Beyond Heterodoxy: Dwight Waldo and the Politics–Administration Dichotomy


Patrick Overeem is a junior researcher and teacher in the Department of Public Administration at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is currently writing a doctoral dissertation on the historical meaning and constitutional sense of the politics–administration dichotomy, concentrating on American and Western European political and administrative thought since the early 19th century. His work has been published in Administrative Theory & Praxis and in the volume Retracing Public Administration (with Mark Rutgers).


Dwight Waldo (1913–2000) is commonly known as a “heterodox” critic of the dichotomy between politics and administration. But is this reputation supported by his writings? It seems to be primarily based on The Administrative State (1948) and other early publications, in which he conceptualized politics/administration narrowly as deciding/executing and, indeed, sharply criticized it. Waldo’s later publications, by contrast, offer much broader conceptualizations and a more ambivalent, even positive appraisal of the dichotomy. Such conceptualizations are also found in an important unpublished book Waldo worked on during several phases of his career. On the basis of these published and unpublished writings, we should reconsider Waldo’s reputation and, pursuing his line of reasoning, reconceptualize the politics–administration dichotomy as a layered construct and reappreciate it as a constitutional doctrine.