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The Corporate Metaphor and Executive Department Centralization in the United States, 1888–1928

    • Published online: 01 April 1998

Modern state building entails not just the expansion but the transformation of national bureaucratic organizations. Whether in late-modern social revolutions, in the rationalization of industrial states in the late nineteenth century, or in the construction of a national state in America, bureaucratic transformation often involves changes in organizational authority patterns and culture.Wilson's remark is taken from the Annual Report of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1912: xiv. Reese's remark appears in a letter of Reese, A. G. Rice, Alexander G. Hudson, and F. C. Lucas, to Secretary David F. Houston, June 23, 1916; National Archives, Record Group 16, General Correspondence of the Secretary of Agriculture, Category “Employee Clubs,” College Park, Maryland. Young's speech was given to the Second Annual Banquet of the officers and clerks of the Railway Mail Service centering at St. Louis, on Nov. 18, 1904, (reprinted in Railway Post Office, official magazine of the Railway Mail Association, Jan. 1905, 9, emphasis added). Specifically, many narratives of nineteenth- and twentieth-century state construction suggest that a centralization of authority within the bureaucratic state occurred even as state bureaucracies specialized and as the tasks, “roles” and guiding cultures of civil servants were altered. The centrality of state transformation to late-modern revolutions is defended by Theda Skocpol in States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Stephen Skowronek discusses the importance of organizational transformation in state building in Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877– 1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982). Bernard Silberman argues in Cages of Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) that the rise of “the rational state” in France, Japan, the United States, and Great Britain was typified by the transformation of the administrative role. Recognizing that the Weberian process of bureaucratic rationalization occurs when state bureaucracies assume novel tasks and programmatic complexity (19–24), Silberman suggests that a fundamental change in the orientation of bureaucratic roles occurs during this process. In the case of France and Japan, bureaucracies were characterized by an organizational orientation (a “firm-specific” role entailing organizational control of knowledge and organization- specific loyalties), whereas in the United States and Great Britain, they were characterized by a professional orientation (involving individual control of knowledge and professional ethics). Centralization, specialization and cultural change accompanied one another.

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I thank the Princeton University Department of Politics, the Princeton University Committee on Research in the Humaniti es and Social Sciences, the Alfred D. Chandler Foundation of the Harvard Business School and the Governmental Studies Program of the Brookings Institution for research support. I also acknowledge the assistance of Aloha South and Richard Fusick of the Nat ional Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C., Victoria Gross and William Bassman of the NARA, St. Louis, Missouri, Nancy Pope and Timothy Carr of the National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C., and Frank Scheer of the Railway Post Offi ce Museum, Alexandria, Virginia, for helpful archival assistance. The members of the Organizations and State-Building Workshop at the University of Chicago – including Andrew Abbott, Kevin Esterling, Paul McLean, Bernard Siberman, and Jakub Zielinsk i – offered incisive comments on an earlier version of this paper, as did Orville Lee at the Social Science History Association meetings in October 1995, in Chicago, Illinois. The anonymous reviewer, Kenneth Finegold, Fred Greenstein, John Mark Hans en, Richard Hall, Donald Kinder, Daniel Kryder, Tali Mendelberg, Elizabeth Sanders, and Mary Summers also offered detailed and helpful advice. Finally, I thank John Padgett for a series of invaluable discussions during which many of the ideas herein took shape. I of course remain fully responsible for all remaining errors, omissions, and interpretations.
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Studies in American Political Development
  • ISSN: 0898-588X
  • EISSN: 1469-8692
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-american-political-development
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