The Ruling Servants, by E. Strauss:
Allen and Unwin. 30s.
mr. strauss’ latest book is both curious and interesting: interesting because his interpretation of the history of bureaucracy in France, Russia and Britain is perceptive and illuminating; curious, because his section on theory is nowhere near as good.
If bureaucracy is inevitable, socialism is nonsense: there can be no two ways about it. The debate between Right and Left is then merely a controversy about relative rates of growth, direction of change, about whether to double living standards in twenty-five or ten years etc. The traditional “ethical” ends are merely so much icing on the general economic cake. Amongst socialists themselves the debate goes on—both sides utilise the same terminology, but one assumes bureaucracy is inevitable in any large-scale organisation and poses the problem as being one of controlling that bureaucracy, the other assumes that the “inevitability of bureaucracy” is yet another elaborate rationale of the necessity of the status quo and ought to be rejected out of hand. The debate proliferates over a very wide area, involves an analysis of Russia (is Russia anything to do with socialism at all?), public ownership (is this a socialist issue per se?) and the welfare state (ditto). Bureaucracy itself to the second point of view is only justified as a short-term measure to alleviate the hardships produced in an unequal society: the ultimate aim is to create a society where such hardship just does not occur. Social inequality thus justifies bureaucracy in the short-term until there is equality—but the acceptance of bureaucracy for all times is the acceptance of inequality as permanent, and betrays a fundamental disbelief in people’s ability to run their own lives without interference, the assumption that was a foundation stone for early socialism.
Mr. Strauss adopts the first position in this controversy, posing his attitude clearly in: “Modern man must live with Leviathan, and the question is not how to kill it but how to tame it”. He assumes that the arguments against bureaucracy are all from the Right, but this is not in fact the case. The argument against an indefinite increase in bureaucracy is not just a case against the forces of progress from “the business classes”, interested in defending their right to exploit all equally. On the contrary, the case for bureaucracy is, to an increasing extent, being taken up by just those “classes”. Weber’s hymn to the Prussian Civil Service on the face of it is based on purely technical considerations—“precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal losses”—but in fact, the case as develope involves similar praise for what bureaucracy seeks to achieve, and the people it seeks to achieve it for. Built into the whole scheme is implicit approval for an approach that is based on the manipulation of people, their coercion towards ends considered desirable by the bureaucracy. Changing the master of the bureaucracy does not change the crucial assumption—still people must be made to do things “for their own good” by the machinery.