Odd Citizen

Odd Citizen
An Odd Citizen’s Search For Vanishing Freedoms

Bureaucracy: The Most Dangerous Invention

October 8th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write an article about what I consider to be the most dangerous invention of civilization — bureaucracy. Without bureaucracy the inquisition would have been impossible, Hitler could not have murdered millions, Lenin would have been a helpless, frustrated old revolutionary blowhard, and Stalin would have been a bitter clerk. It takes a bureaucracy to implement crimes of this huge magnitude.

Bureaucracy is the mechanism by which major organizational tasks can be accomplished without anyone involved taking any responsibility for the result, whether good or evil. When a large number of people are needed to accomplish an enterprise the bureaucratic organizational style ensures minimum friction. No bureaucrat need criticize the purpose or methods of the enterprise — he must only do his little part of the job.

Isn’t it amazing how a small number of determined people can walk into the office of the president of a country, shoot him between the eyes, then call a press conference to announce that they are now in power? And the bureaucracy continues to hum along as if nothing at all unusual had happened?

The bureaucracy is dangerous precisely because, once organized and functioning smoothly, it will continue to function for good or evil as long as its workers are paid and instructions are issued. Bureaucracies can be used to build bridges, issue welfare checks and fight wars, or to oppress, murder and incinerate millions of people. To the bureaucracy the task is immaterial and interchangeable. Nobody is responsible.

The interchangeability of bureaucratic tasks was highlighted recently in a review of writer Herta Muller’s work. From Times Online Profile: Herta Müller, scourge of Ceausescu – and his heirs

She turns it into an indictment not only of Ceausescu but of the 20 years that came afterwards, the survival of corrupt networks of power.

“Ceausescu’s secret police, the Securitate, has not disbanded, it was just given another name, the Romanian Information Service,” she writes. “According to their own figures, 40 per cent of the staff was taken on from the Securitate and the remaining 60 per cent are retired and living on pensions that are three times higher than those of everybody elese, or they are the new architects of the market economy.”

We Americans are now in a stage of history where our bureaucracies are growing at an alarming rate, intruding into every aspect of our lives. We tend to view these bureaucracies as sometimes annoying (DMV) but otherwise benign organizations staffed largely by well meaning if dull witted and unmotivated people. But let the head of the bureaucracy be lopped off and replaced by an evil-minded lunatic and the dull bureaucracy will continue to function as before — doing now whatever evil job it is given.

Do not for a moment believe that it can’t happen here.

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