Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bureaucracy and State Power

“State power can be applied only because there exist administrative organs that translate the wishes of political authorities into action. It is commonly supposed that political and bureaucratic functions are sharply divided and that the latter are able to act only insofar as they are given commands by the former, being themselves impotent to decide on policy. Only some such conception can legitimate the enormous powers that the bureaucracies exercise...

But the faceless bureaucrat silently obeying orders, completely dependent upon the hierarchical configuration of administrative and political authorities, is a textbook pattern that does not describe what actually happens in bureaucratic organizations... 

The power of the bureaucracy is the reasons presidents have complained so vociferously that they cannot get their orders executed. Political scientist Richard Neustadt described the presidency as a “clerkship” that gives the incumbent the right to persuade his subordinates to do his bidding. A strong president is one who can get the government to follow his orders. The bureaucracy is unamanageable. Galbraith says that when he was the federal government’s chief price controller during World War II he had no control over what happened. Decisions were made by technocrats on committees—layers, accountants, economists, specialists of all kinds—and he was “nearly helpless” to do anything but ratify them. After two years of the same kind of experience, President Carter’s attorney general, Griffin Bell, said in a speech that bureaucracy is “more than a painful nuisance. It is a prescription for societal suicide.” The independence of the bureaucracy from political authority means that bureaucrats do not merely enforce the law or administer it: they make the law. They are the law, and the old ideal of having a government of laws rather than of men can no longer be realized. The new class has found a vehicle for giving its values the force of law without bothering to take over the political authority of the state. That is one reason nothing seems to change much in social democracies when voters throw one party out of office in favor of another.” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, p. 204-205).

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