Everywhere we look, bureaucracies are taking over, but no more so than in the federal government. Today its rolls number in the millions, with little hope in sight of bringing them under control — never mind reducing them.
Amazingly, bureaucracy of the sort we know is a relatively recent invention. The Roman Empire possessed a small slave bureaucracy, while the Roman Catholic Church maintained a loose knit one. It wasn’t until modern armies began to grow that this mode of organization took off.
But what really made bureaucracy commonplace was the advent of big business. With the rise of industrial conglomerates, it became impossible for owner-mangers to control these entities on their own. They required something more predictable, and more reliable, than their personal efforts.
As Max Weber tells us, this is the forte of bureaucracy. It permits a few people at the top to control a great many at the bottom by creating a defined hierarchy of authority that oversees the implementation of numerous rules and procedures. It also utilizes a myriad of files and records to impose its will.
Weber believed that bureaucracy was the only practical way to bring rationality to bear on large organizations, but he also feared that it locked those at their base in an “iron cage.” So effective was it in controlling their behavior that they lost much of their freedom.
Many people, especially liberals, agree that larger and larger bureaucracies are the wave of the future. So efficient do they consider these, that they wish to concentrate more and more power in the hands of fewer and fewer “experts.” Confident that they are the “best and the brightest,” they aim to grow the federal bureaucracy so large that it can impose their vision of justice on everyone.
I propose, therefore, that the Democratic Party be relabeled the Bureaucratic Party. It has already been accused of being the party of “big government,” but this is too clunky a designation. So-called “low information” voters, in particular, require an evocative term to drive home the essence of liberalism and progressivism.
One of Parkinson’s Laws informs us that bureaucracies have a tendency to grow. However big they are, those who control them wish to see them get larger. This is because the people who run bureaucracies love power. They are empire builders who perceive their success as lying in the management of more and more people.
Liberals are fond of portraying businesspersons as power hungry and therefore dangerous, but they ought look in the mirror if they wish to view genuinely ravenous wolves. These bureaucracy-lovers have never met a government program they did not like or a government regulation they did not believe necessary to solve problems of their own invention.
Hence it is by these means that the Bureaucratic Party keeps encroaching on the freedoms of Americans. Small business owners have known this for a long time. Ordinary citizens are learning it via Obamacare. As newly federalized health bureaucracies continue to impose rules on them, they are beginning to feel the pain.
As usual, adherents of the Bureaucratic Party tell us this is for our own good. They assure us they must protect us from our personal limitations. Nevertheless, the real reason they keep piling rules and procedures on rules and procedures is because they want to be in charge of everything.
Almost no one — except those who run them — likes bureaucracies. It is time for those who value their freedom to take advantage of this antipathy. Call the Democrats what they are, namely bureaucracy-lovers. Paint them in the colors (e.g., red tape) they have so richly earned, and they may be less attractive to potential voters.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.