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Max Weber – Part 3

In this part we explore some interesting concepts and theories as noted below :-

1) “Bureaucracy is neither good nor bad, it just “is”

2) “Gandhi-The Führer ”

3) “Nine out of ten politicians are nothing but vain windbags” 

Weber’s essay “Bureaucracy” is primarily understood for its description of the hierarchical “top-down” nature of bureaucracy where “the rule” rather than humanity drives action, squeezing the soul of anyone consigned to managing (and being managed) by the bureaucracy.Indeed, this description is so well known that it is frequently described as “Weberian bureaucracy.”

According to some who study “caring bureaucracies,” there is a “choice” between the crueler and more control-oriented administrators who manage particular schools and social welfare agencies and other institutions that seek to provide “caring services” to a particular clientele. Typically, “workarounds” that favor the caring instincts of those delivering services (e.g., social workers, nurses, teachers, etc.) are recommended.

But this misses Weber’s main point—he did not advocate for a particular type of bureaucracy; rather, he sought to develop “bureaucracy” as a term describing the modern corporation and government that underlies modern social organization.

As with much of Weber’s sociology, bureaucracy is neither good nor bad, it just “is,” and it exists as an enduring influence on modern life. In this respect, the bureaucracy is more like the weather than an ideology that can be reformed.

Weber’s point is to understand the nature of the bureaucratic phenomenon, not reform it. The “problem” for the modern world is that bureaucracies cannot care or feel. This is because they get their efficiencies from the rationalization emerging from the Gesellschaft, which are by definition devoid of an emotional capacity to care.

For Weber, this is the point, which he makes clear in both “Bureaucracy” and “Politics as Vocation.” Hierarchical bureaucracies are modern society, and any attempt to deny this fact is to deny the nature of modern society itself.

We are sure that Weber would “rage against the machine” and attempt to re-enchant a disenchanted world in his political life; indeed, this rage is implicit to his writings. But as an academic, he would also view such rage as being about as effective as campaigning against hurricanes—it is all beside the point.

Weber’s point is that in bureaucracies, process trumps task; if process did not trump task, you would not have a modern organization.Such rationalization means that the “judging machine” (rationalized law) dominates the process, rather than the good of the individuals enmeshed in the bureaucracy or an abstract sense of justice.

Procedure, files, hierarchy, and rules drive decision making, not a disembodied abstract assessment of each case in pursuit of an abstract sense of justice or fairness dreamt of in modern politics or university classes in public and business administration. Given Weber’s definition of bureaucracy, wishing for a “caring” bureaucracy is a fool’s errand; it is like wishing away the laws of gravity.

Weber points to a way out of this conundrum though—but it is a hazardous and potentially catastrophic “solution.” The way to step beyond the oppressive nature of rationalized bureaucratic rule and its efficient mindless “judging machine” is through a leader who transcends the machine’s apparatus through emotional appeal and unique personal powers.

Transcending bureaucratic rationalization, Weber believes, is possible only via a strong leader—a Führer —who can command loyalty by appealing to values from the unrationalized Gemeinschaft, which by definition is outside the bureaucratic system.

Charismatic leadership is inherently embedded in both emotion and an individual personality (i.e., conditions that are the opposite of the rationalized forces found within any bureaucracy and modern Gesellschaft society as a whole).

Weber, writing in the late 1910s, cited Napoleon and Jesus Christ as exemplars of charismatic Führer-figures, though obviously the two used their charismatic power in very different ways.

Leadership by Weber’s definition comes in many forms; Führer figures are in fact only one such form, albeit an extreme one. Weber also describes bureaucratic “leaders” and includes leaders, chiefs, bosses, parliamentary leaders, etc.

Führer, in this context, takes on a special meaning, which does not have a ready English equivalent; indeed, in the language of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, English-writers were occasionally using the German gloss Führer in their own writing; as in Germany, people in quickly rationalizing Europe and America of that era were yearning for a Savior figure.

This is the word, Führer, that entered both Weber’s vocabulary by World War I, as well as many others, including, a few years later, Adolf Hitler.

The longing for Führer-figures is a constant of modernity; indeed, just as Weber wrote a hundred years ago, many twenty-first-century political campaigns are focused by spurious claims that a wannabe leader will inspire and lead through hope, fear, or moral authority, thereby transcending command by bureaucratic authority.

Indeed, modern political campaigns frequently become dominated by such “charismatic figures” who seek to entice their publics into an ecstatic rapture, inviting them to follow them on a shared journey that will transcend the status quo.

Twentieth-century examples of such charismatic figures who rise “above the rules” range across the globe and include South Africa (Mandela), Egypt (Nasser), Iran (Khomeini), Thailand (Taksin), Argentina (Peron), China (Mao), India (Gandhi), and many others.

It also applies in business where charismatic figures like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Stephen Spielberg, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and others emerge to again, “break the old rules” through what is perceived as a force of personality and assert a new order.

Weber’s use of the term Führer to describe the specific characteristic of such transcendent figures is useful, and has no equivalent in English.

Weber’s classic definition of the state as “the monopoly over the legitimated use of coercive Gewalt/power” is critical to the essays presented here. In this sense, Weber is consistent with a philosophical tradition that goes back to Hobbes and includes Locke, Marx, and many others.

Weber views the state as inherent to the conduct of human affairs in complex societies—and as he notes repeatedly, this implies the use of legitimated violence as rulers effectively exercise dominion over the people and territory they rule.

For this reason, Weber writes, those who exercise Gewalt are inherently subject to the temptations of violence, no matter what ideological regime they use to justify their actions. And as a social psychologist, Weber notes that wielding power affects the politicians who control the police and the armies—in fact, he notes that the capacity to wield such power is “intoxicating” to any human to whom such power is granted.

Having said that, there is also something external to the individual that is the Herrschaft, wielded by any ruler.

Herrschaft is a concept separate from the individual—we have usually translated it as “dominion” or “domination” to reflect this relationship. In Weber’s estimation, the capacity to exercise Herrschaft is rooted in the capacity to be seen as legitimate by those over whom power is wielded.

As such, Herrschaft and power are ethereal projects obvious only in the very persistence of institutional structures, particularly those of government.

Weber is also aware that no matter how necessary such domination may be for the persistence of society, it does usually corrupt the individual who wields that power; Weber asserts bluntly that such power is so corrupting that nine out of ten politicians are nothing but vain windbags.

As for the one in ten who presumably rises above this, Weber can only offer up the resignation of Martin Luther:-

“Here I stand, I can do no other” to describe the “true human” who enters politics to “forcefully drill . . . holes in hardwood boards, and that with passion, and at the same time with a sense of proportion.”

As a conclusion about the nature of politics and the kind of humans who practice politics, Weber is devoid of the optimistic American pragmatism and infected by the “Kulturpessimismus” of not only the German Nietzsche but the general Zeitgeist of early twentieth-century Germany. Rather, Weber wobbles uncertainly between pragmatism and pessimism, leaving his ideal type of the “true human” difficult to categorize—except perhaps as tragedy.


July 24, 2017

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