Article Critique of ‘The Etiology of Administrative Evil: Eric Voegelin and the unconsciousness of modernity’, in American Review of Public Administration, vol.31, no.3, September, 2001, pp.296-312.

The main thesis of this article, highlights the growing attention ‘administrative evil’, as a research problem, is today receiving in ‘public administration research’, especially since Adams and Balfour’s (1998) pioneering study Unmasking Administrative Evil.

While the problem under consideration looks at the extent to which ‘administrative evil’ is caused by technical rationality’, here the main focus, is its relevance within the broader study of Organisational Theory, particularly the philosophical work of the political scientist Eric Voegelin.

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Voegelin’s main arguments are here presented alongside other ethical models; the author suggests encompass Voegelin’s ethical concerns.

Throughout, the author writes clearly and lucidly on the subject, including a brief biography of the main theorist, Voegelin, whose ideas too, is set out, in their basic form, striking a good balance between necessary concision, and providing enough information for the reader, perhaps unfamiliar with Voegelin’s work, to grasp the essential ideas underlying his general thought relating to this subject.

This, is a valuable addition, as it gives the reader some idea of the historical background in which Voegelin was working, and the high respect and significance his contemporary scholars came to regard his work.

In this, the importance of Voegelin’s work, is given suitable merit, and more than this, in presenting his ideas alongside similar ethical and philosophical approaches, the author, does strengthen the arguments for broadening and deepening the way we approach, and consequently, should strive to understand these topics.

A good case is therefore made, to combine where appropriate, these mostly separate till now, different approaches, that as this more inclusive approach attests, allows for greater insights within this field of study.

Another real strength of this article is the wide use of other sources the author uses in order to support his main ideas and arguments. Here, wide reading, serves to set how study of this subject has developed into where it stands today, as well as indicating areas for interesting future studies. Thus, in providing this solid background based on wide reading and a mastery of the subject, the contextual aspects of Voegelin’s contribution is fairly critiqued, and adjudged as making, as well as fertile ground for making further valuable contributions to the study of this subject.

In his section on the etymology of the thesis of ‘administrative evil’ we are treated to a broad survey of the main influencing research papers and the scholars, either leading up to Voegelin’s own ideas, or (as represented by the references to the work of Adams and Balfour 1998), who seek to continue within the same general framework of ethical-based inquiry, as opposed to the more singular detached idea that sees all technological advancement purely in rational terms, and by definition therefore as enlightening and ‘progressive.’ The author explains well here, Voegelin’s contrary views to this singular, and arguably, one-dimension list view.

For example, in the middle of p.299, ‘consciousness’, as Voegelin, is thought to have understood it, represents a major omission in how we understand the idea of ‘administrative evil’, itself, the erroneous outcome of a falsely-held set of premises, he further asserts, changed how we perceive knowledge and reality, and the role humankind, and we as individuals play in this, to incorporate from the 16th century, ‘instrumentalism.

This, fundamental shift, Voegelin says, subverts, what he believes, stands as the true order of things, one first grasped in the realms of Westernised ‘Classical’ thinking, by the Ancient Greeks, and most commonly identified in the philosophical thought of Aristotle and Plato.

In handling the more technical ideas associated with this subject, the author, once again, makes good use of the limited space available for discussing these. An excellent indication that this has been handled deftly and with skill is that while written in relatively simple terms, the ideas contained therein, are not likewise debased or short-changed through over-simplification.

The excellent use of scholarly notes here is also testimony to how the balance (alluded to above), can be successfully struck between brevity and thorough explanation. The reader does not feel compelled to break their reading and consult every annotated note, in order to fully grasp what point or set of ideas from which discussion is grounded.

That said, when the annotated notes are consulted, these are thorough and exact, and often successfully direct the reader to the relevant and important texts and writings on the subject, not only consulted by the author themselves, but as a means for the interested scholar to make their own minds up, that is, agree or disagree with others views, via a foundation of well-informed opinion.

Clear and concise, this article stands as an excellent example, not just as making a valuable contribution to this field of inquiry, but as a lesson in how to convey a strong, well-developed set of ideas successfully within a scholarly journal.


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