On Bureaucratic Organization and Rule (Part Two)

Law and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ (SOPs) make up the basis or the foundation of a ‘formalism’ that shapes both the appearance and character of Western bureaucratic organizations and structures. For one, the appearance of formalism and structure in Western bureaucratic organizations and structures aims at compensating for the chaos and disorganization of international society as a result of the negation of a genuine and real social hierarchy since the beginning of Western hegemony about five centuries ago. 

But above all, arbitrary and normative aims, as well as debatable ‘reasons of state’ and ‘power interests’ which seek to elevate the position of the state vis-à-vis other states are what ultimately underlie and underpin both the laws and the ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ (SOPs) of Western bureaucracies. Max Weber argued: “In the field of executive administration, especially where the ‘creative’ arbitrariness of the official is most strongly built up, the specifically modern and strictly ‘objective’ idea of ‘reasons of state’ is upheld as the supreme and ultimate guiding star of the official’s behavior.” Weber added:

“Of course, and above all, the sure instincts of the bureaucracy for the conditions of maintaining its power in its own state (and through it, in opposition to other states) are inseparably fused with the canonization of the abstract and ‘objective’ idea of ‘reasons of state.’ In the last analysis, the power interests of the bureaucracy only give a concretely exploitable content to this by no means unambiguous ideal; and, in dubious cases, power interests tilt the balance.” 

Hence, there are “rationally debatable ‘reasons’” which stand “behind every act of bureaucratic administration, that is, either subsumption under norms or a weighing of ends and means” to borrow from Weber. But as Graham Allison argued, there are also “policy entrepreneurs” outside of the state who are able to bring certain issues to the attention of the state which otherwise would not have been considered or noticed by bureaucrats and state officials. 

“Policy entrepreneurs” are able to sway bureaucrats and state officials in two ways, namely, by “controlling the agenda of the group that is responsible for making the decision” and “by framing the problem in terms that make it look especially attractive or urgent.” One can “always pinpoint a particular person, or at most a few persons, who were central in moving a subject up on the agenda and into position for enactment.” 

But in a more basic sense, the bureaucracy and the state derive their authority and legitimacy from the fact that at its very heart, the state is “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Why the state exists in conjunction with other actors and entities in the global political world is because: “Only the state could legitimize violence.” And as has been noted, once the “monopoly on violence” held by the state is undermined or threatened for any given reason whatsoever, it means that the state is in “trouble.” 

As Hedley Bull argued, the role and position of states in the world “has constantly to be assessed in relation to the goal of world order.” Bull argued that the rules and institutions of international society, the state system, and notions of justice all have to somehow be related to the notion of ‘world order.’ And as Bull concluded, this is much easier said than done. In sum: “It is better to recognize that we are in darkness than to pretend that we can see the light.” 

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