November 03, 2013

Bureaucracy - The rule by Nobody

Steve Hilton, former director of strategy for David Cameron, left Downing Street in 2012 exasperated at the schlerosis, rolling tedium and near-impossibleness of getting anything done under the Niagra of Whitehall bureaucracy. As he said, "the bureaucracy masters the politicians."

An American friend recently recounted his experience of trying to negotiate an Irish passport out of the joint Irish-American bureaucracy. By his testimony, the process was a vapid and satanic mill of tunnels, u-turns, closed doors and no-men. It overthrows the senses and almost breaks the person. Hannah Arendt wrote fluently on the blunt awfulness of bureaucracy in her book On Violence. She also explained the bureaucracy's inherent leaning towards fostering unrest. She said:
"In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant."
She continued: "Bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest."

Hannah Arendt comes via Maria Popova here.

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