Weber, Max: On Bureaucracy (Iron Cage)

It is easy to see the despair of this man sitting in his iron cage. For some reason he’s stuck there and probably will be for quite some time. This despair is part of what Max Weber wishes to illustrate with his description of bureaucracy’s iron cage.

Rules are good. They are part of what makes it possible to have a functioning society. But sometimes (or maybe all the time) power ends up with the few (like Hitler’s Germany). Having just read “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” I was reminded of Weber’s work. Along with Ervin Staub I think Weber manages to prompt insight into our own and society’s darker potential. Wikipedia manages to give an easily understood description of Weber’s thoughts on bureaucracy and rationalization.

Through rationalisation and dehumanization through strange bureaucratic rules, a group of people like the Jews experienced the Holocaust. While the Jews were dehumanized, it was also easier for those who sat behind their desks following whatever regulations were sent their way to rationalise away that humanity.

Adolph Eichmann is a classic in that regard. He could/would not see that he had done anything wrong for he had only “followed directives”. In fact his only regret was that they had not done a good enough job. But Eichmann wasn’t anything unusual when you look at the role beureaucracy has had in making lives more difficult or even horrible for others. Sometimes one might even wonder if along the way some bureaucrats lost their own humanity and as such became slaves of a system that they depended upon to give them their wages.

The Boys” by Martin Gilbert is another book that illustrates the effects of such a dehumanization of people. It seems to me that we need to be aware of our darker sides. Only through acknowledging them will we be able to make conscious choices (for good or bad).

In my opinion all of these authors ought to be on everyone’s must-read list.

Norwegian article that illustrates Weber’s theory in practice

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