"The Evil of Administrative Ethics," with Jonathan B. Justice; originally presented at Ethics Forum, March 26-27, 2004, Portland OR; revised for presentation at QUB Institute of Governance Seminar, May 20, 2004; University of Haifa School of Political Sciences, Seminar Series, June 10, 2004.
One recent development in the literature concerned with administrative ethics has been an explicit concern with defining and then preventing or redressing a variety of forms of so-called administrative evil. Definitions of evil encompass a range of behaviors and consequences ranging from the genuinely horrific to the merely unpleasant. This essay locates the concern with administrative evil within the context of post-Enlightenment Western philosophers’ efforts to come to grips with ethically or metaphysically incomprehensible wrongs. In this context, “evil” can be understood as a social constructed category of agents and acts which is specific to particular moral communities and so subject to redefinition over time or in different contexts. The examination of several historical examples of efforts to hold “evil” actors accountable or otherwise to account for “evil” acts illustrates a paradox – that responses to so-called evil can themselves be labeled evil in hindsight or even when seen through different contemporary eyes. This leads to the identification of a key dilemma of administrative ethics, the possibility that ostensibly ethical conduct will later be condemned. Alternative responses to this dilemma involve different tradeoffs among administrative efficiency, effectiveness, and the avoidance of “evil.” The most commonly proffered diagnoses and ameliorative prescriptions tend to reflect the scholarly tradition of normative ethics (aimed at the preemption of evil) and the practical tradition of policing and prosecution of administrative behavior (the “panopticon”), either singly or in combination. Based on our own analysis, however, we suggest that these are necessary but insufficient protections against catastrophic mal-, mis-, or non-feasance in and by organizations.
Published as "Accountability and the Evil of Administrative Ethics," with Jonathan B. Justice. ADMINISTRATION & SOCIETY 38 (2) May, 2006:236-267.