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Carl J. Friedrich on Responsibility and Authority


Jeremy F. Plant is a professor of public policy and administration and coordinator of graduate programs in public administration and homeland security in the School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg. He teaches and conducts research on public management, transportation policy, human resource management, homeland security, and ethics. His published work has appeared in such journals as Public Administration Review, American Review of Public Administration, Public Works Management and Policy, Public Integrity, Review of Policy Research, and Policy Studies Review.


Carl J. Friedrich’s concept of administrative responsibility is examined in his published works from 1935 to 1960. Friedrich’s idea of responsibility encompassed not only political and personal responsibility within the hierarchy of bureaucratic organizations, but also functional responsibility based on scientific knowledge and professional standards required by the reality of administrative discretion. Friedrich’s notion of responsibility is contrasted with that of Herman Finer, who espoused strict obedience to political and administrative superiors. An examination of the NOMOS series of edited volumes from the later stage of Friedrich’s career reflects the consistency of his views on responsibility and on the relationship of responsibility to authority based on reasoned communication. Friedrich’s optimism regarding such authority contrasts with Hannah Arendt’s view that authority is no longer an operative concept in modern society. Friedrich lays an important foundation for continued interest among public administrative scholars in the concept of administrative responsibility.