On Bureaucratic Organization and Rule

Whereas a disenchanted and mechanical ‘rationalization’ is deeply imbued in bureaucratic organizations and structures, the charisma and genius that comes with leadership from the outside of such organizations and structures – as Max Weber noted – is what reinvigorates and salvages these organizations and structures in the event of their breakdown and decay. It follows that the contrasts and dichotomies between the charismatic leader on one hand and the mechanical bureaucracy on the other hand epitomize the contrasts and dichotomies of everyday life in liberal culture:

“In the contrast of the everyday life of institutions with the personalized and spontaneous nature of charismatic leadership, one may readily discern the heritage of liberalism that has always confronted similar dichotomies; mass versus personality, the ‘routine’ versus the ‘creative’ entrepreneur, the conventions of ordinary people versus the inner freedom of the pioneering and exceptional man, institutional rules versus the spontaneous individual, the drudgery and boredom of ordinary existence versus the imaginative flight of the genius.”

But while there are key differences in the basic character as well as in the manner by which bureaucracies and private enterprises operate, the basic aim of both is the same, which is none other than to make money. Bureaucracies emerge and develop when a capitalist economy reaches its peak of development and power. In turn, bureaucracies are organized and paid to control things and to acquire a kind of knowledge and technical expertise that is superior to the knowledge and technical expertise wielded by regular people. But it is the entrepreneur who is largely immune from bureaucratic control and domination. As Max Weber wrote:

“Bureaucracy is superior in knowledge, including both technical knowledge and knowledge of the concrete fact within its own sphere of interest, which is usually confined to the interests of a private business – a capitalistic enterprise. The capitalistic entrepreneur is, in our society, the only type who has been able to maintain at least relative immunity from subjection to the control of rational bureaucratic knowledge. All the rest of the population have tended to be organized in large-scale corporate groups which are inevitably subject to bureaucratic control.” 

This implies that bureaucratic rule rises at the expense of democratic rule to a certain extent. One of the reasons or the justifications given for the rise of bureaucracies and bureaucratic rule is “to direct the drive for social order.” Thus, in a sense, bureaucratic rule is a good thing, as long as bureaucratic rule does not pursue an imperial or hegemonic policy which in turn undermines the social order which it is tasked with maintaining. Moreover, tasks such as the administration of public goods, public administration in general, public services, public safety and security, and social order are tasks which businesses and entrepreneurs cannot carry out on their own. These tasks require the know-how, resources, and the organizational power of bureaucracies. And as Francis Fukuyama argued, the quality of a bureaucracy or state is determined by two things, namely, the capacity of a state to undertake certain functions and the scope of the functions which a state undertakes. 

In turn, there is a fine balance that needs to be struck between bureaucratization on one hand and democratization on the other hand so that both can survive, and one need not have to perish due to the other. Also, states are not only facing a ‘contestation’ for power on the part of democratic groups and forces in many parts of the world, but states are also in a “Hobbesian state of nature” between one another in the broader international state system. Also, as Hedley Bull noted, because our age is an age of disintegrating empires, it follows that any given state is just one entity within a range of power entities in our global political world. There is also the issue of whether states are more capable of ensuring peace, security, and environmental and social justice than non-state actors and non-state entities. Although the state system has endured up until this point, there is no doubt that the state system is in a state of dysfunction to a certain degree as a result of our collective pivot away from American global hegemony. In turn, state dysfunction translates into violence on a large scale and scope. And the key difference maker between further chaos and violence on one hand and peace and stabilization on the other hand is the issue of whether bureaucracies and states can effectively manage and resolve conflicts and wars in both the short run and the long run. 

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