Charles A. Beard

American historian (1874-1948)

Charles Austin Beard (27 November 18741 September 1948) was an influential American historian. He stressed the importance of economic factors in American constitutional history. His partner was the historian Mary Ritter Beard

What hope lies anywhere save in the widest freedom to inquire and expound — always with respect to the rights and opinions of others?

Quotes edit

Let us put aside resolutely that great fright, tenderly and without malice, daring to be wrong in something important rather than right in some meticulous banality, fearing no evil while the mind is free to search, imagine, and conclude, inviting our countrymen to try other instruments than coercion and suppression in the effort to meet destiny with triumph, genially suspecting that no creed yet calendared in the annals of politics mirrors the doomful possibilities of infinity.
  • If this statement by Judge Cooley is true, and the authority for it is unimpeachable, then the theory that the Constitution is a written document is a legal fiction. The idea that it can be understood by a study of its language and the history of its past development is equally mythical. It is what the Government and the people who count in public affairs recognize and respect as such, what they think it is. More than this. It is not merely what it has been, or what it is today. It is always becoming something else and those who criticize it and the acts done under it, as well as those who praise, help to make it what it will be tomorrow.
    • The American Leviathan: The Republic in the Machine Age (1931) co-written with William Beard, p. 39
  • "Four sentences summarizing the lessons of History"
  1. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.
  2. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
  3. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
  4. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
  • After being asked if he could summarize the lessons of history in a short book, Beard replied that he could do it in those four sentences; as quoted in "Condensed History Lesson" by Arthur H. Secord, in Readers' Digest, Vol. 38, No. 226 (February 1941), p. 20; the first statement is an adaption of an ancient anonymous proverb, sometimes wrongly attributed to Euripides. The second is from Friedrich von Logau, "Retribution", Sinngedichte III, 2, 24, c. 1654, as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(?). The origins of the third and fourth have not been determined.
  • If I were compelled to state in a single sentence the most significant contribution of our movement to modern civilization, I should say that it is the application of the idea of continuous and experimental research, found so effective in economic enterprise, to the business of public administration intimately and in a deep-thrusting sense, a contribution to the processes by which modern mankind is striving with all its resources to emancipate itself from the tyranny of rules of thumb and the blind regimen of nature, becoming conscious of its destiny as an all conquering power.
    • As quoted in The Administrative State (1948) by Dwight Waldo, p. 33

Philosophy, Science and Art of Public Administration (1939) edit

Address delivered before The Annual Conference of the Governmental Research Association, Princeton, New Jersey (8 September 1939), as quoted in Administration (1949) by Albert Lepawsky
  • The word science of administration has been used. There are many who object to the term. Now if by science is meant a conceptual scheme of things in which every particularity coveted may be assigned a mathematical value, then administration is not a science. In this sense only astro-physics may be called a science and it is well to remember that mechanical laws of the heavens tell us nothing about the color and composition of the stars and as yet cannot account for some of the disturbances and explosions which seem accidental. If, on the other hand, we may rightly use the term science in connection with a body of exact knowledge derived from experience and observation, and a body of rules or axioms which experience has demonstrated to be applicable in concrete practice, and to work out in practice approximately as forecast, then we may, if we please, appropriately and for convenience, speak of a science of administration. Once, when the great French mathematician, Poincaré, was asked whether Euclidean geometry is true, he replied that the question had no sense but that Euclidean geometry is and still remains the most convenient. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that a science is, among other things, a particular branch of knowledge or study; a recognized department of learning.
    • p. 660-1
  • The administrator is more like the engineer who constructs a power plant, that is, he is concerned with the realization of conscious human purposes by the conscious use of human beings and materials. It is true that the mere student of administration may be just an observer, but he does not merely observe natural, unconscious, and automatic operations. He observes the formulation of human purposes, consciously and deliberately and operations designed to effect given results. And he sees calculations of results in advance realized later in practice with a high degree of approximation. The degree of approximation between advance calculations and results is not often, if ever, as exact as in the case of a hydro-electric plant, but it is constantly exact enough for practical purposes.
    • p. 661
  • In other words, there are in administration things analogous to, if not identical with, the mechanical tracts or deterministic sequence, of physics. If, for example, it is decided by government to accomplish the purpose of providing compensation at given rates for men and women employed in industry who sustain injuries in connection with their occupations, the administrator can, like the engineer, estimate in advance the probable cost of such a design, indicate the types of officers and employees necessary to administer the design, and the administrative procedures appropriate to the whole process from beginning to end. And, as in the case of the hydro-electric engineer, the administrator, later sees the results of his operations and can compare them with his advance estimates. There are more variables and incalculables in human affairs than in hydroelectric affairs, but even so administration achieves pre-determined results with an approximation which is often amazing for its exactness. If administrative designs and estimates were not realized in practice with a high degree of exactness, both industry and government would collapse.
    • p. 661
  • And if the experience of natural science is any guide, then as the science of administration advances, we may reasonably expect it to take on an increasingly deterministic character. As research, scientific societies, and the exchanges of knowledge and hypotheses by natural scientists have advanced the exactness of knowledge in the domain of natural science, so we may expect research, administrative societies, and the exchanges among administrators to advance the exactness of knowledge in the domain of administration.
    • 661-2
  • Already, we may truly say, we have an enormous body of exact and usable knowledge in the domain of administration. It would be easy to list thousands of volumes and articles on the subject, from the hands of high competence. I have seen this body of literature grow from a few items in 1898 to an enormous mass in 1939. During this period I have seen the number of research workers increase from a mere handful to hundreds. This is a fact also, at least for informed and competent persons. During this period the opportunities for life work in administration have multiplied many times. I dare say, though I shall not try to prove it, that the body of exact literature in administration is many times larger than the body of exact literature in natural science when Bacon, Galileo, and Newton, began the revolution in natural science three hundred years ago. During this same period I have seen the number of societies and organizations among administrators, local and general, increase from nothing to fifty or sixty.
    • p. 662
  • This body of administrative literature can be taught to young men and women; perhaps also to the aged, if they are not hopeless. And it is possible by tests to discover whether or how far the process of communicating and imparting administrative knowledge has been successful, [although] not precisely in all cases. Moreover, and this is highly important, young men and women who have more or less mastered the principles, maxims, and axioms of administrative science can now, by what is called in-training, fortify their formal knowledge by living experiences in and with administration. There is, then, a science of administration, in the sense in which I have used the term, and it can be taught, learned, and used.
    • p. 662

Administration, A Foundation of Government (1940) edit

"Administration, A Foundation of Government" in American Political Science Review, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2 (April 1940), p. 232, as cited in Reflections on Public Administration (1947) by John M. Gaus, p. 7-8
  • I present, for what it is worth, and may prove to be worth, the following bill of axioms or aphorisms on public administration, as fitting this important occasion.
  1. The continuous and fairly efficient discharge of certain functions by government, central and local, is a necessary condition for the existence of any great society.
  2. As a society becomes more complicated, as its division of labor ramifies more widely, as its commerce extends, as technology takes the place of handicrafts and local self-sufficiency, the functions of government increase in number and in their vital relationships to the fortunes of society and individuals.
  3. Any government in such a complicated society, consequently any such society itself, is strong in proportion to its capacity to administer the functions that are brought into being.
  4. Legislation respecting these functions, difficult as it is, is relatively easy as compared with the enforcement of legislation, that is, the effective discharge of these functions in their most minute ramifications and for the public welfare.
  5. When a form of government, such as ours, provides for legal changes, by the process of discussion and open decision, to fit social changes, then effective and wise administration becomes the central prerequisite for the perdurance of government and society — to use a metaphor, becomes a foundation of government as a going concern.
  6. Unless the members of an administrative system are drawn from various classes and regions, unless careers are open in it to talents, unless the way is prepared by an appropriate scheme of general education, unless public officials are subjected to internal and external criticism of a constructive nature, then the public personnel will become a bureaucracy dangerous to society and to popular government.
  7. Unless, as David Lilienthal has recently pointed out in an address on the Tennessee Valley Authority, an administrative system is so constructed and operated as to keep alive local and individual responsibilities, it is likely to destroy the basic well-springs of activity, hope, and enthusiasm necessary to popular government and to the following of a democratic civilization.

Quotes about Charles A. Beard edit

  • I began to read an enormous amount of history around this time. I was very taken with Charles Beard-at that point his writings seemed to me to represent great Marxist truths because he talked about the things that high school history never talked about, the underlying economic motives of history makers. I read everything he and his wife Mary Beard wrote.

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