Some social philosophical reflections, by Robert Priddy While bureaucracies are necessary to maintain modern society and are unavoidable for the organisation of any large-scale operations, they tend to develop an internal weakness which increases inefficiency and deny the public some of their legal and moral rights. This is the dysfunction of the system due to the attitude and pratice of 'bureaucratism'. Just as it is the love of money - but not money itself - that is the root of all evil', it is bureaucratism, not bureaucracy that is the danger.

Bureaucracy is on the rise in the world, despite various efforts by politicians to contain it. Globalisation leads to the increasing size and coverage of many organisations, which apparently necessitates the increase in bureaucracy. The growth of the European Union is a major cause of increased bureaucracy, often even the doubling up of bureaucracies - both national and European. Despite the ill-named clause of 'subsidiarity' in EU policy whereby centralised rules can be waived where not strictly necessary in favour of localised autonomy and regional practices, more and more Europeans are subject to more and more bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies mostly fall prey to a greater or lesser degree to the modern sickness 'bureaucratism', which is the tendency to put the interests of an organisation (and even its individual members) above those of external organisations, and consequently also above those who are clients of that bureaucracy in one way or another. Bureaucratism favours the interests of its own staff, projects an attitude of self-defensive explanations for its own failures when confrontation with these is unavoidable. Where bureaucratism is present, there will usually be an attempt to organise appearances in more or less subtle and complex ways that amount to whitewashing and cover-up. The word 'bureaucrat' is no longer much used as a neutral, descriptive term, for it has almost everywhere come to mean a representative of what I call bureaucratism.

The pulverisation of responsibility, always difficult to avoid in large and complex organisations, becomes an instrument in the hands of the bureaucrat. Rules and regulations are developed in such a way that passing the buck endlessly becomes a useful stratagem for averting blame for anything from anyone. Responsibility and accountability are dispersed so that the system itself seems to be responsible, but no one in it.

The rightful interests of people can more easily be suppressed by bureaucratic organisational systems than in face-to-face human intercourse 'on a level playing field'. Public and private bodies that make their bureaucracy their backbone - and most do - increase the danger of estrangement of the individual and the person so that the sense of positive identity are weakened. This applies as much to the bureaucrats as their clients. The client of large organisations is often regarded as a faceless integer, like a pawn in a chess game, where the plan regards the individual as no more than an expendable unit whose interests can be sacrificed when necessary for the good of the organisation. The danger is loss of autonomous will or direction within the social system that work too strictly to rule and so behave on impersonal lines.

Bureaucratic organisation does not operate so as to regard the person as an individual so much as a representative of some instance, some 'case of' whatever category may apply in view of the bureau's duties. In this, the affinity of bureaucratism with science is easily seen. Even most science eliminates the person qua person in favour of the 'generalised individual', often in terms of abstract parameters and quantifications. Much social science takes forms which are convenient to bureaucratic management, such as when data of a kind is collected which has not relevance to persons, only to organisations. The kind of language and technicality used in social scientific reports is often close to that of bureaucratic documents. Many bureaucrats have degrees in various social sciences and most social scientific researchers are employed by - or otherwise beholden to - large organisations.

The survival, continuation and expansion of the organisation -whether or not it is the fittest to do the work required - becomes a basis guiding concern for most bureaucrats. Enrolled bureaucrats are always very wary of anything that might impede their career advancement or retirement comforts.

The lurking, mutual mistrust of bureaucrat and client are known to everyone. In becoming impersonal, the alienation from other people as persons may easily lead to a sense of meaninglessness, frustration and anxiety, as Franz Kafka illustrated so strikingly. The bureaucratic role or pseudo-personality is not concerned to care for any person as such, only for abstractions like 'client', 'case', 'instance', 'patient', 'customer' etc. The lowest ranks of military systems are called 'privates' or, in the U.S. 'G.I's', which stands for 'General Issue' and are numbered accordingly (eg: G.I. 4166262). Strictly disciplined military organisation can serve as a model for an extreme form of regulatory and exclusively 'top-down' bureaucracy.

In bureaucratism, the person or people are regarded as - and treated only or mainly as - anonymous instruments of the aims and purposes inherent to the organisation, rather than as ends in themselves with their own values and valid aims etc. The bureaucrat proper ignores the exception to the rule. Compassion is not part of their job description. If a person's case is exceptional and calls for special attention - but cannot be considered under the regulations and definitions of the particular system, it is invariably rejected and shunned, even when in conflict with a person's moral and legal rights - and especially when these rely on paragraphs outside that organisation's control. So long as the aim for which the organisation was originally designed are relevant, the individual may be treated in accordance with the common good, yet often aims tend to lie inherent in a system long after they have become unfruitful for the public interest. The inertia of bureaucracies in hindering change is legion.

A functional bureaucracy, however, is one which serves the public truly - is unbiassed towards its public, not merely in word but also in day-to-day actions. It would serve all on a footing of equal worth from the outset, at least. It does not eliminate the personal contact and mutual understanding that arise from valuation of another person in his uniqueness and as subject to an unrepeatable meeting of circumstances. It deals with exceptions and complaints by examining their premises fairly.

The chief antidote to the ever-present danger of the slide into bureaucratism, is surely people of character who have sufficient integrity to confront their superiors when necessary over unnecessary and discriminative regulations, unwholesome practices and partiality towards special interests, whether they arise within or outside the bureaucracy. The timely whistle blower is a valuable asset to any large organisation, one which can be hard to find, as the sufficient courage to risk self-sacrifice for the greater good is mostly lacking.

Nonetheless, such persons are always to be found, even in the worst of worlds. Arthur Koestler wrote in 'The Invisible Writing', 1953 of those persons who even the most perverse and despotic form of bureaucratism - that of Soviet Russia - could not pervert: "They are motivated by a grave sense of responsibility in a country where everybody fears and evades responsibility; they exercise initiative and independent judgement where blind obedience is the norm; they are loyal and devoted to their fellow-beings in a world where loyalty is only expected towards one's superiors and devotion only towards the State. They have personal honour and an unconscious dignity of comportment, where these words are objects of ridicule."

Bureaucratism arises most easily in institutions which are mostly self-contained, such as certain kind of army, most prisons, closed psychiatric hospitals and other social groupings and private businesses which are fairly insulated from public scrutiny. Those bureaucracies which are only answerable to dictators and despotic governments develop extreme types of bureaucratic mentality. This is exemplified by the international Communist movement of the 20th century. 'In his autobiographical "World Within World" (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1951), the English poet Stephen Spender wrote about his Communist friends of the pre-War decades, "... what amazed me was to find that Communism could not only control a party member's theory and behaviour, but also his awareness of actuality. Indeed, I have never ceased to be astonished by the extent to which Communists are indifferent to awkward facts."

Perhaps the best-known modern work that serves to counteract the mentality of bureaucratism is "SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL" by Ernest Schumacher (which illustrates how large organisations are often self-defeating unless there is a national or global necessity for solving the requisite aims on a large scale).

Literary works that illustrate the nature of bureaucratism include:-"LITTLE DORRIT" by Charles Dickens - of which the slogan could be that "No-one is to blame", because the impersonal legalistic system of the Court of Chancery (an instance of a fully-alienated bureaucracy) is self-perpetuating.

"THE CASTLE" and "THE TRIAL" by Franz Kafka also illustrate well these aspects and how the apparent absence of any person who has instigated anything takes on sinister proportions.