| THE DYNAMICS OF BUREAUCRACY
By: Jerry S. Maneker
Bureaucracies operate according to codified rules and without regard for people! It is not uncommon for a person to be
given a pink slip on a Friday and told not to return to work.
When I was employed in a publishing house in New York many years ago, a faithful secretary of ten years was treated in
this way. They expected us to give them two weeks notice before leaving, but they felt ok about firing people at the drop
of a hat.
Bureaucrats are, to use the sociologist Robert Merton’s words, “methodical, prudent, disciplined.” Discipline is
unquestioning obedience to a command; bureaucrats have discipline. Their authority exists in the position they occupy
and they view power as legitimate and feel a moral compulsion to obey a command that is given them.
The famous nineteenth century sociologist Max Weber wrote, “The content of discipline is nothing but the consistently
rationalized, methodically trained and exact execution of the received order, in which all personal criticism is
unconditionally suspended and the actor is unswervingly and exclusively set for carrying out the command.” “Discipline
in general, like its most rational offspring, bureaucracy, is impersonal. Unfailingly neutral, it places itself at the disposal
of every power that claims its service and knows how to promote it.”
Bureaucracy is the most rational and efficient way of coordinating complex tasks and, therefore, it is ubiquitous and
becomes deeply entrenched once it is in place. A hierarchy, division of labor, written down rules, and impersonality,
Bureaucracy is also characterized by rational-legal authority, where authority is placed in the position one occupies and
is independent of any personal characteristics one may have. The difference between “power” and “authority” is that
authority is power that is viewed as legitimate by the person giving the command and by the person receiving the
There are three types of authority that exist: traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal. Traditional authority is authority
based on tradition. For example, the Queen of England has authority based on the fact that her lineage carries the
Charismatic authority is based on personal qualities such as heroism or spirituality that lead people to follow the person’
s agenda. For example, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Adolph Hitler were charismatic figures. One need not be
good to be charismatic!
Rational-legal authority knows nothing of tradition or charisma. The individual’s qualities have no bearing on what
authority he or she wields in a bureaucracy. The position he or she occupies contains the authority. This last point is
important in that bureaucracies deal with positions and not people, per se.
For the Christian, or for any sensitive and compassionate person, working in a bureaucracy can be extraordinarily
difficult. Many decisions that are made hurt people but there’s nothing personal in the motives of those who hurt others
in a bureaucracy as it is strictly business and viewed as necessary to the functioning of the organization.
Having worked in universities for thirty-three years, I am well aware of bureaucratic machinations. Many professors are
nothing more than docile employees, bureaucrats, who blindly follow orders that come from the administration. Many
others curry favor with those they feel can help their paltry careers.
So many are obsequious careerists, cynical opportunists who are merely bureaucrats. They view themselves as
professional, but neither control their fees nor control their working conditions.
They suffer from what Karl Marx called, “false consciousness.” False consciousness is lack of awareness of one’s true
condition; it is delusional. Many faculty are deluded and that delusion manifests itself in many pretensions as those
pretensions are all that they really possess when the layers are peeled from the onion of their careers. To use Bertrand
Russell’s phrase, many faculty “would rather die than think.”
If such bureaucratization occurs in universities, it certainly occurs in most other sectors of society. The degree of
impersonality and discipline that exist in bureaucracies have permeated into many other aspects of life.
For example, bureaucratic coercion into being methodical, prudent, and disciplined has eroded critical thinking skills.
Hence, the proliferation of so many mindless commercials and a watering down of the news to nothing more than mere
In a society with so many formally educated people, how is it possible for there to have been such a dumbing down
where it is not uncommon for college graduates to read with some difficulty, and lack the rudiments of basic English
grammar? After working all day, it is a rare person who is interested in critically evaluating news sources and seeing the
nuances of the world around him or her.
The proliferation of bureaucratization may be seen to be the major culprit in the dumbing down of our culture. In his
excellent book, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom delineates how far we have intellectually regressed both
in society at large and in universities. From the content of courses to the nature of popular music there can be seen to
have been devolution.
We have paid a very high price for our bureaucratization!