Bureaucracy, the state, and disenchantment

In Intro to Libertarianism on April 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

The Enlightenment brought rationalism to government. Where, once, nobility asserted the existence of a Romantic ‘Divine right to rule’, the emerging bureaucracy of the state touted efficiency as the raison d’être for the state. Today, we’ll take a little side-trip to explore the effect this has had on our social interactions and on our relationship with the bureaucratic state.

In 1954, Abraham Mazlow published his book, ‘Motivation and Personality’. The book was Mazlow’s full presentation of his hierarchy of needs theory.


Mazlow's "Hierarchy of Needs"

In his theory, often represented as a layered pyramid, Mazlow asserted that a person had an escalating hierarchy of needs. Each need on a lower tier needed fulfillment before the person could move upward to a higher need. The culmination of this fulfillment of needs was the person’s arrival at self-actualization; a realization of the person’s full (and desired) potential.

Mazlow expressed self-actualization as, “What a man can be, he must be.” A self-actualized person embraces reality and facts, they are spontaneous, focus on problems beyond their own, and can accept their full human nature and all of the shortfalls of human nature. A person so equipped will become imbued with a desire to become more and more of what that person is and to become everything they are capable of becoming.

As any organization strives for greater efficiency, the organization becomes more bureaucratic. In a bureaucracy, individual judgment and the authority of the supervisor is replaced by “the book”: the manual of company policies, rules, and standards.

In a bureaucracy, a person’s individual traits are irrelevant. Of paramount importance to the bureaucracy, is the person’s ability to follow the instructions of “the book” unwaveringly. The individual no longer participates as an individual within a bureaucracy. He simply becomes part of a machine calibrated to the bureaucracy’s standards.

A major area of concern to an efficient bureaucracy is the management of labor cost. Karl Marx saw this bureaucratic goal as problematic.

To control labor costs, the bureaucracy must tightly control worker behaviorand reduce their skill levels to the barest minimum needed to complete the tasks they are assigned. The result is a continual struggle between the


wage-payer and the employee, who now sees his worker role reduced to providing the least possible amount of work for the highest possible pay. The mark of the craftsman becomes lost, as the worker is only responsible for the portion of the project to which he is assigned.

At the same time as Marx’s postulations, came the sociological observations of Max Weber.

Weber observed: as the bureaucracy’s control of the worker/citizen increased, the worker/citizen began to explore for loopholes to the bureaucracy’s regulation. This had a spiraling effect.

The bureaucracy fought to close whatever loopholes existed to enforce compliance with the controls originally set up by the bureaucracy…or the emergence of the famous red tape.



According to Weber, the ongoing struggle between the bureaucracy to enforce its control and the worker/citizen response to seek loopholes to those growing controls ultimately results in a de facto imprisonment of the worker/citizen. Or, as it is often observed by those living under totalitarian regimes, “That which is not prohibited, becomes compulsory.”

The result thereof, said Weber, was an emerging disenchantment with life. The worker/citizen toils solely for his or her paycheck and struggles to buy things which will make him or her happy.

Think of how many times we hear the expressed desire to close some loophole. We are told we need to close tax loopholes to enforce compliance with the tax code and we need to close “gun show loopholes” to enforce compliance with gun control laws. Stop light and speed cameras close loopholes created by the fact that it is impractical to place a police officer at every intersection or along every open stretch of highway. There are immigration loopholes that allow undocumented immigrants into the country and there are exit loopholes that permit US citizens to obtain medications in Canada.

So many loopholes! All begging for the state to close them. Expediency rules over principle. The ends become the means and the means become the ends.

According to Weber, people begin to engage in situational morality, and disenchantment with life rules. Disenchantment breeds cynicism and people sense that striving for self-actualization is futile. They become spiritual orphans, seeking their spiritual home in sports teams, unions, clubs, entertainments, and substance abuse.

It becomes permissible to exploit an honest mistake by a gasoline retailer who inadvertently sets his pump price to 39-cents, instead of $3.90. Now corralled by speed cameras and red light cameras, motorists “make up for lost time” by speeding between locations where the cameras exist and ignoring traffic control devices that are not camera enforced.

The end result will be that the bureaucratic state will move toward strict regulation of the evasive behaviors and the downward spiral and loss of individual freedom will accelerate. The overall process will inhibit our ability to move upward through Mazlow’s hierarchy and we will find ourselves growing ever increasingly disenchanted with life.

Author Brian Fogarty expressed that we will (we have?), as disenchanted individuals, exchange lives that were once “nasty, brutish, and short” for lives that are increasingly “vacuous, impersonal, and cheap”.

And therein, is the true cost of the bureaucracy we call ‘the state’.

[As the state bureaucracy struggles to fill every loophole, it creates a growing number of often incomprehensible laws. Libertarian journalist John Stossel recently aired “Illegal Everything” to illustrate how innocent Americans end up losing their homes, their pets, and their livelihoods, when they run afoul of the growing myriad of endless American laws. Click here to watch.]



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