What Is Woodrow Wilson’s “The Study of Administration” About?

Woodrow Wilson’s “The Study of Administration” is an academic essay in which Wilson calls for a central administrative bureaucracy to govern independently of elected officials in the United States. The essay, which “Political Science Quarterly” published in 1887, downplays the famous founding principles of the consent of the governed and the separation of powers in favor of a centralized and independently governing administrative wing.

In “The Study of Administration,” Woodrow Wilson bemoans the public election of government officials. He believes that most voters are not philosophical or sophisticated enough to make good choices. Wilson suggests that a large number of non-elected experts are more qualified to run a government than individuals elected through a democratic process. He calls typical voters “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.” Wilson says that poor voters do not come from any one nationality or ethnic group but that they span the diverse electorate.

In his essay, Wilson complains that Americans are not keen to accept a non-elected, expert-run government. He believes that Americans are too historically ingrained in the concept of electing representatives by popular vote. Wilson offers the example of an electorate preferring amateur cooks for meal preparation instead of trained professional chefs. He believes American society needs expert tutors to work with public universities to educate the public and improve public opinion. In his essay, Wilson advocates that a small number of wise experts, not subject to re-election, improve society by opposing popular viewpoints that harm society.