Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BUREAUCRACY. The word bureaucracy indicates a deep-seated infirmity which very generally characterizes the political administration of modern times in Europe. The more the principle prevailed that the state should look after all public interests which could be cared for only by its concentrated strength, the greater and more difficult became the task of administration, and the more dangerous, at the same time, the erroneous conception of that principle. If, formerly, care for certain interests was left too exclusively to persons and corporations, the tendency now was to undervalue these individual powers and carry the interference of the state too far. Conscious design was here added to error. since it seemed to those in power that the rule of the whole was best assured when every movement was regulated from above. This was the starting point of a system of over-government from which, among all civilized states of the old world, only Switzerland and England have kept themselves entirely free.


—Besides this, the problem rightly understood had become greater and more difficult. If governments are to satisfy the demands increased tenfold that are made on the modern state, then their conduct demands a greater amount of ability, insight and patriotic devotion. Where this ability, insight and devotion were not found, administration became superficial in proportion as it extended its action. It failed to control the infinite amount of material which it sought to rule, and dropped into a senseless and selfish formalism. Finally the bureaucratic body in the modern state takes another position, through its centralization, its multiplied numbers and its consciousness of increased power. It feels itself, under this system of over government, absolutely the ruling centre in all public life, and forms a class outside of and above the people.


—Under the pressure of an over-governing and formally-governing bureaucratic body imbued with this spirit, the governed have to suffer in three ways: 1, those affairs in which they need the intervention of public authority are more frequently ill managed than well managed; 2, they have to put up with this intervention and its harmful results in a thousand cases in which they might have done without it; 3, they seldom come into personal contact with the agents of authority without going away with a feeling of personal humiliation.


—These three closely connected evils, in their combination, are designated by the expression bureaucracy. An ignorant, indolent or corruptible administration with humane forms, or an administration under rude forms but which does its duty with intelligence and real zeal, or a government which leaves things to take their course and interferes only at intervals with strong measures, is not bureaucracy in the sense which a precise and proper use of language connects with the word.


—Bureaucracy wherever established has its seat in the organs of the government, but first of all in the police power; from this point it easily extends to the whole body of officials and still further to kindred circles. It is then found at the counters of the postoffice, in the departments of communal administration, and in the courts of law. In constitutional states, in which public officials, municipal employés and lawyers have a preponderant part in legislation, as well as in the absolutist state, where the work of legislation proceeds entirely from state officials, legislation itself bears the stamp of the bureaucratic spirit, in proportion as the administration is ruled by it.


—The error that bureaucracy and absolutism are inseparable was corrected to some extent by the experience of 1848. It was then shown that radicalism, too, when it comes to the helm, finds bureaucracy essentially consonant with its nature. It was also shown that radicalism had had a great number of silent adherents among the most zealous servants of absolute government; and they now followed its victorious banners. Since this inability to sacrifice his means of livlihood and official position to an idea, always makes the bureaucrat a willing servant of the power which furnishes him with both, it is always seen in reactionary times to be a mistake that the ruling power has in him the most reliable tool.


—Bureaucracy is not exclusively connected with any particular constitutional form; it appears in republican as well as monarchic states, in constitutional as well as in absolute monarchies. But in absolute monarchies or in democratic republics, where the official depends either upon the monarch or on repeated elections, the spirit of caste from which bureaucracy receives its oppressive force can not develop itself.


—In order to estimate the action of a bureaucracy rightly it is necessary to examine its characteristic qualities, formalism and spirit of caste more closely.


—The observance of certain forms is indispensable in all complicated private business; and so it is in public administration. These forms must increase with the extent of the work, and the endless "red-tapeism" of modern administration is so far an unavoidable attendant of a more highly developed political life. But the bureaucratic condition differs from a healthy condition in this, that in the latter form is observed for the sake of the substance, and in case of necessity is sacrificed to it, while a bureaucracy cultivates form for its own sake and sacrifices substance to it. Bureaucracy, in the lowest rank, performs its official work not to be useful in its appointed sphere, but to carry out the orders received from above; that is, it observes a series of prescribed formalities for the satisfaction of superiors. Those stand higher who seek to satisfy their sense of duty, by the same formal service, not without a certain devotion to their calling, but without any intelligent understanding of the task to be accomplished and the means to be used in accomplishing it. Under a bureaucratic régime, the fault of the careless official consists in his want of familiarity with, and skill in forms, and, conversely, it is the merit of the zealous official that he knows how to dispatch business quickly and in a manner with which no fault can be found.


—When a bureaucratic government feels the resistance which its over-government awakens, it seeks to break that resistance by governing still more. When it strives to improve its machinery the improvement consists in an increase of formalism in the public service. When its officials break down under these increased demands made upon them, it makes still higher demands to secure the execution of its will. Formerly the substance was sacrificed to the form; now, the form loses even its relative value. Pressed by the excess of demands which can not be met, the most conscientious public servants have recourse to the falsifying of forms, as their make-shift. When, for example, more value is placed on the formal correctness of tables and reports of the condition of a district than on that condition itself, a bureaucratic régime must renounce the intrinsic value of such representations; it must satisfy itself with reports and tables determined by the power of invention and combination possessed by their author, and which correspond to the actual condition only when the truth is as easily discovered as untruth.


—The second mark of bureaucracy is its caste-like separation from civil society. The state selects its officials from all classes. It brings together the sons of noble families, citizens and peasants in the same departments. Under healthy conditions this facilitates for officials the understanding of their calling. They have been collected from all classes in order to serve the interests of all classes with equal devotion. In states governed by a bureaucracy, the official rather feels himself placed outside of all classes, and this position is not capriciously chosen. For while, on the one band, he shares his life calling with none of these classes, he, on the other hand, is not filled with the impulse to serve and the consciousness of serving their common interests. Thus there exists between them and him no natural bond. As a participant in the positive power which is exercised by the state over all, he consistently claims his isolated place above all other classes.


—Since this claim, in a bureaucratic state more than in any other, is not supported by superior education, political intelligence and services rendered the whole community, it does not appear in the worthy forms in which real moral and intellectual superiority assert themselves. In official intercourse the middle classes are treated harshly, the lower classes rudely; and the nobility and clergy are made to feel that their former power has passed over to the bureaucrats. In social intercourse we find either complete exclusion on the part of the bureaucrats, or a condescension to other classes of citizens humiliating to the latter.


—This expression of the bureaucratic spirit of caste which only the sturdiest natures are able to avoid, acts deeply and destructively on the relations of the masses to the state. When the masses see, as the visible representatives of the state, officials who rise above them in such isolation, and, when the necessity of meeting them is considered an impending misfortune, the state itself becomes a foreign and hostile being in the eyes of the people. Men submit to its superior force when it takes from them, and overlook its good deeds when it bestows anything upon them. The consciousness of belonging to the state, of forming a living part of the great organism, the political sense, the power and desire of sacrifice are lost. But it is this political sense which strengthens the state in time of peace and maintains it in time of danger.


—Bureaucratic officials excite a prince who puts himself in their hands to an abuse of his power. On the other hand, they cripple the power of a prince who is not inclined to rule to their liking, and still does not dare to break their power. In reality such a prince is more limited in the exercise of the rights of sovereignty, by the hampering influence of a bureaucracy, than he could be by constitutional provisions. For every useful measure of government originating with him is deformed and rendered worthless by the bureaucratic carrying out of it, or it will be set aside and not carried out at all by tacit agreement of the bureaucratic body who oppose it. His rule is only an apparent one because effect can not be given to his will. The greatest posthumous fame he can hope for finds expression in the familiar saying: his intentions were good, but his officials were to blame.


—Bureaucracy can reach complete power only when at the head of affairs there are personages who belong to it, or at least officials with no statesmanlike endowments and who endure it. In like manner the rule of bureaucracy can only be broken when statesmen are at the head of the government.*37 It would be vain to expect that any impulse from below should have power enough to compel the internal reform of bureaucracy. This impulse would have to reach to the highest point, that is, produce a revolution; and if the revolution succeeded in changing all the institutions of the state but not in placing statesmen at the head of affairs, a new bureaucracy would simply take the place of the old.


—It is possible to free the state from bureaucracy entirely—and in this case it is possible in every form of government to the same degree—only through the intervention of leading personages filled with the spirit of statesmanship, the very opposite of the spirit of bureaucracy. "Under the rule of statesmen, bureaucracy is annihilated and the official body elevated. The official now receives what bureaucracy could never give him, the guarantee that ability of any kind will be put in the place belonging to it, and the certainty that he can lay the truth before the powers above him without fear, and that he may reckon on its being understood. The official knows then that he is of real use; he knows that his work is no longer condemned like that of the Danaids, and that his labor is no longer forced to pour endless floods of ink through the sieve of desperate circumstances, but that it as a means in a higher hand accomplishes the sacred life object toward which it strives."


—The case of Stein at the head of the Prussian administration has shown how the most elaborate bureaucracy may be metamorphosed at a blow by the power of a single statesman. But from the course of affairs under his successors the further lesson may be drawn that the evil develops fresh germs from below as soon as the statesman element has disappeared from above.


—See v. Mohl, Staatsrecht, Võlkerrecht und Politik, v. ii., p. 138, etc., 1862. *38


Notes for this chapter

Compare Fr. Rohmer's work, "Deutschlands alte und neue Büreaukratie," (Munich, 1848), from which the above is in part literally taken.
Bureaucracy was the creature of that so-called enlightened absolutism which enunciated the principle: "Everything for the people, nothing through the people," and which supposed that it could best serve the interest of the state and of citizens by regulating and controlling not only the affairs of state, but those of municipalities and even of private persons, leaving nothing for the individual himself to do. Bureaucracy placed all interests under the supervision and guardianship of the state. Officials came to form a class or caste, distinct from the rest of the community, and standing above it. This bureaucratic rule was opposed by the nobility and by the liberals. Its influence is not yet everywhere entirely at an end, but it can not long survive the opposition of a free press, of the general participat on of the citizens in public affairs, and the general extension of constitutional government. See the article "Büreaukratie" in Brockhau's "Conversations lexikon." ED.

Footnotes for CAPITAL

End of Notes

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