A Crisis of Authority? A Conversation with Alasdair Roberts about the Bush Years


Alasdair Roberts is the author of Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and The Collapse of Fortress Bush (New York University Press, 2008). He is a professor of public administration in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and an honorary senior research fellow in the School of Public Policy, University College London. Professor Roberts received his juris doctor degree from the University of Toronto and his doctorate in public policy from Harvard University.

Donald Moynihan is an associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research examines the application of organization theory to public management issues such as performance, homeland security, citizen participation, election administration, and employee behavior. He is the author of The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information (Georgetown University Press, 2008). A native of Ireland, Moynihan earned his doctorate in public administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.


Alasdair Roberts’s recent book The Collapse of Fortress Bush: The Crisis of Authority in American Government is an appraisal of the George W. Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks and its management of the global war on terrorism. This war, Roberts argues, is a neoliberal war designed to accommodate assumptions about the boundaries of governmental action that became prevalent after Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980. Concerns about the renaissance of the “imperial presidency” are simplistic and misplaced, Roberts proposes, because they largely ignore how executive authority in the United States has been weakened by political, economic, and institutional forces. President Bush’s actions after 9/11 reflect the limitations of his power. His White House was unable to impose significant burdens on citizens or the economy, felt forced to expand power surreptitiously, and chose to act militarily because the armed services enjoyed a level of legitimacy that was absent from the rest of government.