History of Public Administration: Acton & Ranke

By Dr. Michael Popejoy

Welcome back to a New Year of teaching, writing, research, dealing with students (and dealing with administration), and dealing with community commitments. So, here I am still writing about the history of public administration or at least about those people in government who have made history at one time or another in the history of America and the world.

My first discussion this year is to discuss some of the outstanding books that I own since I am an incurable bibliophile. So far, you don’t have to go to jail for that affliction even if a looney bin may be in your future. I will be quoting a bit from many of the books that I bought a few years ago from the Liberty Fund collection. In fact, I bought all of them; so many in fact, that they graciously granted me official library status which means that they ship all new books to me at a 30% discount and free shipping. It feels cool to be an official library of one—although here in my study, I am surrounded by over 9,000 volumes (not all from the Liberty Fund though).

lord-actonThe Liberty Fund publishes a range of historical books that are just hard to believe—and I haven’t even read them all! But, today to open the New Year, I am quoting some interesting sort of  “one liners” from Lord Acton in the Liberty Fund publication of his work: Essays in the Study and Writing of History (Vol. II): Selected Writings of Lord Acton by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, First Baron Acton and as edited by J. Rufus Fears. I love the name Rufus. Can you imagine John, the First Baron Acton, signing checks or introducing himself to women at a bar?  The date of my copy is 1986 even though Lord Acton died in 1902.

I don’t have enough space in a blog to write a long essay encapsulating his work in any way; however, I can grab some great one-liners and provide the readers with page numbers to this editorial edition of the book.

So, here goes—

For Lord Acton, the idea of liberty was the key to history…he believed…truths that remain the basis of sound historical methodology, critical evaluation of the sources, the preference for primary to secondary sources, and impartiality (p. xi).

For Acton, it was Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) who had instituted the age of the modern study of history. History was not applied politics, fluid law, religion, or the school of patriotism (American public administration professors need to watch out for this one!). For Ranke, history had no purpose other than the pursuit of truth (p. xi).

Ranke taught that history ought to be new as well as critical and that history should be impartial (p. xi).Personen / Gelehrte / Deutschland / Ranke / PortrŠts

However, in becoming politically impartial, the study of history did not cease to be useful in politics. Indeed, in Acton’s view, the most intimate relationship existed between the sciences of politics and history. “The science of politics is the one science that is deposited by the stream of history, like grains of gold in the sands of a river”…(p. xiii). Wow! I wish I could write like that!

…he (Acton) knew how unsympathetic his teaching must be to “the philistine, the sordid, the technical, the faddist, the coward, the man of prejudice and passion, and the zealot (p. xx). Could this possibly sound like some of our students (or colleagues) when we begin to discuss Federalism and democracy and liberalism?

My favorite is this one…Ideas, not personalities and not force, are the “spiritual property that gives dignity and grace and intellectual value to history” (p. xx).

So, maybe this is why I read and write history and try to get you all interested in it as well.

Later this month, I have a few things to say about Thomas Jefferson. I just recently found a 2010 book on him that furthers my writings on some of his cantankerous moments.

However, never teach a graduate class in Virginia and make any disparaging remarks about Jefferson because these students really went out of their way to have me tarred and feathered and removed permanently from the Commonwealth.

Talk to you all soon.


One thought on “History of Public Administration: Acton & Ranke

Tell Us What You Think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s