Why is Bureaucracy’s Relationship to Democracy so Conflicted?

One of the managerial issues that have caught scholar’s attention is the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy. Although both of these fields are independent, there is still a close and unique relationship among these two. As independent fields, the two move in different ways, since they keep a distance from each other. The concern of their conflicting nature comes as a result of a major concern in the field of public administration, which is experiencing major shifts in its models. In order to understand this tension, it is necessary to explore the tensions between democracy and bureaucracy in order to determine the source of the conflicts. Accomplishing this will eventually help in determining the best way to reconcile the two paradigms so as to create an ideal public administration setting.

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To start with, democracy can be defined as a system that allows freeness and fairness in an equal manner. According to Weber, democracy is a form of government that allows citizens to choose or elect a leader whom they fully trust. Weber continues to define democracy by stating that democracy is a situation whereby citizens and leaders can reason together in case of any mistakes (Ritzer, 2000).

On the other hand, bureaucracy is defined as a system whereby organization is dominated by hierarchy form of administration. In every level of hierarchy, people have specific responsibilities, rules and regulations, which they must follow and are subject to those in the higher ladder. This is opposed to self governance, whereby people are their own bosses and act in their own will (Ritzer, 2000).

A look at the definitions of the two terms shows that conflicts start right from their definition. While democracy works to promote equity, inclusiveness, dignity and accountability, bureaucracy stresses on the need of hierarchical order to maintain efficiency. This means that bureaucracy may become dysfunctional and that democracy may turn out to provide alternatives when bureaucracy fails.

As seen from their definitions, one of the reasons why the two are conflicting is because of their different roles. Bureaucracy has the major role of implementing policies and enforcing the rule of law among other roles. This means that bureaucracy exercises some interest and power, which may or may not affect the public in a direct manner.

Because of its relationship with democracy and the public, those that use bureaucracy has to take greater interests in the way this system delivers its services and how it is connected to the general public, since it directly affects the image of the bureaucrats among the society. For example, a bureaucratic individual’s image can be approved by the public or can be declined based on the person’s ratings. This explains why bureaucrats’ affairs are always being criticized by the public.

Apart from this, the conflict between democracy and bureaucracy can be explained by the nature of the two. Larry (1999) explains that bureaucracy is based on individualism. When explained in economic terms, bureaucracy supports inequality through individualism, since inequality maintains social order. However, democracy is against bureaucracy or social order, since it tends to reduce everyone at the same level. This means that the two are conflicting, since bureaucracy strives to maintain a social order while democracy destroys this order by reducing everyone at the same level through equality (Larry, 1999).

The other reason why the relationship between the two is conflicted is because of the extent of powers of the two. For example, democracy is powerful and its decision’s can impact bureaucracy in one way or another. On the other hand, bureaucracy has the ability of manipulating democracy for its own gains. This means that the ideological contradictions and the interplay of powers among the two may trigger tensions. A good illustration is when citizens have the ability of impacting bureaucrats because of their ability to vote. On the other hand, bureaucrats understand this power and may try to please democratic citizens for their own gains. While this may look exciting at the moment, it may prove problematic later because of various constraining factors like lack of resources. Eventually, the two are forced to enter into a conflicting relationship because of dissimilar interests, interplay of power and ideological contradictions.

In addition, the role of bureaucrats is to formulate policies, laws and approve other important items like budget. This means that bureaucratic power can be used to shape institutional and human relationship in any organization through bureaucratic power of regulation. For example, in a bureaucratic organization, a top manager has the power of hiring and firing, while using the established organizational legal systems.

In most cases, the interests of bureaucrats is to continuously gain trust from their subordinates through various improvements in various areas like the quality of life and improvements in the rights and freedoms of their subordinates. This is also done by reshaping the environment into a more conducive and healthy one through transformations and reformations. However, when this is negatively interpreted by the subordinates or those in the lower hierarchical levels, a conflict occurs between bureaucracy and democracy because of different ideologies.

While explaining this point in political setting, Weber as cited in DuGay (2000) recognizes this relationship by arguing that the only way that political demands in a democratic society can be met is through bureaucracy administration. However, Weber warns that if this form of administration is not controlled, it can end up taking over a political leadership (DuGay, 2000).

Another conflict between the two can be explained using the words of Weber, as cited in Gerth & Mills (1948). Weber argues that one characteristic of bureaucracy is its constant hunting for superiority, whereby the professionally informed are always trying to keep their intentions and knowledge in secret. Weber continues to explain that bureaucratic administration is often an administration of secret, since it tries to hide its actions and intentions from criticism. Its intentions are only made public in order to avoid any harm that can befall on the power wielding democracy. The nature of secrecy in bureaucracy, according to Weber, is evident in almost all sectors whether economic, religious, private and foreign sectors (Gerth & Mills, 1948).

On the other hand, some of the democracy characteristics are openness and transparency. As seen earlier, democracy is built on trust, which requires openness in order to thrive (Ray, 1999). This means that the secret nature of bureaucracy that stems from selfishness may not be well received in a democratic setting. Instead, a conflict arises when a bureaucratic secret is no longer a secret in the face of democracy.

Although democracy and bureaucracy are in a conflicting relationship, it is worthy to understand that both share the role of serving the majority within and outside of the organizational setting. This means that the tensions between the two cannot be tolerated to the fullest and that a co-existence of the tensions has to be sought. It is also worthy to understand that democracy and bureaucracy are key state’s or organizational organs. Thus, efforts are needed in order to bring the conflicting relationship into a mutual relationship that will benefit all people.

This can be achieved if democracy learns from bureaucracy and vice versa in order to improve this relationship. When this is achieved, loyalty and accountability can be used to maintain the relationship in the two paradigms. The coexistence of both paradigms also develops a check and balances system whereby bureaucrats work to upgrade democracy in a rational manner.

In conclusion, the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy has been strained relationship and is still strained to this day.

Because of this, the attention of sociologists has shifted towards this relationship in order to determine the causes and areas of this tension. In their focus, sociologists have found reason for this conflicted relationship with issues like extent of powers and the natures of the two relationships arising from this study. Because of the role of these two systems among the public and in organizations, sociologists have also concentrated on ways of healing this conflicted relationship. For example, the two systems are seen as having the need to learn from each other and the need to mend this relationship for the sake of the majority.

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