Get access

Restoring the Rule of Law to Public Administration: What Frank Goodnow Got Right and Leonard White Didn't


Laurence E. Lynn, Jr., is the Sid Richardson Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, a professor of public management at the Manchester Business School, and the Sydney Stein Jr. Professor of Public Management Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His research is concerned with public management theory and research methods. His most recent books are Public Management: Old and New, Madison's Managers: Public Administration and the Constitution (with Anthony M. Bertelli), and a textbook, Public Management: A Three Dimensional Approach (with Carolyn J. Hill). For his lifetime contributions to public administration research and practice, he has received the John Gaus, Dwight Waldo, Paul Van Riper, and H. George Frederickson awards.


Although the rule of law is universally regarded as a fundamental principle of democratic governance, the field of public administration continues to exhibit the “anti-legal temper” that emerged in the 1920s, when Leonard White's managerialism largely displaced Frank Goodnow's emphasis on the intimacy of law and administration. Although administrative law is a distinguished subfield of scholarship and practice within public administration, the consensus view within the profession seems to be that law is one of many constraints on administrative discretion rather than its source, a challenge to administrative leadership rather than its guiding principle. In addition to unacceptably narrowing the range of values infusing public administration, such a view undermines the profession's ability to contribute to the design of our governance arrangements at a time when constitutional institutions are being seriously challenged. To fulfill its constitutional role, public administration must commit itself to the rule of law as an institution that secures its legitimacy.