Bureaucracy

Weber's interest in the nature of power and authority, as well ashis pervasive preoccupation with modern trends of rationalization, ledhim to concern himself with the operation of modern large-scaleenterprises in the political, administrative, and economic realm. Bureaucratic coordination of activities, he argued, is the distinctivemark of the modern era. Bureaucracies are organized according torational principles. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order andtheir operations are characterized by impersonal rules. Incumbents aregoverned by methodical allocation of areas of jurisdiction and delimitedspheres of duty. Appointments are made according to specializedqualifications rather than ascriptive criteria. This bureaucraticcoordination of the actions of large numbers of people has become thedominant structural feature of modern forms of organization. Onlythrough this organizational device has large- scale planning, both forthe modern state and the modern economy, become possible. Only throughit could heads of state mobilize and centralize resources of politicalpower, which in feudal times, for example, had been dispersed in avariety of centers. Only with its aid could economic resources bemobilized, which lay fallow in pre-modern times. Bureaucraticorganization is to Weber the privileged instrumentality that has shapedthe modern polity, the modern economy, the modern technology. Bureaucratic types of organization are technically superior to all otherforms of administration, much as machine production is superior tohandicraft methods.

Yet Weber also noted the dysfunctions ofbureaucracy. Its major advantage, the calculability of results, alsomakes it unwieldy and even stultifying in dealing with individual cases. Thus modern rationalized and bureaucratized systems of law have becomeincapable of dealing with individual particularities, to which earliertypes of justice were well suited. The "modern judge," Weber stated inwriting on the legal system of Continental Europe, " is a vending machineinto which the pleadings are inserted together with the fee and whichthen disgorges the judgment together with the reasons mechanicallyderived from the Code."

Weber argued that the bureaucratizationof the modern world has led to its depersonalization.

[Thecalculability of decision-making] and with it its appropriateness forcapitalism . . [is] the more fully realized the more bureaucracy"depersonalizes" itself, i.e., the more completely it succeeds inachieving the exclusion of love, hatred, and every purely personal,especially irrational and incalculable, feeling from the execution ofofficial tasks. In the place of the old-type ruler who is moved bysympathy, favor, grace, and gratitude, modern culture requires for itssustaining external apparatus the emotionally detached, and hencerigorously "professional" expert.

Furtherbureaucratization and rationalization seemed to Weber an almostinescapable fate.

Imagine the consequences of thatcomprehensive bureaucratization and rationalization which already todaywe see approaching. Already now . . . in all economic enterprises runon modern lines, rational calculation is manifest at every stage. Byit, the performance of each individual worker is mathematicallymeasured, each man becomes a little cog in the machine and, aware ofthis, his one preoccupation is whether he can become a bigger cog. . . .It is apparent today we are proceeding towards an evolution whichresembles [the ancient kingdom of Egypt] in every detail, except that itis built on other foundations, on technically more perfect, morerationalized, and therefore much more mechanized foundations. Theproblem which besets us now in not: how can this evolution bechanged?--for that is impossible, but: what will come of it?

Weber's views about the inescapable rationalization andbureaucratization of the world have obvious similarities to Marx'snotion of alienation. Both men agree that modern methods oforganization have tremendously increased the effectiveness and efficiencyof production and organization and have allowed an unprecedenteddomination of man over the world of nature. They also agree that thenew world of rationalized efficiency has turned into a monster thatthreatens to dehumanize its creators. But Weber disagrees with Marxwhen the latter sees alienation as only a transitional stage on theroad to man's true emancipation. Weber does not believe in the futureleap from the realm of necessity into the world of freedom. Even thoughhe would permit himself upon occasion the hope that some charismaticleader might arise to deliver mankind from the curse of its owncreation, he thought it more probable that the future would be an "ironcage" rather than a Garden of Eden.

There is yet another respectin which Weber differed from, or rather enlarged upon, Marx. In accordwith his focus on the sphere of economic production, Marx had documentedin great detail how the capitalist industrial organization led tot ehexpropriation of the worker form the means of production; how the modernindustrial worker, in contrast to the artisan of the handicraft era, didnot own his own tools and was hence forced to sell his labor to thosewho controlled him. Agreeing with most of this analysis, Webercountered with the observation that such expropriation from the meansof work was an inescapable result of any system of rationalized andcentrally coordinated production, rather than being a consequence ofcapitalism as such. Such expropriation would characterize a socialistsystem of production just as much as it would the capitalist form. Moreover, Weber argued, Marx's nearly exclusive concern with theproductive sphere led him to overlook the possibility that theexpropriation of the workers from the means of production was only aspecial case of a more general phenomenon in modern society wherescientists are expropriated from the means of research, administratorsfrom the means of administration, and warriors from the means ofviolence. He further contended that in all relevant spheres of modernsociety men could no longer engage in socially significant action unlessthey joined a large-scale organization in which they were allocatedspecific tasks and to which they were admitted only upon condition theythey sacrificed their personal desires and predilections to theimpersonal goals and procedures that governed the whole.

From Coser, 1977:230-233.


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