The Politics and Administration Dichotomy


Woodrow Wilson, the United State’s 28th President believed strongly in politics and public administration dichotomy and saw it as a tool that would make the government more effective in its operations. Wilson’s idea was that administration ought to remain unchangeable by the politics of the day and the politics and administration dichotomy model was ought to ensure that each person was responsible for their actions when it came to blame or praise (Walworth, 1967). This paper seeks to delve deeper into this distinction and evaluate its practicability while looking at its advantages and disadvantages in a modern setting.

Politics and administration distinction according to Wilson

Back in the day, the American government according to Wilson was dysfunctional in the sense that the checks and balances system employed was not practical. He viewed it as the root of all the administrative evils that took place in America since the division acted as a cover for the unscrupulous public administrators and this made it hard for the voters to pick out the wrong doers and I quote,

“…how is the schoolmaster, the nation, to know which boy needs the whipping?… Power and strict accountability for its use are the essential constituents of good government…. It is, therefore, manifestly a radical defect in our federal system that it parcels out power and confuses responsibility as it does. The main purpose of the Convention of 1787 seems to have been to accomplish this grievous mistake. The ‘literary theory’ of checks and balances is simply a consistent account of what our Constitution makers tried to do; and those checks and balances have proved mischievous just to the extent which they have succeeded in establishing themselves… [The Framers] would be the first to admit that the only fruit of dividing power had been to make it irresponsible.” (Woodrow, 1918).

In my own opinion, this distinction was not practical in the sense that senior administrators got away with various crimes of corruption and misuse of office among others. Wilson was justified in calling out for a government that would hold individuals responsible for their shortcomings instead of a scenario where the good and the bad were judged reciprocally. For any public or private institution to thrive there must be transparency in how power is used as this brings about accountability.

Advantages and disadvantages of using politics and administration dichotomy today

The politics and administration dichotomy in use today has put the governments of the day on their toes in that the public opinion always counts. This is due to the fact that there are many masters monitoring the operations of a government. The administrative functions have extended from the government to other more able bodies and this has contributed largely to the growth of technology.

The disadvantages that come with the politics and administration dichotomy include the secrecy that characterizes state administration that often leads to corruption, confusion, and sinecurism. This dichotomy is also viewed as a foreign policy by many societies and it is seen to drive through alien ideas, a factor that limits its practicability. In addition, it thrives more in complex governments and for it to work with other governments then it must be customized to their needs (Woodrow, 2009).


Public administration works hand in hand with the implementation of public policy according to this study. Wilson viewed politics as successful if only it encompassed public administration, which he saw as the only way to bring sanity to the running of a government. According to him, it was the only way towards fulfilling governmental mandates in the judiciary, executive, and legislature.


Walworth. (1967). Woodrow Wilson. The Academic Years Journal, 1(1), 326-327.

Woodrow, W. (1918). Selected literary and political papers and addresses of Woodrow Wilson. The Politics of the Administrative Process, 3(1), 23.

Woodrow, W. (2009). The search for the scope and purpose of public administration. Public Administration Journal, 1(3), 1-6.

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