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Bureaucracy is the organizational structure and set of regulations in place to control activity, usually in large organizations and government.
- Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author
A - F
- In every bureaucratic system the shifting of responsibilities is a matter of daily routine, and if one wishes to define bureaucracy in terms of political science, that is, as a form of government—the rule of offices, as contrasted to the rule of men, of one man, or of the few, or of the many—bureaucracy unhappily is the rule of nobody and for this very reason perhaps the least human and most cruel form of rulership.
- Hannah Arendt, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," in Responsibility and Judgment (2003), p. 31.
- Le courant des affaires devant toujours s'expédier, il surnage une certaine quantité de commis qui se sait indispensable quoique congéable à merci et qui veut rester en place. La bureaucratie, pouvoir gigantesque mis en mouvement par des nains, est née ainsi.
- As routine business must always be dispatched, there is always a fluctuating number of supernumeraries who cannot be dispensed with, and yet are liable to dismissal at a moment's notice. All of these naturally are anxious to be "established clerks." And thus Bureaucracy, the giant power wielded by pigmies, came into the world.
- Honoré de Balzac, Les Employés [The Government Clerks], 1838, trans. James Waring; also known as Bureaucracy, or, A Civil Service Reformer.
- The bureaucratic culture which prompts us to view society as an object of administration, as a collection of so many 'problems' to be solved, as 'nature' to be 'controlled', 'mastered' and 'improved' or 'remade', as a legitimate target for 'social engineering', and in general a garden to be designed and kept in the planned shape by force (the gardening posture divides vegetation into 'cultured plants' to be taken care of, and weeds to be exterminated), was the very atmosphere in which the idea of the Holocaust could be conceived, slowly yet consistently developed, and brought to its conclusion.
- Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (1989)
- Bureaucracy is the epoxy that greases the wheels of progress.
- James H. Boren, in When in Doubt, Mumble : A Bureaucrat’s Handbook (1972)
- What bosses do: decapitate heads in the name of the freedom of the free markets. It’s bureaucracy terrorism—not different from the other terrorism that marches rampant in the streets—oh, bureaucracy terrorists name the other terrorists cowards, but what are they—sinister cowards—because they cripple your resources. They take away your office, your computer, and your friends.
- Giannina Braschi, "United States of Banana" (2011). p.20
- The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
- Stupidity multiplies unnecessary procedure, intelligence decreases it; therefore stupidity is the more functional from the bureaucratic point of view.
- Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves.
- Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (1956)
G - L
- Bureaucracy is where fun goes to die.
- the character Philippa Georgiou in the episode "Far From Home" of Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery
- Everyone knows how compromised the idea of bureaucracy as a meritocratic system is. The first criterion of loyalty to any organization is therefore complicity. Career advancement is not based on merit but on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when in fact they are often deployed as an instrument of arbitrary personal power. ... As whole societies have come to represent themselves as giant credentialized meritocracies, rather than as systems of predatory extraction, we bustle about, trying to curry favor by pretending we actually believe it to be true.
- David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules (2015)
- The bureaucracy is the most dangerously hidebound and conservative force; if it ends up by constituting a compact body, which stands on its own and feels itself independent of the mass of members, the party ends up by becoming anachronist and at moments of acute crisis it is voided of its social content and left as though suspended in mid-air.
- Antonio Gramsci, in Selections from Prison Notebooks (1971) edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith
- As specialists and bureaucrats, human beings become tools, able to make systems of exploitation and even terror function efficiently without the slightest sense of personal responsibility or understanding. They retreat into the arcane language of all specialists, to mask what they are doing and give to their work a sanitized, clinical veneer.
- Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept.
- Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune (1984)
- Bureaucracy is ever desirous of spreading its influence and its power. You cannot extend the mastery of the government over the daily working life of a people without at the same time making it the master of the people's souls and thoughts.
- Herbert Hoover, campaign speech in New York, 22 October 1928
- Besides, the paper pushers refuse to let the world end until every form is turned in, timestamped and properly initialed. Apocalypse is the last gasp of bureaucracy.
- There are more agriculture bureaucrats than there are farmers in this country.
- John Kerry, Washington Times (16 January 2004)
- Project management has long been discussed by corporate executives and academics as one of several workable possibilities for organizational forms of the future that could integrate complex efforts and reduce bureaucracy.... This approach does not really destroy the vertical, bureaucratic flow of work but simply requires that line organizations talk to the other horizontally so work will be accomplished more smoothly throughout the organization
- Harold Kerzner (1982) Project management for executives. p. 2
- My symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)
M - R
- Bureaucratic thought does not deny the possibility of the science of politics, but regards it as identical with the science of administration.
- Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (1929), translated by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (1936)
- The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.
- Eugene McCarthy, quoted in Time magazine, 12 February 1979
- Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.
- Mary McCarthy, "The Vita Activa", The New Yorker (18 October 1958)
- A bureaucracy always tends to become a pedantocracy.
- John Stuart Mill, On Representative Government (1861), Ch. VI
- Bureaucracy can have dehumanizing effect upon employees, making them more like machines, especially those at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy
- Gareth Morgan (1986) Images of Organization, p. 35
- The great defect of scale, of course, which makes the game interesting — so that the big people don't always win — is that as you get big, you get the bureaucracy. And with the bureaucracy comes the territoriality — which is again grounded in human nature.
And the incentives are perverse. For example, if you worked for AT&T in my day, it was a great bureaucracy. Who in the hell was really thinking about the shareholder or anything else? And in a bureaucracy, you think the work is done when it goes out of your in-basket into somebody else's in-basket. But, of course, it isn't. It's not done until AT&T delivers what it's supposed to deliver. So you get big, fat, dumb, unmotivated bureaucracies.
They also tend to become somewhat corrupt. In other words, if I've got a department and you've got a department and we kind of share power running this thing, there's sort of an unwritten rule: "If you won't bother me, I won't bother you and we're both happy." So you get layers of management and associated costs that nobody needs. Then, while people are justifying all these layers, it takes forever to get anything done. They're too slow to make decisions and nimbler people run circles around them.
The constant curse of scale is that it leads to big, dumb bureaucracy — which, of course, reaches its highest and worst form in government where the incentives are really awful. That doesn't mean we don't need governments — because we do. But it's a terrible problem to get big bureaucracies to behave.
- Once genius is submerged by bureaucracy, a nation is doomed to mediocrity.
- It is increasingly clear that the fate of the universe will come to depend more and more on individuals as the bungling of bureaucracy permeates every corner of our existence.
- Edna O'Brien, New York Times Book Review (14 February 1993)
- Bureaucrats want bigger bureaus. Special interests are interested in whatever's special to them.
- P. J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World (1994)
- Earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
- George Orwell, "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad," Tribune (12 April 1946)
- When despotism has established itself for ages in a country, as in France, it is not in the person of the king only that it resides. It has the appearance of being so in show, and in nominal authority; but it is not so in practice and in fact. It has its standard everywhere. Every office and department has its despotism, founded upon custom and usage. Every place has its Bastille, and every Bastille its despot. The original hereditary despotism resident in the person of the king, divides and sub-divides itself into a thousand shapes and forms, till at last the whole of it is acted by deputation. This was the case in France; and against this species of despotism, proceeding on through an endless labyrinth of office till the source of it is scarcely perceptible, there is no mode of redress. It strengthens itself by assuming the appearance of duty, and tyrannises under the pretence of obeying.
- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1792)
- Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
- The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.
- In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
- Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
- Laurence J. Peter, Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Time (1977), p. 83
- The state—or, more precisely, the Communist Party—has no choice but to accommodate this new class because it depends on it to stay in power. And under Communism, the officialdom grows by leaps and bounds for the simple reason that inasmuch as all aspects of national life, the economy very much included, are taken over by the state, it requires a large bureaucracy to administer it. This bureaucracy is the favorite scapegoat of every Communist regime, yet none can manage without it. In the Soviet Union, within a few years of the Bolshevik coup d’état, the regime began to offer unique rewards to its leading cadres, which in time evolved into the nomenklatura, a hereditary privileged caste. This spelled the end of the ideal of equality. Thus to enforce the equality of possessions it is necessary to institutionalize inequality of rights. The contradiction between ends and means is built into Communism and into every country where the state owns all the productive wealth. True, periodic attempts have been made to shake off the grip that the Communist officialdom secured on the state and society. Lenin and Stalin tried purges, which under Stalin led to mass murder. Mao launched his “Cultural Revolution” to destroy entrenched party interests. None of these attempts succeeded. In the end, the nomenklaturas won out because without them nothing would work.
- Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (2003)
- Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. [...] The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.
- If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.
- Hyman G. Rickover, quoted in The New York Times (3 November 1986)
S - Z
- In sharp contrast to the modus operandi of swarm dynamics, political bodies are ill-equipped to protect the integrity of their components and lack the collective wisdom for synchronization. Instead, highly layered command-based systems invade, institutionalize, and indoctrinate society with centralized directives, straitjacket bureaucracies, and self-serving officialdom. These systems hungrily feast on what others have created, cannibalizing other people’s resources like a tribe of pragmatic headhunters.
- L.K. Samuels, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, Cobden Press, (2013) p. 35
- The mills of bureaucracy may or may not grind fine, but they certainly grind exceeding slow.
- Forecasting by bureaucrats tends to be used for anxiety relief rather than for adequate policy making.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan (2007)
- I meant the petitions to provoke thought, to create discussion, but I underestimated the inertia in the system. I forgot that inertia is what bureaucracies are all about!
- How easily we Indians see the several sides to every question! That is what makes us such good bureaucrats, and such poor totalitarians.
- Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel (1993), p. 373
- Bureaucracy is [...] simultaneously the most crippling of Indian diseases and the highest of Indian art-forms.
- Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel (1993), p. 398
- Bureaucracy and social harmony are inversely proportional to each other.
- Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (1936), p. 41
- There comes a time in the history of all bureaucracies when they must inevitably parody their own functions.
- Roger Zelazny, Isle of the Dead (1969), Chapter 3
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