Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: Bureaucratism and Totalitarianism - Bureaucracy
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4.: Bureaucratism and Totalitarianism - Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy 
Bureaucracy, edited and with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
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Bureaucratism and Totalitarianism
It will be shown in this book that bureaucracy and bureaucratic methods are very old and that they must be present in the administrative apparatus of every government the sovereignty of which stretches over a large area. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt and the emperors of China built a huge bureaucratic machine and so did all the other rulers. Medieval feudalism was an attempt to organize the government of large territories without bureaucrats and bureaucratic methods. It failed utterly in these endeavors. It resulted in a complete disintegration of political unity and in anarchy. The feudal lords, originally officeholders only and as such subject to the authority of the central government, became virtually independent princes, fighting one another almost continually and defying the king, the courts, and the laws. From the fifteenth century on curbing the arrogance of the vassals was the main task of the various European kings. The modern state is built upon the ruins of feudalism. It substituted bureaucratic management of public affairs for the supremacy of a multitude of petty princes and counts.
Far ahead in this evolution were the kings of France. Alexis de Tocqueville has shown how the Bourbon kings unswervingly aimed at the abolition of the autonomy of powerful vassals and of oligarchic groups of aristocrats.* In this regard the French Revolution only achieved what the absolute kings themselves had begun. It eliminated the arbitrariness of the kings, it made the law supreme in the field of administration and restricted the scope of affairs subject to the discretionary judgment of the officeholders. It did not brush away bureaucratic management; it only put it on a legal and constitutional basis. France’s nineteenth-century administrative system was an attempt to tame the arbitrariness of the bureaucrats as much as possible by law. It served as a model for all other liberal nations which—outside of the realm of Anglo-Saxon Common Law—were anxious to make law and legality paramount in the conduct of civil administration.
It is not sufficiently known that the Prussian administrative system, so much admired by all advocates of government omnipotence, in its early beginnings was but an imitation of French institutions. Frederick II, the “Great” King, imported from royal France not only the methods but even the personnel for their execution. He handed over the administration of the excise duties and the customs to an imported staff of several hundred French bureaucrats. He appointed a Frenchman Postmaster General and another Frenchman President of the Academy. The eighteenth-century Prussians had even better grounds for calling bureaucratism un-Prussian than the present-day Americans for calling it un-American.
The legal technique of administrative activity in the countries of Anglo-Saxon Common Law was very different from that of the continental countries of Europe. Both the British and the Americans were fully convinced that their system gave them a most effective protection against the encroachment of administrative arbitrariness. However, the experience of the last decades has clearly evidenced that no legal precautions are strong enough to resist a trend supported by a powerful ideology. The popular ideas of government interference with business and of socialism have undermined the dams erected by twenty generations of Anglo-Saxons against the flood of arbitrary rule. Many intellectuals and numerous voters organized in the pressure groups of farming and of labor disparage the traditional American system of government as “plutocratic” and yearn for the adoption of the Russian methods which do not accord the individual any protection at all against the discretionary power of the authorities.
Totalitarianism is much more than mere bureaucracy. It is the subordination of every individual’s whole life, work, and leisure to the orders of those in power and office. It is the reduction of man to a cog in an allembracing machine of compulsion and coercion. It forces the individual to renounce any activity of which the government does not approve. It tolerates no expression of dissent. It is the transformation of society into a strictly disciplined labor-army—as the advocates of socialism say—or into a penitentiary—as its opponents say. At any rate it is the radical break from the way of life to which the civilized nations clung in the past. It is not merely the return of mankind to the oriental despotism under which, as Hegel observed, one man alone was free and all the rest slaves, for those Asiatic kings did not interfere with the daily routine of their subjects. To the individual farmers, cattle breeders, and artisans a field of activities was left in the performance of which they were not troubled by the king and his satellites. They enjoyed some amount of autonomy within their own households and families. It is different with modern socialism. It is totalitarian in the strict sense of the term. It holds the individual in tight rein from the womb to the tomb. At every instant of his life the “comrade” is bound to obey implicitly the orders issued by the supreme authority. The State is both his guardian and his employer. The State determines his work, his diet, and his pleasures. The State tells him what to think and what to believe in.
Bureaucracy is instrumental in the execution of these plans. But people are unfair in indicting the individual bureaucrat for the vices of the system. The fault is not with the men and women who fill the offices and bureaus. They are no less the victims of the new way of life than anybody else. The system is bad, not its subordinate handymen. A government cannot do without bureaus and bureaucratic methods. And as social cooperation cannot work without a civil government, some amount of bureaucracy is indispensable. What people resent is not bureaucratism as such, but the intrusion of bureaucracy into all spheres of human life and activity. The struggle against the encroachments of bureaucracy is essentially a revolt against totalitarian dictatorship. It is a misnomer to label the fight for freedom and democracy a fight against bureaucracy.
Nonetheless there is some substance in the general complaint against bureaucratic methods and procedures. For their faults are indicative of the essential defects of any socialist or totalitarian scheme. In thoroughly investigating the problem of bureaucracy we must finally discover why the socialist utopias are entirely impracticable and must, when put into practice, result not only in impoverishment for all but also in the disintegration of social cooperation—in chaos. Thus the study of bureaucracy is a good approach to a study of both systems of social organization, capitalism and socialism.
[* ][Editor’s note: L’Ancien Regime (1856); The Old Regime and the Revolution, ed. François Furet and Françoise Mélonio, trans. Alan S. Kahan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).]