From Hobson's Choice
Literally, "rule by bureaux"; the transmission of power to institutions with a formal command structure. The command structure is occasionally (but not often) as simple as a hierarchy of persons with absolute authority over everyone "lower than" them in the hierarchy; usually an elaborate set of rules and procedures sharply constrain the members. Additionally, all bureaucracies were created to serve a function, and hence have an ideology that the bureaucracy serves. The bureaucracy nearly always has another ideology which it pretends to serve; maintaining the pretension is normally quite important.
Bureaucracies are social institutions with a command structure; they are flexible, and have forms of intelligence. In the vernacular usage, "bureaucracy" has an almost necessarily odious sense, although it is often recognized that industrial systems do require a lot of administrators. In some cases, the term "bureaucracy" is negative because, as the term suggests, the bureaucracy has supererogated the authority of the people. Worse, a bureaucracy (i.e., the politically empowered sort) has the ability to allow all kinds of antidemocratic ideologies to actually rule.
Ideology and the Bureaucracy
All bureaucracies have an ideology, and that ideology is more restrictive than members of the bureaucracy think. Even religious bureaucracies, which would appear to benefit from having a very restrictive ideology—known as orthodoxy—might be expected to err on the side of being more flexible than they would care to admit. Alas, the reality is that bureaucracies are nearly always incapable of identifying the ideology that guides them as such; instead, they serve another one, which usually lacks a meaningful name. Even their enemies cannot name the true ideology that the institution serves.
The reason for this is that bureaucracies must manage many conflicting demands:
- the broader hopes and principles of their constituency;
- the private needs and emergencies of those served by them;
- survival (typically as part of a larger organization);
- resolving power struggles within the organization;
- changing objective conditions.
An example might be a military government that seizes power for idealistic reasons in a small African nation. The officers are liberal, decent fellows with a combination of moderate socialism, patriotism, and progressive Islam. When they take power, it may be safely assumed a major concern of their enthusiastic supporters is land, and access to adequate water for that land. Resolving the dilemma will pose overwhelming demands on the solidarity of the officers, or among the various interest groups of the nation. Quite likely it will provoke an ethnic conflict. This is an example of the first issue.
The members of the junta will have ties to different social groupings that have a claim on their loyalty, such as a clan, a religious denomination (e.g., Sunni or Shi'a) or a local association. These social groupings will assuredly assert their claims to particular favor from the junta members. This is an example of the second issue.
The junta will be vulnerable to future coups by combinations of current members, or antagonistic cliques of officers; in some cases, coups succeed each other with great speed. If another coup doesn't happen, the junta may still face a civil war from groups who are threatened by them; or it may eventually provoke massive civil disobedience; or, in rare cases, it may face foreign invasion in response to the change in its policies. This is an example of the third issue.
The civilian administrators may threaten to go on strike, or simply resign, or be mediocre; in some cases, the junta responds by sacking most managerial civilians and replacing them with military men. Usually, however, addressing the problem of office politics and internal competition among powerful managers is not solved this way. This is an example of the fourth issue.
Finally, the ideology that the junta is seeking to implement may have been meaningful when it was first suggested; over time, it has become more and more backwards-looking. Ideology may harden into dogma. The progressive Islam was "progressive" in the sense that it favored universal social programs and rapid economic growth. Now an agenda of industrialization may well pose such a strain on the nation's natural resources that a majority of the nation's poor would suffer.
- The Social Studies Help Center: Bureaucracy
James R MacLean (14:26, 24 February 2008 (PST))