘spoils system’ of the distribution of public office as the reward of party service flourished unchecked. In the United States that vicious system did not come into existence until the administration of President Jackson, and it is only now giving place to the system prefigured in the statute of Richard II., above referred to. (See Civil-Service Reform; Merit System.) The more recent development of party government in France has lately fastened the spoils system on the administration of that country; but, upon the whole, in Europe as well as in America, civil administration has been enormously improved, in purity and economy as well as in efficiency, during the last hundred years; while in England and many of the English colonies, and in considerable portions of the administrative system of the United States, it has completely emancipated itself from the taint of corruption and extravagance. (See Government.) For a comparison of administrative systems and methods of controlling officers of administration, see Goodnow, Comparative Administrative Law (2 vols., New York, 1893). Consult, also, Eaton, Civil Service in Great Britain (New York, 1880).