Adam Ferguson’s “Essay on the History of Civil Society” and its Implications for American Public Administration

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Conference Proceeding

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This paper examines Adam Ferguson's ideas on human conflict, politics, and social progress, as set forth in this book, “An Essay on the History of Civil Society,” the parallels between his ideas and those expressed in the Federalist Papers, and the implications of his ideas for American public administration. It is argued that Ferguson’s ideas suggest that there is merit, as Rohr and others have argued, in drawing on our constitutional traditions and practices to inform the way in which we think about, teach, and practice public administration. However, his ideas would also suggest that, in doing this, we must also learn to understand and even embrace the political contestation that is part and parcel of those traditions and practices.


Paper presented at the 2015 Annual Public Administration Theory Network Conference on May 28 - 31, 2015 in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada