| THE BUREAUCRATIZATION OF SOCIETY
By: Jerry S. Maneker
“Giving thanks unto the Father…Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the
kingdom of his dear Son….” (Colossians 1:12-13)
The above verse of Scripture shows the spiritual translation of the child of God who recognizes that he or she lives not
in “time” but lives in “eternity.” The power of darkness holds us in bondage to the elements of this world that seek self-
gratification regardless of the cost to others; the kingdom of Jesus brings forth compassion and mercy, seeking the well-
being of others even at the expense of oneself.
Unfortunately, compassion and mercy are not stellar features of our society; that condition can largely be traced to its
increasing bureaucratization. The writer, William S. Burroughs, wrote, “The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are
rulers by accident. Inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to
tell them which buttons to push.”
The sociologist, Max Weber, wrote the definitive work on bureaucracy! He said that it was the most rational and efficient
way of coordinating complex tasks and had certain characteristics such as a hierarchy, division of labor, written-down
rules, and a discharge of functions “without regard for persons.” Because bureaucracy was so functional and
necessary, it was virtually impossible to demolish.
The sociologist, Robert Merton, in his article, “Bureaucratic Structure and Personality,” pointed out the down-side of
bureaucracy. He showed bureaucracy requiring “methodical, prudent, disciplined” people, who have a “trained
incapacity,” that makes them virtually unadaptable to change. Moreover, he persuasively argued, as did Weber, that
bureaucracy was entrenched in society and became entrenched due to “goal displacement.”
Goal displacement has two meanings. First of all, when a bureaucracy achieves its goal (and it rarely, if ever, does) it
will seek other goals to pursue in order to keep the bureaucracy intact. For example, the March of Dimes was
inaugurated in order to combat polio. Once the polio vaccine was disseminated, and polio was no longer a problem, the
March of Dimes chose as its goal the dealing with birth defects. This goal displacement doesn’t imply any sinister
motives, as the prevention of birth defects is certainly a laudable goal; it merely represents the need to keep the
The second meaning of goal displacement is when the rules become ends in themselves. The rules are written down as
means to the end of serving people and meeting the organization’s goals. However, what frequently happens is that
over time adherence to the rules surpasses the serving of people and meeting the stated goals of the organization.
Therefore, bureaucrats become “bureaucratic virtuosos” who know all about the “rules” but frequently come to care little
for the ultimate purpose of those rules: caring for people and their needs.
Over the past few decades we have seen enormous bureaucratization of our society. For example, corporate mergers
affect the news media. When I was younger, each city had about three or more daily newspapers, each usually giving
different points of view on what was considered to be the “news.” Now, even in cities, it is not at all uncommon for there
to be only one daily newspaper which is beholden to its corporate sponsors; therefore, what “news” it prints is geared to
the interests of those sponsors.
Many readers don’t truly realize the value of the Sacramento Valley Mirror! Although it has advertisers, they don’t
determine what is reported as news; they don’t affect its editorial policy. This newspaper is well within the tradition of I.F.
Stone and The Petal Paper, an independent newspaper which in the 1950’s was published in Mississippi and which
vociferously spoke out against segregation. Like the Valley Mirror, they had guts! Such newspapers are very rare!
Bureaucratization has not only affected the news media, which defines what news we see and what we don’t get to see
given their corporate allegiances, but affects every other institution in our society as well. It has affected medicine,
education, and even the family.
To show one example of how corporate interests affect the news and our perceptions of reality, we are told that we have
a good economy. How can we be said to have a good economy when it frequently now takes two people to keep a
family economically solvent, when about twenty-five years ago it took only one income to support a family? Moreover,
jobs and careers are more insecure, and we have a significant part of our population who are among the working poor.
Bureaucracies, including education, which serve at the behest of corporate interests, tell us what to think, what is
important, and they have a vested interested in keeping us ignorant of the political and economic realities that shape
our world and our very lives.
God has translated His children from the power of darkness in to His eternal kingdom. It is up to us to educate
ourselves as to how we can make God’s transition of us in the spiritual realm of our lives manifest in our intellectual and
emotional lives as well; showing forth the mercy and compassion that Jesus demands of each and every one of His
“Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.” (Lamentations 3:48)
Our society has over the past decade exponentially skidded toward bureaucratization to the degree that very few social
scientists predicted. The Sociologist Max Weber said that bureaucracy was rational and efficient precisely because it
had no regard for persons. In his book, The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills railed against the small-minded
bureaucrats who were threatening two of our most cherished values: reason and freedom, and who occupied virtually
every corporation, including that of education.
I have previously written in this column about the deterioration of higher education in this country! That deterioration
has been brought about by many complex factors, the most dominant of which is its bureaucratization!
Many years ago I was lamenting the devolution and bureaucratization of higher education with a good friend of mine who
was also a professor. He said something to me that still rings in my ears: “Jerry, you are worshipping a false god!”
He was right! I assumed higher education would be populated with intellectuals who had transcended the tendency
toward society’s bureaucratization. I never could have imagined how much and how fast higher education would
devolve, and how increasingly bureaucratic it would become.
Indeed, I could never have predicted the degree to which many “professors” would be mere bureaucrats themselves
who are frequently rewarded for their obsequiousness. Indeed, some in academia are rewarded for being ravenous
wolves and/or sycophants, who would spray paint the Sistine Chapel if ordered to do so or if they thought it could
enhance their paltry careers. And then there are the meaningless meetings and the writing of endless memos so as to
justify even more administrative positions and education’s increasing bureaucratization.
This bureaucratization even insinuates itself into the ideas, articles, and books to which we are exposed. The books that
are in print are not necessarily representative of the best ideas that have been propounded. Books in print are those
that publishers feel will enhance their corporate profits! Also, ideas that question the dominant paradigms (ways of
seeing) in a given academic discipline, or that are not “politically correct,” are not likely to see the light of day in books
or academic journals. I once had a paper rejected by a journal, and the reviewer wrote, “If this author expects to publish
in a Marxist journal, he won’t cite the works of Carl Jung.” I was shocked at the time! I’m not shocked now!
If the bureaucratization of society is seen in the “ivory tower,” one can only imagine how bureaucracy has infiltrated
virtually every aspect of our lives. Like all corporations, higher education has become a business, and a lucrative
business for some at that. In an excellent article detailing how the California State University system is run like a
business, Tim Bosquet, in his article entitled, “Like A Business” wrote the following, “You set up a system in which
instructors and deans are judged on their ability to pursue corporate grants rather than their contribution to healthy
academic programs. You manipulate and anger your most important asset, your faculty, and play them off one
another. You sell the university name itself. Properly supporting the education of students, you see, is contrary to the
administrative ethic of running the university ‘like a business’.” (Chico News and Review, November 14, 1996)
What has helped fuel the bureaucratization of our society is our burgeoning technology that is increasingly making
workers obsolete, and that is likely to result in a disproportionate rise in the number of administrators. In the field of
education, with video streaming and computer technology, teaching at all levels is likely to become more of a hobby than
a profession; it has historically been shown that even when there is a decline in student enrollment, teachers decrease
and administrators increase.
Moreover, in our economy, where it frequently takes two incomes to support a household that only required one income
about twenty-five years ago, increasing numbers of people are competing for fewer jobs than are available. That
competition makes it possible for employers to not only keep wages down, but get away with having harsher working
conditions, such as cutting back on hours of work, or employing people for hours insufficient to collect medical and other
insurance benefits. In our society, Social Darwinism, comprising competition, survival of the fittest, and the struggle for
existence, has been honed to a fine art.
Therefore, as did Jeremiah in the Scripture verse that preceded this article, many are driven to weep for their own plight
and for their own society. This weeping, which is frequently mixed with anger (as was seen in Seattle by workers
enraged by the World Trade Organization meetings), may hopefully spur increasing numbers of people to heed the
words of George Washington Carver, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the strong. Because
someday you will have been all of these.”