Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3.: Authoritarian Guardianship and Progress - Bureaucracy
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3.: Authoritarian Guardianship and Progress - Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy 
Bureaucracy, edited and with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
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Authoritarian Guardianship and Progress
Paternal government by an order of lofty and wise men, by any elite of noble bureaucrats, can claim a very eminent champion, Plato.
Plato’s ideal and perfect state is to be ruled by unselfish philosophers. They are unbribable judges and impartial administrators, strictly abiding by the eternal immutable laws of justice. For this is the characteristic mark of Plato’s philosophy: It does not pay any attention to the evolution of social and economic conditions and to changes in human ideas concerning ends and means. There exists the perennial pattern of the good state, and every deviation of actual conditions from this model cannot be anything else than corruption and degradation. The problem is simply to establish the perfect society and then to keep it from any alteration, as change must be tantamount to deterioration. Social and economic institutions are rigid. The notion of progress in knowledge, in technological procedures, in business methods, and in social organization is foreign to Plato’s mind. And all later utopians who shaped the blueprints of their earthly paradises according to Plato’s example in the same way believed in the immutability of human affairs.
Plato’s ideal of elite rule has been converted into fact by the Catholic Church. The Roman Church, under the Tridentine organization as it emerged from the Counter-Reformation, is a perfect bureaucracy. It has successfully solved the most delicate problem of every nondemocratic government, the selection of the top executives. To every boy access to the highest dignities of the Church is virtually open. The local priest is anxious to smooth the way to education for the most intelligent youths of his parish; they are trained in the Bishop’s seminary; once ordained, their further career depends entirely upon their character, their zeal, and their intellect. There are among the prelates many scions of noble and wealthy families. But they do not owe their office to their ancestry. They have to compete, on almost equal terms, with the sons of poor peasants, workers, and serfs. The princes of the Catholic Church, the abbots and the teachers of the theological universities, are a body of eminent men. Even in the most advanced countries they are worthy rivals of the most brilliant scholars, philosophers, scientists, and statesmen.
It is to this marvelous instance that the authors of all modern socialist utopias refer as an example. The case is manifest with two forerunners of present-day socialism: Count Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte. But it was essentially the same with most other socialist authors, although for obvious reasons they did not point to the Church as a model. No precedent of a perfect hierarchy could be found other than that presented by Catholicism.
However, the reference to the Church is fallacious. The realm of Christianity which the Pope and the other Bishops administer is not subject to any change. It is built upon a perennial and immutable doctrine. The creed is fixed forever. There is no progress and no evolution. There is only obedience to the law and the dogma. The methods of selection adopted by the Church are very efficient in the government of a body clinging to an undisputed, unchangeable set of rules and regulations. They are perfect in the choice of the guardians of an eternal treasure of doctrine.
But the case of human society and civil government is different. It is the most precious privilege of man to strive ceaselessly for improvement and to fight by improved methods against the obstacles that nature opposes to his life and welfare. This innate impulse has transformed the descendants of crude cave dwellers into the somewhat civilized men of our age. But mankind has not yet reached a state of perfection beyond which no further progress is possible. The forces that brought about our present civilization are not dead. If not tied by a rigid system of social organization, they will go on and bring further improvement. The selective principle according to which the Catholic Church chooses its future chiefs is unswerving devotion to the creed and its dogmas. It does not look for innovators and reformers, for pioneers of new ideas radically opposed to the old ones. This is what the appointment of the future top executives by the old and well-tried present rulers can safeguard. No bureaucratic system can achieve anything else. But it is precisely this adamant conservatism that makes bureaucratic methods utterly inadequate for the conduct of social and economic affairs.
Bureaucratization is necessarily rigid because it involves the observation of established rules and practices. But in social life rigidity amounts to petrification and death. It is a very significant fact that stability and security are the most cherished slogans of present-day “reformers.” If primitive men had adopted the principle of stability, they would never have gained security; they would long since have been wiped out by beasts of prey and microbes.
German Marxians coined the dictum: If socialism is against human nature, then human nature must be changed. They did not realize that if man’s nature is changed, he ceases to be a man. In an all-round bureaucratic system neither the bureaucrats nor their subjects would any longer be real human beings.