1st Edition

Building the Compensatory State
An Intellectual History and Theory of American Administrative Reform

ISBN 9780367348441
Published October 8, 2019 by Routledge
358 Pages

USD $74.95

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Book Description

Contemporary public administration research has marginalized the importance of “taking history seriously.” With few exceptions, little recent scholarship in the field has looked longitudinally (rather than cross-sectionally), contextually, and theoretically over extended time periods at “big questions” in public administration. One such “big question” involves the evolution of American administrative reform and its link since the nation’s founding to American state building. This book addresses this gap by analyzing administrative reform in unprecedented empirical and theoretical ways. In taking a multidisciplinary approach, it incorporates recent developments in cognate research fields in the humanities and social sciences that have been mostly ignored in public administration. It thus challenges existing notions of the nature, scope, and power of the American state and, with these, important aspects of today’s conventional wisdom in public administration.

Author Robert F. Durant explores the administrative state in a new light as part of a “compensatory state”—driven, shaped, and amplified since the nation’s founding by a corporate–social science nexus of interests. Arguing that this nexus of interests has contributed to citizen estrangement in the United States, he offers a broad empirical and theoretical understanding of the political economy of administrative reform, its role in state building, and its often paradoxical results. Offering a reconsideration of conventional wisdom in public administration, this book is required reading for all students, scholars, or practitioners of public administration, public policy, and politics.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Fuzzy Pictures in Our Heads?

Chapter 2: The Founding Era, the Corporate–Social Science Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1730–1824

Chapter 3: Inflexion Politics, the Corporate–Social Science Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1824–1880

Chapter 4: Industrial Agonistes, the Corporate–Social Science Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1880–1920

Chapter 5: Post-War Boom and Bust, the Corporate–Social Science Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1920–1940

Chapter 6: World War II, The Cold War Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1940–1980

Chapter 7: Neoliberalism, the Corporate–Social Science Nexus, and American Administrative Reform, Circa 1980–2016

Chapter 8: Seeing with New Eyes?



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Robert F. Durant is Professor Emeritus, American University. He is the recipient

of several lifetime achievement awards for his research, teaching, and service to

the field.


This is a book that can only have been written by someone with decades of experience in researching and teaching public administration. With great care, Robert Durant traces the nature of American government since Independence. The author uses an infrastructural perspective where the state includes bureaucratically structured subnational government, private, and nonprofit actors. This is the key to this study: various actors compensate for the conscious decision to limit the visible size and administrative capacity of the federal government. Indeed, it cannot be emphasized enough that the networked state in the USA is nothing new. Students, citizens, and people working in the career civil service and in political office will benefit from reading this book. They will learn that the dominant image of stateless origins is stereotypical, and about the pervasiveness of the compensatory state. People in general have little knowledge about the stuff that Durant addresses so compellingly: namely, that the American self-conception of limited government, economic liberalism, and volunteerism leads to a system of rent-seeking contractors. This book helps anyone to see the importance of protecting democratic processes from self-serving behavior.

Jos C. N. Raadschelders, The Ohio State University, USA