Social Philosophy and Policy 38 (1):130-151 (2021)

Contemporary critiques of the administrative state are closely bound up with the distinctively American doctrine that republican freedom requires that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers be exercised by separate and distinct branches of government. The burden of this essay is to argue that legislative delegation and judicial deference to the administrative state are necessary, or at least highly desirable, features of a democratic separation of powers regime. I begin by examining the historical and conceptual roots of the separation of powers doctrine, paying particular attention to the unique way in which it was adapted to fit the American case. I then examine three concerns that the resulting constitutional system raises about the republican freedom of those who are subject to it—which I call the accountability, legitimacy, and stability concerns—and argue that the administrative state is a useful, albeit imperfect, tool for reducing the unavoidable tension between these concerns. The thrust of this discussion is to push us away from “in principle” objections to the administrative state, and back toward the kinds of prudential considerations that are associated with ordinary liberal politics. More importantly, the aim of the essay is to encourage sober reflection on the real dangers that face the American constitutional system under current circumstances.
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DOI 10.1017/s026505252100025x
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