Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.
Skowronek. 1982. Building a new American state. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Industrialization and its ills generated the political demands that led to the creation of a strong national administrative apparatus in America (the building of the American "state"). The struggle by political actors over who would control this new apparatus yielded a constitutional stalemate that has lead to a confusion of institutional purposes, authoritarian controls, and governmental boundaries (i.e., has increased the power of the bureaucracy).
According to Skowronek, America initially did not have a "state" in the traditionally European sense (Skowronek uses the Weberian notion of "state"). During the early years of the republic, the government primarily operated through courts and political parties. This "state of courts and parties", as Skowronek refers to it, was organized with a regional focus for governmental action. Furthermore, it thwarted the rise/modernization of national administrative power late into the 19th century through its basic operating standards: patronage appointment, pork-barrel politics, and a radical devolution of power.
Eventually the pressures of industrialization and its associated social trends created an irresistible demand for a permanent concentration of governmental controls in the hands of a national administrative apparatus. Political reform was also hastened by the electoral realignment of the 1890s which ushered in an era of Republican hegemony. Once the Republicans lost their hegemony, however, a struggle for political power and institutional position occurred within the bureaucracy as well as a struggle for control over the bureaucracy between Congress and the President. These struggles between various political actors seeking to maintain or increase their political power and institutional position became the critical factors intervening and mediating America's administrative response to industrialization. In the end, the result was the emergence of an American state with a powerful administrative arm, the control of which is locked in a constitutional stalemate. This authoritative confusion has increased the power of the bureaucracy. Additionally, the new American state has replaced the vital roles that the judiciary and political parties used to play in governing the country.
A macro-sociological explanation for the emergence of the modern American state. Skowronek argues that large social forces generated the demands that led to the creation of the American state as we now know it. He can be seen as arguing against Fiorina (1989 - Keystone) and Kernell and McDonald (1999).
Skowronek conducts historical case studies of the reform of civil administration, the reorganization of the army, and the establishment of national railroad regulation.
The early American "state" was so decentralized, so open to societal influence, that European observers (Tocqueville, Hegel), didn't even consider it a true state. After all, European countries generally had an enduring bureaucratic class, ruling class, and so on that provided for a clearly defined "state" that was separate from society. But the early American state was simply the expression of society; society governed itself. American democracy developed so that people were heavily involved in governmental processes (largely via elections), but the state had yet to develop a strong, centralized, national adminsitrative apparatus.
By the late nineteenth century, however, conditions began changing. Crises (X1), class conflict (X2), and societal complexity (X3) all required a stronger state than existed. These conditions stretched the existing state institutions to their administrative limits. As these three conditions were the basic catalysts for change, some deeper explanation is appropriate:
Soon, advocates of a strong national administration began pressing for reforms that would create a strong administrative state. But in this first phase, they did not win. After all, any reform that would occur would have to be a product of the existing political institutions. And despite pressures for reform, existing politicians and administrators had incentives not to reform the institutions that brought them to power. Thus, the first responses to the environmental changes were patchwork reforms: Although new institutions emerged to meet the most immediate demands on government, government elites focused on perfecting existing institutions rather than replacing them.
Eventually, however, the environmental changes continued to the point that a fundamentally new state was required. Advocates of national administrative development began to win support for a new national administrative realm. The bureaucratic state arose from this dispute. However, the new American state that came out of this period was not a perfect functional response to the new environmental demands. Instead, it was fundamentally structured by the pre-existing institutions.
This is a central point of the book: As important as the environmental changes and new social interests were, a study that concentrates solely on these variables would predict more reform than actually occurred. The state building that occurred from 1877-1920 took place in the context of existing institutions, and the debates over how to reform the government were significantly influenced by this context.
Skowronek evaluates the early American state along three dimensions. Although each dimension, examined individually, suggests that the state was quite non-existent, adaptations during the early years produced a functional national state. Nevertheless, these adaptations--especially the procedural reliance on courts and parties--were organized around a regional focus for government action. And the environmental stimuli that arose in the late nineteenth century required a national, not regional, governing apparatus.
These organizational weaknesses led to an almost complete state collapse in the War of 1812. Soon, however, parties and courts developed ways of filling in the procedural voids and creating a stable political order.
At first, lawyers used the guild-like bar to set themselves up as an almost aristocratic class. Soon, states forced the bars open, so that lawyers were less of an intellectual class. Nonetheless, lawyers provide the focus on procedural continuity that helped the state to function despite swings in popular mood. And as professional lawyers and professional politicians developed into two separate classes (rather than a single class of lawyer-politicians, as at first), this trend increased: Lawyers shifted toward "politically neutral legal advocates," moving America "toward greater rationality in the operations of the early American state" (34).
After the Civil War, the army rapidly demobilized to its old provincial form. Despite several crises and a movement within the army for significant reform, even war with Spain was not enough to win the needed reforms. Instead, "reform" was simply a series of stopgap measures and temporary statutes.
The American provincial style involved a militia system, in which state militias were first to respond. The national army ("regulars") was really only to be used to guard the frontier and patrol for Indians. But militias weren't disciplined, professional organizations. It wasn't even always clear with clubs were actually militias and which were just social societies. And militia officers were merely political appointees.
Meanwhile, the Prussian advances in military centralization and organization had been widely duplicated around Europe. As early as 1877, American army officers and scholars were studying these reforms and proposing significant changes to the US system. They argued that America's role in an increasingly global economy required a military capable of protecting interests around the world. Peace should be a time to prepare for war. Otherwise, the beginning of war would be marked by long inefficiencies and delays in mobilizing.
Reforms: They wanted control over staff/supplies (controlled by Department of War bureaucrats/appointees) to be held by the same people who controlled action at the line (a Central Commander who reported to the Sec of War). They wanted an expandible army, with a strong, regularly trained backbone of several dozen thousand men. This backbone would have regional battalions that would recruit and train additional soldiers when needed. They wanted to improve Westpoint, making it a better training school. They wanted specialized graduate training programs for specific military skills. They wanted merit-based promotion.
Though it was clear that there would be significant resistance to these reforms, those in favor formed a society and a journal, which helped the army supporters to consolidate around a common set of reform goals over time.
Reform eventually happened (see ch 4), but it happened in a context in which many interest groups had a say in the process. Thus, although the army became a much stronger institution, there were several horizontal connections from parts of the War department to Congress, creating confusing hierarchies and many opportunities for interests groups to influence future control. Nationalization meant development of several "semiindependent and competing power centers at the national level rather than the establishment of a national center of power" (p 247).
Thus, improving national administrative capacities had a double outcome. On one hand, the American state became more capable of action; on the other, there was a new set of operational constraints.
Research on similar subjects