From Whence Cometh the Bureaucracy?

I spend some of my time reading reports and the like that tell me what I already intuit.  Today I read the following report (which to understand where this blog is coming from you should at least scan as well).  It’s main point is that bureaucracy kills good education.  I hope I am not drawing too fine a line there.  But that is what the author is claiming, and I agree with him.  We live in a thoroughly bureaucratic world.  One author suggests bureaucracy might qualify as the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, and he might very well be right.

So where does the horrible no-good very bad bureaucratic spirit come from and why?  Here are my muddled thoughts – and keep in mind they have not passed committee yet.  Bureaucracy is made up of non-elected officials who operate with authority in a government without the consent of the governed.  It is typified by endless paperwork (redtape), multiple levels of consent, and self-perpetuating work.  The best literary description for this can be found in Charles Dickens’ fine work, Little Dorrit and its Circumlocution Office.


When virtue is redefined as obedience to the law (which only happens when true virtue dies), bureaucracy takes over.  Wanting a righteous and even perfect state, the government churns out laws and then has to implement lots of workers in interpreting, funding, managing, archiving, and motivating people to keep those laws.  When true virtue lives in the people, they govern themselves.  When it dies, they must be governed by an ever growing Leviathan.  So our current bureaucracy, born out of the voting public’s lack of virtue, is the result of our own desires, or at least those of the majority of the voting populace.  It has not been foisted upon us, but we have chosen to bring it to life.

The redundancy and redtape of such an enterprise as bureaucracy gives the governed the false security of the busybody.  Surely if there is so much regulation and requirements, then we are better off, more protected, and in general in a better way.  But that is a false notion born on the wings of ignorance and passivity.  How is it better to be governed by non-elected officials than by our own conscience and virtue?

To apply this directly to education, bureaucracy kills education by moving the judgments that are crucial to education (what is needed, what is best, what is true, good, and beautiful) away from the place of education to a place of efficiency and officiousness.  The bureaucrat does not care about the student, but about the preservation and furtherance of his job.  When this is true of teacher, we fire him.  When this is true of a bureaucrat, we praise it as objectivity and standardization.

Bureaucracy is when democracy meets laziness.  The elected are asked to do way more than a government should be doing, so they hire help.  The hired help don’t care like those seeking votes.  So we have a mess.  The discussion Jesus has with his disciples about the shepherd and the hireling is a key text for this conversation.

So what can be done?  This is at its heart an issue of appetite, as most things are.  We must better order our loves and desires.  We must cultivate a love for self-responsibility, self-governance, and locality.  I hope our classrooms can become places of wisdom and virtue, so as to recover a populace who wish to govern themselves rather than sending folks off to Washington who then send us back bureaucrats who don’t know our names, just our government numbers.  To paraphrase a witch, “Something wicked from bureaucracy comes.”  Maybe we, like Macbeth, should stop seeking the advice of witches hovering over their bureaucratic brew.

three witches


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