Metaphysical Pathos and the Theory of Bureaucracy

Metaphysical Pathos and the Theory of Bureaucracy

Alvin W. Gouldner

The American Political Science Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 1955), pp. 496-507

The conduct of a polemic focusses attention on the differences between two points of view to the neglect of their continuity and convergences. No modern polemic better exemplifies this than the controversy between the proponents of capitalism and of socialism. Each tends to define itself as the antithesis of the other; even the uncommitted bystander, rare though he be, is likely to think of the two as if they were utterly alien systems.

There have always been some, however, who have taken exception to this sharp contrast between socialism and capitalism and who have insisted that there are significant similarities between the two. One of these, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, maintained that socialism like capitalism involved an overbearing preoccupation with economic interests. In both socialist and capitalist societies, Durkheim argued, economic concerns were at the center of attention. In Durkheim’s view, neither capitalism nor socialism deemed it necessary to bridle materialistic ends; neither society subordinated pecuniary interests to some higher, governing, moral norms. Therefore, “from Durkheim’s point of view,” writes Talcott Parsons, “socialism and laissez-faire individualism are of the same piece.”1

Bertand Russell came to similar conclusions on the basis of a trip to the then newly-established Soviet Republic: ” . . . the practical difference between socialism and capitalism is not so great as politicians on both sides suppose. Certain features will appear in the early stages of industrialism under either system; and under either system certain other features will appear in its later stages. 2

Without doubt, though, the most sophisticated formulation of this view was that conceived by the German sociologist, Max Weber. To Weber, the distinguishing characteristic of modern capitalism was the “rational organization of free labor.” The pursuit of private gain, noted Weber, was well known in many earlier societies; what distinguishes present-day capitalism, he held, is the peculiar organization of the production unit, an organization that is essentially bureaucratic. This conception of capitalism, writes Parsons, “has one important concrete result; in contradistinction to Marx and most ‘liberal’ theories, it strongly minimizes the differences between capitalism and socialism, emphasizing rather their continuity. Not only would socialistic organization leave the central fact of bureaucracy untouched, it would greatly accentuate its importance.”3

While Marx had dwelt largely on the interrelations among production units, that is, their market ties, Weber focussed on the social relations within the industrial unit. If social relations inside of socialist and capitalist factories are fundamentally alike, in that they are both bureaucratic, then, asked Weber, does a socialist revolution yield very much of an improvement for the capitalist proletarian?

If Marx argued that the workers of the world had nothing to lose by revolting, Weber contended that they really had nothing to gain. “For the time being,” he declared, “the dictatorship of the official and not that of the worker is on the march.” Capitalism and socialism are thus placed under the same conceptual umbrella-bureaucracy—with the important practical result that the problem of choosing between them loses much of its point.

It is for this reason that the discussions of bureaucratic organization which are heir to the Weberian analysis must be understood as being, in part, a displacement of the controversy over socialism. Weber made it clear that questions of economic choice could no longer be treated in isolation from questions of administration. From Weber’s time forward, administrative and economic choices were seen to be but two facets of the same hard problem. This has been recognized even by socialists, at least when they have been unencumbered by Communist party orthodoxy. For example, Oskar Lange once remarked, with a frankness that we hope he will never be compelled to regret, “. . . the real danger of socialism is that of bureaucratic organization of economic life. . . .” 4

It is sometimes assumed today that the Weberian outlook is at bottom anti-socialist. In effect, the argument runs, Weber’s viewpoint devitalizes the myth-like appeal of socialism, draining off its ability to muster immense enthusiasms. Weber’s theses are therefore held to be an “ideology” serviceable for the survival of capitalism, while Weber himself is characterized as the “Marx of the bourgeoisie.”

Now all this may be true, but it is only a partial truth; for, in actuality, Weber’s theories cut two ways, not one. If it is correct that his theory of bureaucracy saps the fervor of the socialist offensive, it also undermines the stamina of the capitalist bastions. If socialism and capitalism are similar in being bureaucratic, then not only is there little profit in substituting one for the other, but there is also little loss.

Considered only from the standpoint of its political consequences then, the Weberian outlook is not anti-socialist alone, nor anti-capitalist alone, it is both. In the final analysis its political slogan becomes “a plague on both your houses.” If Weber is to be regarded as an “ideologist,” he is an ideologist not of counter-revolution but of quiescence and neutralism. For many intellectuals who have erected a theory of group organization on Weberian foundations, the world has been emptied of choice, leaving them disoriented and despairing.

That gifted historian of ideas, Arthur 0. Lovejoy, astutely observed that every theory is associated with, or generates, a set of sentiments which those subscribing to the theory could only dimly sense. Lovejoy called this the “metaphysical pathos” of ideas, a pathos which is “exemplified in any description of the nature of things, any characterization of the world to which one belongs, in terms which, like the words of a poem, evoke through their associations and through a sort of empathy which they engender, a congenial mood or tone of feelings.”6

As a result, a commitment to a theory often occurs by a process other than the one which its proponents believe and it is usually more consequential than they realize. A commitment to a theory may be made because the theory is congruent with the mood or deep-lying sentiments of its adherents, rather than merely because it has been cerebrally inspected and found valid. This is as true for the rigorous prose of social science as it is for the more lucid metaphor of creative literature, for each has its own silent appeal and its own metaphysical pathos.

Furthermore, those who have committed themselves to a theory always get more than they have bargained for. We do not make a commercial contract with a theory in which we agree to accept only the consignment of intellectual goods which has been expressly ordered; usually we take also the metaphysical pathos in which the theory comes packaged. In the end, the theory reinforces or induces in the adherent a subtle alteration in the structure of sentiments through which he views the world.

So too is it with the theory of organization. Paradoxically enough, some of the very theories which promise to make man’s own work more intelligible to himself and more amenable to his intelligence are infused with an intangible metaphysical pathos which insinuates, in the very midst of new discoveries, that all is lost. For the metaphysical pathos of much of the modern theory of group organization is that of pessimism and fatalism.


Nowhere does the fatalism of the theory of organization become more articulate than in its efforts to account for the development of bureaucratic behavior. One of the less challenging explanations, for example, premises a supposedly invariant human nature. Thus in an otherwise illuminating analysis, one political scientist remarks: “Civil servants are ordinary mortals; they have the defects and weaknesses typical of human nature. Each loves, as Shakespeare said, ‘his brief moment of authority.”6

This, however, is difficult to reconcile with recurrent complaints, from civic leaders or business mangers, that it is often hard to persuade people either to run for political office or to accept positions as foremen. Apparently there are some people who do not hanker after their brief moment of authority.

In any event, it does not seem possible to account for bureaucracy in any of its forms as an outgrowth of “human nature.” This explanation cannot cope with the rudimentary fact that in some times and in some places there is much bureaucracy, but in other times and places there is little. Leaving aside the question of the validity of the argument, its practical results are again all too evident. For if bureaucracy is rooted in human nature then all hope for a remedy must be abandoned.

Much more serious as goads to pessimism are theories explaining bureaucracy as the end-product of increased size and complexity in organizations. This is by far the most popular of the interpretations. Marshall Dimock and Howard Hyde, for example, in their report to the Temporary National Economic Committee (TNEC), state: “The broadest structural cause of bureaucracy, whether in business or in government, is the tremendous size of the organization. Thus with capital or appropriations measured in hundreds of millions and in billions of dollars and personnel in tens and hundreds of thousands, it is difficult to avoid the obtrusion of the objectionable features of bureaucracy.”7

While suggesting varied causes for the development of bureaucracy, Max Weber also interpreted it as a consequence of large size. For example, in discussing the ubiquity of bureaucratic forms Weber adds: “The same [bureaucratic] phenomena are found in the large-scale capitalistic enterprise; and the larger it is, the greater their role.”8 He underscores the role of size by emphasiz- ing that “only by reversion in every field—political, religious, economic, etc.—to small-scale organization would it be possible to escape its influence.”9 Despite his consideration of other possible sources of bureaucracy, these comments suggest that Weber regarded organizational size as the controlling factor in the development of bureaucracy.

Weber’s emphasis on size as the crucial determinant of bureaucratic development is unsatisfactory for several reasons. First, there are historic examples of human efforts carried out on an enormous scale which were not bureaucratic in any serious sense of the term.’10 The building of the Egyptian pyramids is an obvious example. Second, Weber never considers the possibility that it is not “large size” as such that disposes to bureaucracy; large size may be important only because it generates other social forces which, in their turn, generate bureaucratic patterns.

Of course, in every analysis there are always intervening variables— the un- known “x”—which stand between any cause and effect. Scientific progress depends, in part, on moving away from the gross causes and coming closer to those which are more invariably connected with the object of interest. The point is that when a social scientist accepts “size” as an explanatory factor, instead of going on to ask what there is about size that makes for bureaucracy, he is making an analytic decision. It is not a formulation unavoidably dictated by the nature of the data itself.

Significantly, though, it is a decision that leads once again to bleak pessimism. For to inform members of our society that the only way out of the bureaucratic impasse is to return to the historical past and to trade in large for small- scale organizations is, in effect, to announce the practical impossibility of coping with bureaucracy. Moreover, many people in our society believe that “bigness” symbolizes progress; to tell them that it also creates bureaucracy is to place them on the horns of a dilemma which gores no matter which way they turn. In such a position the most painless response is inaction.

Underlying this conception of the matter there is a Hegelian dialectic in which “good” and “bad” are viewed as inseparably connected opposites; bureaucracy, “the bad thing,” is represented as the inescapable price that has to be paid for the good things, the efficiency and abundance of modern life. One social scientist clearly puts it this way: “Assembly line techniques offer marked advantages over those of custom craftsmanship. They also have their price. They entail the imposition of an order of progression, the fixing of a rate or rhythm of operation, and the discipline of a regular routine. Set order, fixed pace, and adherence to routine-these are the very stuff of which red tape is made. Yet they are of the essence of system, too.”” However true or false, there can be little doubt that this is an outlook which is convenient and comfortable for bureaucrats—if not for many others.


The fuller ramifications of this approach to bureaucracy can best be explained by turning to the analyses of industrial organization made by some of the “structural-functionalists.” This is a comparatively new and vigorous school of American sociologists, which has grown directly out of the theories of Durkheim, Weber, and others, and whose most elaborate expression is to be found in the work of Talcott Parsons. Parsons’ recent analyses of industrial bureaucracy are of sufficient importance to be quoted in full. “Though with many individual exceptions [which he does not examine], technological advance almost always leads to increasingly elaborate division of labor and the concomitant requirement of increasingly elaborate organization.” He continues:

The fundamental reason for this is, of course, that with elaborate differentiation of functions the need for minute coordination of the different functions develops at the same time…. There must be a complex organization of supervision to make quite sure that exactly the right thing is done…. Feeding the various parts into the process, in such a way that a modern assembly line can operate smoothly, requires very complex organization to see that they are available in just the right quantities at the right times and places. . . . One of the most important phases of this process of change is concerned with the necessity for formalization when certain points of complexity are reached…. Smaller and simpler organizations are typically managed with a high degree of particu- larism (i.e., personal consideration) in the relations of persons in authority to their own subordinates. But when the “distance” between points of decision and of operation in- creases, and the number of operating units affected by decisions with it, uniformity and coordination can be attained only by a high degree of formalization… 12

Surprisingly enough, this is an atavistic recurrence of technological determinism in which characteristic bureaucratic traits-such as an elaborate division of labor, complex organization, and formalization—are held to stem directly from technological advance. This is a form of technological determinism because bureaucracy is seen as the result of technological change, without inquiring into the motives and meanings which these changes have for the people involved, and without wondering whether technological change would have a different impact on the formal organization of a group that had a high motivation to produce and therefore did not require close supervision. This is a form of technological determinism, because no alternative solutions are appraised or deemed possible and coordination is seen as attainable “only by a high degree of formalization…. ”

Here once again we are invited to draw the conclusion that those who want modern technology must be prepared to pay for it with a minute and even stultifying division of labor.

All this, though, is a theoretical tapestry devoid of even the plainest empirical trimmings. Even on logical grounds, however, it is tenuous indeed. For it is evident that organizational patterns, such as a high division of labor, are found in spheres where modern technology has made comparatively little headway. This, in fact, is a point that Weber was at pains to insist upon. And if, as he maintained, bureaucratic forms are also found in charitable, political, or religious organizations-and not solely in industry-then they certainly can- not be explained as a consequence of modern machine technology.

Beyond these logical considerations, there are also some empirical grounds for questioning the adequacy of Parsons’ analysis. Peter Drucker, for example, became extremely doubtful about the necessity of a minute division of labor while observing large-scale American industry during World War II. (This is crucial for Parsons’ argument, because he holds that it is through increased specialization that technology evokes the other elements of bureaucratic organization.) Drucker comments that “we have learned that it is neither necessary nor always efficient to organize all mass production in such a manner as to have the majority of workers confine themselves to doing one and only one of the elementary manipulations…. It was impossible [because of war- time shortages of skilled labor] to ‘lay out’ the job in the usual assembly-line fashion in which one unskilled operation done by one unskilled man is followed by the next unskilled man. The operation was broken down into its unskilled components like any assembly-line job. But then the unskilled components were put together again with the result that an unskilled worker actually performed the job of a highly skilled mechanic-and did it as reliably and efficiently as had been done by skilled men.””13

In short, lower degrees of specialization than those normally found in large- scale industry are not necessarily forbidden by modern technology. Drucker’s observations must, at the very least, raise the question as to how much of the minute division of labor is attributable to technological causes. Parsons, though, gives no consideration to other factors contributing to an extreme division of labor. However, Carl Dreyfuss, a German industrial sociologist, has advanced an array of keen observations and hypotheses which meet this ques- tion directly. He writes: “the artificial complication of the rank order… permits numerous employees to feel that they hold high positions and are to a certain extent independent.” Moreover, he notes that a complicated division of labor is “with its unwarranted differentiations, telescoped positions, and ramifications, diametrically opposed to efforts of rationalization.”14 In other words, Dreyfuss suggests that much of the complex division of labor today is not to be explained by technological requirements, but rather in terms of the prestige satisfactions, the “psychic income,” that it presumably provides workers.

In Dreyfuss’ view, the “minute division of labor” also stems from manage- ment’s needs to control workers and to make themselves independent of any specific individual or group of workers. A high division of labor, said Dreyfuss, means that “individual workers and employees can be exchanged and replaced at any time.15 Through its use, “dependence of the employee upon the employer is greatly increased. It is much more difficult for today’s employee, trained in only one particular function, to find reemployment than it was for his predeces- sor, a many-sided, well-instructed business man, able and fitted to fill a variety of positions.”16

A similar view is advanced in the more recent studies of industrial organiza- tion in Yankee City, which were made by W. L. Warner and J. 0. Low. “While machine processes were adopted by shoe factories primarily to reduce costs and to speed the processing, the machine has other great advantages over the human worker from the managerial point of view,” comment Warner and Low.

Control problems are simplified. . . on two counts through mechanization: (1) machines are easier to control than human beings, and (2) mechanization tends to disrupt the social solidarity of the workers, who thereby become easier to control than they would if they were able to maintain close social relations during working hours . . . these factors tend to increase the subordination of the individual worker to management; from the management’s viewpoint they are valuable means of social control over workers…. The routinization of jobs also simplifies control of workers in another way. The individual operative today does not have the feeling of security that the oldtime craftsman derived from his special technical abilities. In most cases, today’s operative is aware that only a comparatively brief training period protects him in his job from a large number of un- trained individuals. The members of the supervisory hierarchy are also well aware of this fact. The psychological effect of this result of the division of labor is to intensify the sub- ordinate position of the individual operative and to make him submit the more readily to the limitations on his behavior required by the supervisory group.”17

It is unnecessary for our purpose here to resolve this disparity between Warner and Dreyfuss, on the one hand, and Parsons, on the other. What may be sug- gested, however, is that there is considerable reason for holding Parsons’ posi- tion to be both logically and empirically inadequate and to recognize that it has, without compelling scientific warrant, accommodated itself to the meta- physical pathos of organizational theory, which sees no escape from bureauc- racy.


There is another offshoot among the structural-functionalists which is dis- tinguished by its concern for the problems bequeathed by Robert Michels and, as such, it is even more morosely pessimistic than others in the school. Michels, it will be remembered, focussed his empirical studies on the Social Democratic parties of pre-World War I Europe. He chose these, quite deliberately, because he wanted to see whether groups which stood for greater freedom and democ- racy, and were hostile to authoritarianism, were not themselves afflicted by the very organizational deformity to which they were opposed.

Michel’s conclusions were, of course, formulated in his “iron law of oligarchy,” in which he maintained that always and everywhere a “system of leadership is incompatible with the most essential postulates of democracy.”’18 Oligarchy, said Michels, “derives from the tactical and technical necessities which result from the consolidation of every disciplined political aggre- gate…. 19 It is the outcome of organic necessity, and consequently affects every organization, be it socialist or even anarchist.”20

In concluding his study, Michels remarks with a flourish of defensive pathos, . . . it seemed necessary to lay considerable stress upon the pessimist aspect of democracy which is forced upon us by historical study. “21 “The democratic currents of history resemble successive waves. They break ever on the same shoals…. It is probable that this cruel game will continue without end.”22

Focussing, as Michels did, on an apparently democratic group, Philip Selznick examined the TVA, which many Americans had long believed to be an advanced expression of democratic values. Like Michels, Selznick assumes that “wherever there is organization, whether formally democratic or not, there is a split between the leader and the led, between the agent and the initiator. The phenomenon of abdication to bureaucratic directives in corpo- rations, in trade unions, in parties, and in cooperatives is so widespread that it indicates a fundamental weakness of democracy.”23

Selznick’s study concludes that the TVA’s emphasis on “decentralization” is to be best understood as a result of that agency’s needs to adapt to suspicious local communities and to survive in competition with older governmental agencies based in Washington. “Decentralization” is viewed as a “halo that becomes especially useful in countries which prize the symbols of democracy.”24 In its turn, the TVA’s emphasis on “participation” is explained as a catch- word, satisfying the agency’s needs to transform “an unorganized citizenry into a reliable instrument for the achievement of administrative goals…. “26

Selznick, like Michels, is impressed with the similarity in the organizational devices employed by different groups, whether they are democratic or authori- tarian in ideology. He asserts ” . . . there seems to be a continuum between the voluntary associations set up by the democratic (mass) state-such as committees of farmers to boost or control agricultural production-and the citizens’ associations of the totalitarian (mass) state. Indeed the devices of corporatism emerge as relatively effective responses to the need to deal with the mass, and in time of war the administrative techniques of avowedly democrat- ic countries and avowedly totalitarian countries tend to converge.”26

In Selznick’s analysis human action involves a commitment to two sets of interests: first to the goals intended, and second to the organizational instru- ments through which these goals are pursued. These tools are, however, re- calcitrant; they generate “needs” which cannot be neglected. Hence if men persist in their ends, they are forced to satisfy the needs of their organizational instruments. They are, therefore, as much committed to their tools as to their ends, and “these commitments may lead to unanticipated consequences result- ing in a deflection of original ends.”27

For these reasons, organizational behavior must be interpreted not so much in terms of the ends that administrators deliberately seek, as in terms of the organizational “needs” which their pursuit engenders. “The needs in question are organizational, not individual, and include: the security of the organization as a whole in relation to social forces in its environment; the stability of the lines of authority and communication; the stability of informal relations within the organization; the continuity of policy and of the sources of its determination; a homogeneity of outlook with respect to the means and role of the organization.”28

“In general,” writes Selznick, “we have been concerned to formulate some of the underlying tendencies which are likely to inhibit the democratic process. Like all conservative or pessimistic criticism, such a statement of inherent prob- lems seems to cast doubt upon the possibility of complete democratic achiev- ment. It does cast such a doubt. The alternative, however, is the transformation of democracy into a utopian notion which, unaware of its internal dangers, is unarmed to meet them.”29 This, however, is an argument that rests upon assumptions which are not transparently self-evident and are acceptable without dispute only by those who are susceptible to its metaphysical pathos. Despite demagogic appeals to democratic symbols, there seem to be few places in either the Eastern or Western worlds in which there is a real and present danger of the “transformation of democracy into a utopian notion.” Surely this is not to be expected among the class conscious working classes of Europe, the laborite masses of England, the untutored peasants of China, or among the confused and often apathetic American electorate to whom politics is something of a dirty game, to be periodically enlivened with scandals and investigations. And if this appraisal is correct, then just who is there to be “armed” with this knowledge of the internal dangers of democracy?

For some reason Selznick has chosen-and this was not forced upon him by the data-to focus on the things which harry and impede democratic aspirations, rather than on those which strengthen and energize it. It is for this reason perhaps that he is led to reiterate Michel’s apologia: “Attention being fo- cussed on the structural conditions which influence behavior, we are directed to emphasize constraints, the limitation of alternatives imposed by the system upon its participants. This will tend to give pessimistic overtones to the analysis, since such factors as good will and intelligence will be de-emphasized.”30

Selznick chose to focus on those social constraints that thwart democratic aspirations, but neglected to consider the constraints that enable them to be realized, and that foster and encourage “good will” and “intelligence.” Are these, however, random occurrences, mere historic butterflies which flit through events with only ephemeral beauty? Or are they, as much as anything else, often the unanticipated products of our “commitments”? Why is it that “un- anticipated consequences” are always tacitly assumed to be destructive of democratic values and “bad”; why can’t they sometimes be “good”? Are there no constraints which force men to adhere valorously to their democratic beliefs, which compel them to be intelligent rather than blind, which leave them no choice but to be men of good will rather than predators? The neglect of these possibilities suggests the presence of a distorting pathos.

It is the pathos of pessimism, rather than the compulsions of rigorous analysis, that lead to the assumption that organizational constraints have stacked the deck against democracy. For on the face of it there is every reason to assume that “the underlying tendencies which are likely to inhibit the demo- cratic process” are just as likely to impair authoritarian rule. It is only in the light of such a pessimistic pathos that the defeat of democratic values can be assumed to be probable, while their victory is seen as a slender thing, delicately constituted and precariously balanced.

When, for example, Michels spoke of the “iron law of oligarchy,” he attended solely to the ways in which organizational needs inhibit democratic possibilities. But the very same evidence to which he called attention could enable us to formulate the very opposite theorem-the “iron law of democracy.” Even as Michels himself saw, if oligarchical waves repeatedly wash away the bridges of democracy, this eternal recurrence can happen only because men doggedly re- build them after each inundation. Michels chose to dwell on only one aspect of this process, neglecting to consider this other side. There cannot be an iron law of oligarchy, however, unless there is an iron law of democracy.

Much the same may be said for Selznick. He posits certain organizational needs: a need for the security of the organization, for stable lines of authority and communication, for stable informal relationships. But for each of the organi- zational needs which Selznick postulates, a set of contrary needs can also be posited, and the satisfaction of these would seem to be just as necessary for the survival of an organization. If, as Selznick says, an organization must have security in its environment, then certainly Toynbee’s observations that too much security can be stultifying and corrosive is at least as well taken. To Selz- nick’s security need, a Toynbee might counterpose a need for a moderate chal- lenge or threat.

A similar analysis might also be made of Selznick’s postulated need for homo- geneity of outlook concerning the means and role of the organization. For unless there is some heterogeneity of outlook, then where is an organization to find the tools and flexibility to cope with changes in its environment? Underlying Selznick’s need for homogeneity in outlook, is there not another “need,” a need that consent of the governed be given-at least in some measure-to their governors? Indeed, this would seem to be at the very core of Selznick’s empirical analysis, though it is obscured in his high-level theoretical statement of the needs of organizations. And if all organizations must adjust to such a need for consent, is there not built into the very marrow of organization a large element of what we mean by democracy? This would appear to be an organizational constraint that makes oligarchies, and all separation of leaders from those led, no less inherently unstable than democratic organization.”

These contrary needs are just as real and just as consequential for organiza- tional behavior as those proposed by Selznick. But they point in a different direction. They are oriented to problems of change, of growth, of challenging contingencies, of provoking and unsettling encounters. Selznick’s analysis seems almost to imply that survival is possible only in an icy stasis, in which “secur- ity,” “continuity,” and “stability” are the key terms. If anything, the opposite seems more likely to be true, and organizational survival is impossible in such a state.

Wrapping themselves in the shrouds of nineteenth-century political econ- omy, some social scientists appear to be bent on resurrecting a dismal science. For the iron law of wages, which maintained that workers could never improve their material standards of life, some sociologists have substituted the iron law of oligarchy, which declares that men cannot improve their political standards of life. Woven to a great extent out of theoretical whole cloth, much of the discussion of bureaucracy and of organizational needs seems to have provided a screen onto which some intellectuals have projected their own despair and pessimism, reinforcing the despair of others.

Perhaps the situation can be illuminated with an analogy. For many years now, infantile paralysis has killed and maimed scores of people. For many years also doctors, biologists, and chemists have been searching for the causes and cure of this disease. Consider the public reaction if, instead of reporting on their newest vaccines, these scientists had issued the following announcement: “We have not reached any conclusions concerning the causes of the disease, nor has our research investigated defenses against it. The public seems to have per- fectionist aspirations of flawless health, they have ‘utopian’ illusions concerning the possibilities of immortality and it is this-not the disease-that is the danger against which the public needs to be armed. We must remember that the human animal is not immortal and that for definite reasons his lifespan is finite.” It is likely, of course, that such scientists would be castigated for having usurped the prerogatives and functions of clergymen.

This, however, seems to parallel the way in which some social scientists have approached the study of organizational pathology. Instead of telling men how bureaucracy might be mitigated, they insist that it is inevitable. Instead of explaining how democratic patterns may, to some extent, be fortified and ex- tended, they warn us that democracy cannot be perfect. Instead of controlling the disease, they suggest that we are deluded, or more politely, incurably roman- tic, for hoping to control it. Instead of assuming responsibilities as realistic clinicians, striving to further democratic potentialities wherever they can, many social scientists have become morticians, all too eager to bury men’s hopes.32


1 Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action (New York, 1937), p. 341. For Durkheim’s own statement, see his Le Socialisme (Paris, 1908), especially Ch. 2. The present writer is preparing an English translation of this volume.

2 Bertrand and Dora Russell, Prospects of Industrial Civilization (New York, 1923), p. 14. Compare this with the discussion of Stalinist Communism by a postwar Russian refugee, G. F. Achminow, Die Macht im Hintergrund: Totengraber des Kommunismus (Ulm, 1950), which is discussed in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, Character and Social Structure (New York, 1953), p. 477.

3 Parsons, p. 509. See also the provocative fuller development of this argument as it applies to industrial organization: George C. Homans, “Industrial Harmony as a Goal,” in Industrial Conflict, eds. Kornhauser, Dubin, and Ross (New York, 1954).

4 Oskar Lange and Fred M. Taylor, On the Economic Theory of Socialism, ed. Lippincott (Minneapolis, 1948), p. 109.

5 Arthur 0. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), p. 11.

6 John A. Vieg, “Bureaucracy-Fact and Fiction,” in Elements of Public Administration, ed. Fritz Morstein Marx (New York, 1946), p. 52.

7 Monograph 11, Temporary National Economic Committee, Bureaucracy and Trusteeship in Large Corporations (Washington, D. C., 1940), p. 36.

8 Max Weber: The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, translated and edited by A, M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons (New York, 1947), p. 334.

9 Ibid., p. 338.

10 See Reinhard Bendix, “Bureaucracy: The Problem and Its Setting,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 12, pp. 502-7 (Oct., 1947). On the other hand, there are theoretically significant cases of small organizations which are highly bureaucratized, for example, the Boulton and Watt factory in 1775-1805. This “case illustrates the fact that the bureaucratization of industry is not synonymous with the recent growth in the size of business enterprises.” Reinhard Bendix, “Bureaucratization in Industry,” in Industrial Conflict, p. 166.

11 Vieg, pp. 5-6.

12 Talcott Parsons, The Social System (Glencoe, Illinois, 1951), pp. 507-8. Italics added.

13 Peter Drucker, Concept of the Corporation (New York, 1946), pp. 183-84.

14 Carl Dreyfuss, Occupation and Ideology of the Salaried Employee, trans. Eva Abramovitch (New York, 1938), p. 17.

15 Ibid., p. 75.

16 Ibid., p. 77.

17 W. Lloyd Warner and J. 0. Low, The Social System of the Modern Factory (New Haven, 1947), pp. 78, 80, 174.

18 Robert Michels, Political Parties (Glencoe, Ill.,1949), p. 400. Michel’s work was first published in 1915.

19 Ibid., p. 401.

20 Ibid., p. 402.

21 Ibid., p. 405.

22 Ibid., p. 408.

23 Philip Selznick, TVA and the Grass Roots (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1949), p. 9.

24 Ibid., p. 220.

2C Loc. cit.

26 Loc. cit.

27 Ibid., p. 259.

28 Ibid., p. 252.

29 Ibid., p. 265.

30 Ibid., p. 252.

31 See Arthur Schweitzer, “Ideological Groups,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 9, pp. 415-27 (Aug., 1944), particularly his discussion of factors inhibiting oligarchy. For example, “A leadership concentrating all power in its hands creates indifference among the functionaries and sympathizers as well as decline in membership of the organization. This process of shrinkage, endangering the position of the leaders, is the best protection against the supposedly inevitable iron law of oligarchy” (p. 419). Much of the research deriving from the Lewinian tradition would seem to lend credence to this inference.

32 We have sought to develop the positive implications of this approach to bureaucratic organization in Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy (Glencoe, Ill., 1954).

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