Democracy and Bureaucrary are Incompatible

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DEMOCRACY AND BUREAUCRARY ARE INCOMPATIBLE, DISCUSS USING ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLES. The relationship between democracy and bureaucracy has generated much debate amongst scholars. Democracy is defined as a political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials and the social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among political contenders for political office. Abraham Lincoln as cited in Haralambos and Holborn (1995) defines democracy as the government of the people by the people and for the people. Bureaucracy is defined by Schaefer (2003) as a component of formal organisation in which rules and hierarchal ranking are used to achieve efficiency.

The focus of this discussion is to reflect to a greater extent the incompatibility that exist between democracy and bureaucracy Democracy emanated from western countries as a movement that clamoured for equality, freedom of speech and expression. It came into being mainly after Second World War where many peoples’ rights were stripped off. Democracy came to restore individual dignity and popular participation. Decision making under the banner of democracy would mean that all involved parties should have informed consent on issues that directly affected them. Bureaucracy is a brain child of Weber who asserts that it’s an organised way of running an organisation. An organisation contains structures which should be followed in their order of importance. This means that, in decision making, relevant authorities should make decisions and in the event that they feel incapacitated to do that, they approach a higher office. There is chain of command and top down approach in communication which represents a hierarchy of authority.

Haralambos and Holborn(1995), People in this hierarchy are paid and are full time officials who form a chain of command. A bureaucracy is concerned with business of administration with controlling, managing and coordinating a complex series of tasks. Bureaucracy represents oligarchy, rationality and separation of ownership from control. Democracy and bureaucracy coexist in society but their compatibility is questionable, they seem to be two conflicting views which exist in one society.

The conflict perspective theorists are of the view that bureaucracy and democracy are much incompatible. Bureaucracy is inevitably a representative of the interest of the minority which is a direct opposition of democracy, which focus on majority rule and freedom of all. Bureaucracy state apparatus can be viewed as a specific creation of capitalist society with the roles of manipulating and turning the majority into proletariats. Lenin, as cited by Haralambos and Holborn (1995), clearly puts that western parliaments where “mere talking shops” while the real work of government was conducted behind closed doors by the state governing bureaucracy therefore the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another and hence cannot operate hand in glove with democracy. Hopes for truly democratic organisations in a communist society can be dismissed as mere illusions. According to Robert Michels 1876-1936 as cited in Haralambos and Holborn(1995), in his study of European socialist parties and trade unions, the organisations which had the aim to overthrow the capitalist state and create a socialist society based on democratic principles was not the resemblance of what actual happened. It was a mere duplication of the capitalist bureaucracy which is not very compatible with democracy. As supported by Jonson (1989) socialist states like the former Soviet Union, the state power was used to maintain wealth, power of government and military leaders at the expense of the wishes of the people, there was basic conflict between government and the people thereby compromising on democracy.

Just like in the authoritarian capitalists government the state supports the interests of capitalists irregardless of having formal positions in government, all this suppress the will of the people. Therefore, bureaucracy is not compatible with democracy in such governments where the wishes of the people do not take paramount importance. It can be argued that organisation or bureaucracy is death knell of democracy and hence not compatible. Moreso, direct participation by large number of people in the running of an organisation is in practice impossible. Apart from the practical difficulties of assembling thousands of people, direct involvement in decision making will be more cumbersome and time consuming that nothing will get done. Since direct democracy is impractical, it can only be replaced by a form of some representative system, whereby delegates represent the mass and carry out its will. Hurd et al (1991) laments that these political elected leaders want to amass wealth at the expense of the people, just because of their positions.

Leaders at the highest authority of the bureaucracy can appoint other leaders on basis of ethnic background, nepotism and favour hence the wishes of the people wont be respected because the leaders would be representing their own selfish needs. As a result, bureaucracy can not be compatible with democracy if the wishes of the majority are ignored. The only thing they will do is to come back with feedback and alerting the mass on their course of action in the future. For example the president went to represent Zimbabwe to the UN summit recently and told the Zimbabwe’s story without prior consultation with the people because of the hindrance caused by bureaucracy. The effective operation of the organisation requires a specialised division of labour that necessitates control and coordination from the top. The result is rigorously defined and hierarchical bureaucracy.

Haralambos and Holborn (1995), postulate that the organisation grows and administrative duties proliferate that it is no longer possible to take them at a glance. They become increasingly incomprehensible to those without special knowledge and training. Faced with this complexity, members of trade unions and political parties leave matters to their political leaders. Decisions are taken by the executive committees within the bureaucracy rather than by assemblies of the rank and the file. Thus, the very organisation which was created to represent its members, end up by largely excluding them from participation and decision making. Organisations therefore inevitably produce oligarchy which rule by a small group or elite, popularly known as the iron law of oligarchy. To sum up on oligarchy, Michels postulates that the oligarchic structure of the building suffocates basic democratic principle.

Hence democracy and bureaucracy is not compatible because of these misgivings between the two. Communication in bureaucracy is basically top down commanding orders and giving institutions to employees or people without prior consultation.

There is over dependence on the orders and direction for superiors while crushing the initiative of the subordinates. Macionis (1995) argues that individuality is suppressed as bureaucratic slavishly follow official procedures and regulations with advancement dependent on the judgement of higher authority. Subordinates bore and scrap to their superiors while adopting an arrogance stance to those beneath them in the hierarchy. Bureaucracy therefore, is sworn enemy of individual liberty and all bold initiative in matter of internal policy. It is petty, narrow, rigid and illiberal hence reflects the direct opposite of democracy and thereby it’s not compatible. There is a tendency to displace organisational goals by the leadership in bureaucracy. The leadership is established at the top of the bureaucratic pyramid and its primary concern is the maintenance of its own power.

Leaders wish to retain the privilege and status which their positions bring, a concern which take priority over the started goals of the organisations. Schaefer (1995) adds that the organisation will become increasingly conservative as leaders refrain from taking any action that might endanger their position thereby compromising democracy in the process. Leaders learn skills like the art of controlling meetings, of applying and interpreting rules, of proposing motions at opportune moments, their control over the publications of the party for instance enables them to put across their own view point. Moreso in bureaucracy, leaders have considerable say in the appointment of officials in the organisation and can therefore select those who support their policies thus leaders see their own interests and the maintenance of the organisation as indistinguishable. Organisation was essential to democracy, however as a matter of technical and practical necessity organisations adopt a bureaucratic structure and it produced oligarchy control which brings to an end or death of democracy. However to a very lesser extent compatibility between democracy and bureaucracy do exist. Haralambos and Holborn (1993) assert that democracy is inconceivable without organisations. In a modern complex society the only way individuals can effectively communicate their wishes and press their nterests is by joining together and forming an organisation.

This is particularly true of the relatively powerless working class masses for whom combination and cooperation is necessary and in Zimbabwe we have the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which is rooted on democratic foundations is now a full blown democratic bureaucratic political party. The inevitability on the compatibility of democracy and bureaucracy can be explained on psychological perspective on the natural need of the masses to be led. Macionis (1989) argues that democracy is a system in which power is exercised by the people as whole, of which it does not mean that every member of society participates directly in decisions that directly affect them. This would only be possible in a very small political entity, hence representative democratic systems places governance in the hands of elected leaders. This is accompanying of veneration of activities where the masses clamoured to have a leader. In the light of democracy this will be viewed as the wish of the majority to be lead and hence can be respected. At the end of the day the leader will put in place a structure that resembles bureaucracy but all is done in the name of democracy.

Therefore it can be argued that there is no bureaucracy without democracy and no democracy and bureaucracy without democracy. In other instances like in modern democracies people show their wishes through casting their vote in a free and fair electoral environment and if everyone including the observers view it as free and fair it becomes democratic because the wishes of the people will have been respected. The people would have given legal authority to the person and the voted government to rule over them hence it will be democratic, in this case democracy and burecracy becomes very compatible. Conclusively democracy and bureaucracy seem to be enemies which coexist in one society or in one organisation. In most case the two different aspects are not compatible as discussed but in other instances their coexistence is accepted as democratic and the only way forward in modern governments which involve managing larger populations which cannot be brought together at once and who have very diverse social economic views. If the majority agree then it’s viewed as democracy. The various interpretations of democracy lead to this debate on this compatibility. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Haralambos, M and Holborn, M (1995), Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. 4th edition. Harper Collins Publishers. London. 2. Hurd g et al (1991) Human Societies. An introduction to Sociology, Routledge and Kegan Paul . New York. 3. Jonson A, G (1981) Human Arrangements. An introduction to Sociology, Harcourt Braces Jovanovich.

New York. 4. Macionis, J. J (1989) Sociology, Prentice Hall, New Jersey. 5. Schaefer, R. T (2003) Sociology, McGraw Hill, New York.

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Democracy and Bureaucrary Are Incompatible. (2017, Sep 19). Retrieved July 21, 2024 , from

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