A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
The Evolution of Power from Medieval Feudalism to American Democracy

Copyright © 1999, 2005 by Lawrence Chin. All rights reserved.

1. The prehistory of the nation-state and the Medieval mode of power

In order to understand the origin of democracy we must first understand the evolution of the state in Western Europe, i.e. the origin and evolution of the "Western civilization." The Western civilization is not a simple continuation of the Greco-Roman world. Below we will show, first, that the foundation of the Western civilization was laid down by the Germanic tribal peoples with their invasion of the crumbling Roman empire; second, that the “kingdoms” established by the invading Germans (to which modern European nation-states may trace their origins) could be understood as the products of a straightforward continuation or evolution of the pre-invading Germanic tribal organizations into the next “level”, their Roman garb or coloring notwithstanding; and third, how the "power structure" of these Medieval Western kingdoms remained "traditional".

The modern European nation-states Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands and others can all trace their origins to the kingdoms established by the invading Germanic peoples after the collapse of the Roman empire. Who were these Germanic peoples and where did they come from originally? Lucien Musset’s The Germanic Invasions answers specifically this question. Musset examines, according to their ethnicity and linguistic descent, the origins of the invading Germans, who, in his scheme, may be “classified” into the “first wave” of the fourth and fifth centuries, the “second wave” of the fifth and sixth centuries, and the “third wave” of the sixth and seventh centuries.

Musset reveals that the Germanic people probably originated in southern Scandinavia and, for unknown reasons, began migrating south-east during the millennium before the birth of Christ. They then started the movement westward, resulting in the generally recognized subdivisions of the Germanic linguistic family (e.g. the East Germanic, the West Germanic, and the North Germanic). In the third century A. D. they were already decimating much of Gaul and Italy itself, without, however, intending as yet to set up any kingdoms in the ravaged territories. At this time the invading Germanic peoples were also re-organizing themselves into the units recognizable from the later “waves” of invasions: Saxons in the North Sea coast, Alamans in central Germany, Franks in the lower Rhine, and others including Thuringians, Bavarians, Jutes and Danes.

Then during the first wave of invasion the Germans came, in the fourth and fifth centuries, destructively upon the Roman western provinces, along with other Indo-European (chiefly Iranian) and Siberian (chiefly Turkic, including the famous Huns) nomads. The Germans involved all came from the east: Goths, Vandals, Sueves, and Burgundians. This first wave was the most important and yet its effect was the least lasting: after it died down the western part of the Roman empire was hardly under Roman “rule” but yet the Roman way of life survived and converted the barbarian invaders to it, so much so that, as Musset wrote, “[I]t is doubtful if medieval Europe would really have differed very radically from Roman Europe had it not been for the succeeding waves of invasion.”

The second wave of invasion came in a much different fashion than the first. It was made up entirely of Germans speaking a West Germanic language; and these invaders, moreover, did not come with spectacularly destructive raids but were more like advancing farmers intending to colonize new and vast regions in a lasting way. The result is that, while the first wave of invasion left no political and linguistic traces to contribute to the current ethnic and political composition of Western Europe, the second wave bequeathed the Frankish monarchy that was to last for over a thousand years in evolutionarily successive forms and set the foundation for the Western civilization to come, and also put in place the Alamanic and Bavarian populations in the Rhine and upper Danube. One must also not forget the conquest of the Anglo-Saxons, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths and Vandals at the same time.

The chief player of the second wave, then, was the Frankish people. Their exploits will not be detailed here. But it is important to notice that two modern European nations, the Netherlands and France, have their origins in the Frankish kingdom: never able to alter the linguistic frontier between Latin and Germanic corresponding to the lime in Roman times, the northern Frankish population beyond Gaul passed down their West Germanic language as today’s Dutch, and the southern Frankish in Gaul eventually intermingled with the Latin-speaking indigenous to give rise to the French we know today.

At the same time the Anglo-Saxons conquered England from Roman hands and settled there for good; the Visigoths established their kingdom in Spain, the Ostrogoths in Italy and Vandals in Africa. The story of England and Spain can begin at last.

The chief significant player of the third wave is the Lombards. It all began with Justinian’s reconquest, which left Italy a vacuum for the Lombards to come in from Pannonia. Elsewhere, the kingdoms in Gaul, England and Spain began to consolidate. The Bulgars and Slavs also moved into the Balkan at this time, when Justinian had deprived this area of troops to fight west with barbarians and east with the Persians. The origin of the Western civilization is set. We see that the ethnic and linguistic composition of modern Europe is the product of rather recent events, beginning a millennium and a half ago and settling at the turn of the last millennium.

We now turn to the political history of these Germanic peoples that make up much of the “raw material” of the Western civilization. As said, we shall see a certain continuity of evolution from pre-invasion to post-invasion. Musset’s book contains a brief exposition of the social organization of the Germanic peoples before the invasion. The basis of the society was the “free men,” the warriors and certainly the original component of the Germanic tribes. Below was a larger class of semi-free men, originally the conquered peoples. Then came the slaves with domestic or agricultural assignment, who were captives. The Germanic society was organized entirely for military aims, the subdivisions corresponding to those of the army. The king was the head warrior, but, as shall be seen below, part of his prestige derived from his religious (shamanistic) ability. The true power, however, was always “in the hands of the local assemblies of free men… which were held periodically in the open air.”

The next stage of the evolution of the Germanic political organization can be traced in the career of the Franks. The section on Franks (chapter 3) in Musset’s book tells a bit on the subject. It appears that at about the time of invasion the Franks were composed of different “sub-Franks”: that is, they were a tribal confederates, each tribe led by its own “king” (the tribal chief). By the time of Clovis’ conquest the tribal confederacy was integrated enough to produce a semblance of “state”.

The semblance of state was state in its pre-mature stage. That is, although a bureaucratic central government was attempted to integrate the formerly independent units of the tribal confederacy, the technology of bureaucratic administration (e.g. communication, ideological self-identification of the personnel with the state rather than with their local authority, etc, which required, so to speak, much "brain-washing" of the subjects) was not advanced enough to hold the unity of the state together. This was still so with the Carolingian explosion of empire building. Within a generation after the able emperor the empire fell into pieces, certainly not entirely as a result of the Viking and Magyars invasions, which did contribute to the process. Its eastern portion became what would later be known as France, and the western portion, Germany. Barraclough’s The Origins of Modern Germany deals with the fate of the western portion.

The first three parts of the book are what concern us: the origins of Germany in the early Middle Age. They detail the consolidation of the first German empire in the eastern Carolingian territory through Henry and the various Ottos; their conquering of the eastern territories of the Slavs; their intervention in the Italian affairs and attempts to bring northern Italy into the domain of the German empire; the continuing struggle between the German monarchy on one side and the Roman Church and local aristocracies on the other (e.g. the Investiture contest, the rise of feudalism [see below]); the politics of the Hohenstaufen empire in the twelfth century; and again the eastward expansion into the Slavic land in the thirteenth century. In terms of political organization the principal theme to notice in this narrative of the first German “empires” is the central monarch’s continuously problematic attempt to effect, under his authority, centralization in his empire against the centrifugal forces of local aristocracies and sometimes of the Roman church – to keep the empire in one piece, that is: the state had yet to transcend a mere semblance into concrete reality. The principal element of such semblance is feudalism. This can be understood from the informed discussion of the nature of feudalism by Joseph Strayer and Rush Coulborn in Coulborn ed. Feudalism in History.

Coulborn defines feudalism as a system of government in which the performance of political functions depends on personal agreements between a limited number of individuals; in which, that is, political authority is treated as a private possession. (Coulborn emphasizes that feudalism is usually, but not essentially, accompanied by the institution of fief, which gives stability to the personal agreement.) Its usual characteristics are: no differentiation of functions, so that military leader is at once an administrator and an administrator is at once a judge; the predominance of military function, so that the personal agreement between leader and follower emphasizes military service; and the exploitation of peasants to support the feudal lords. The important point for us here is the personal nature of this political system: from an evolutionary perspective, the more the political authority is a matter of personal possession the less evolved this political system is; and the more the political authority is exercised by an impersonal bureaucracy the more evolved and effective the political system. Thus a feudal kingdom or a dictatorship system is less advanced, stable, and effective a governing system than the massive impersonal bureaucratic government such as the U.S. federal/state government, in which the government personnel (from president through congress men down to the lowest administrators) are mere cogs of a machine which runs on its own principles (i.e the constitutions; part of the essence of constitutional democracy is indeed the lessening of personal influences in the governmental machine). In the history of feudalism one can then notice a tendency to evolve into an impersonal, more centralized bureaucratic government that was to emerge later in the European history (e.g. the French revolution).

Cautious readers would have noticed at this point that the form of power corresponding to the "semblance of state" is precisely the pre-modern form of power identified by Michel Foucault as that revolving around "le droit de mort" or "le droit de faire mourir ou de laisser vivre", and that the form of power corresponding to the impersonal, self-functioning machine-like government which is the American democracy (earlier characterized as mass tyranny, the obliteration of distinction between the governed and governing) is the most realized version of the modern form of power identified by Foucault as "pouvoir sur la vie" (Histoire de la Sexualité), the most full-blown version of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, the kind of power whose expressed purpose is the maximization of the productivity of its subjects. ("La panopticon au contraire a un rôle d'amplification... il s'agit de rendre plus fortes les forces sociales -- augmenter la production, développer l'économie, répandre l'instruction, élever le niveau de la morale publique; faire croitre et multiplier." Surveiller et Punir, p. 242) On the other hand, "le corps du roi, avec son étrange présence matérielle et mythique, avec la force que lui-même déplie ou qu'il transmet à quelques-uns" characterizes the premodern form of power which feudalism embodies. This older form of power, which has only the limited aim of "faire la guerre, et demander à ses sujets de prendre part à la défense de l'État", in other words, of "prélèvement" -- "mais si c'est l'un d'eux qui se dresse contre lui et enfreint ses lois, alors... à titre de châtiment, il le tuera." (Histoire..., p. 177 - 8) -- is however so ineffective, so short range, that it is barely able to hold the socio-political collective together in a "semblance" of state, and only extends its influence to any regions beyond the immediate surroundings of the King through "middle-men" (local lords or feudal magnates). But maybe, it is not because the semblant state utilized this ineffective power that it sooner or later fell apart through centrifugal forces of the local lords ceasing to obey the king, but because the very structure of the society of such state could not have produced the more effective and longer-range, modern form of power?

When the Germanic peoples first formed their “kingdoms,” their tribal technology (both material and in matters of human discipline) was hardly sufficient to allow for the monarch authority to reach every corner of the loosely conglomerated tribal confederates. There were no mass compulsory education, mass communications (newspaper, telephones, etc.), these inculcating in the subjects their identity as "citizens of a state"; there was no modern police system, fast transportation; there was no disciplinary (modern form of) power. In Charlemagne’s time the local authorities (the magnates) were much closer to their subjects than the king was close to them. Coulborn does not even consider this stage feudalistic. After Charlemagne, in the state of confusion, the local magnates made their offices their private possessions and were the final authority in their region; their authority was in the end based on their military might, and their rights on prestige rather than on theory (e.g. any thing close to a “constitution”). There could only be the old form of power, this effective only through these middle-men (magnates). After the 1100s, however, technological advances (at least in matters of human discipline: disciplining the subjects to conform to the whole, the state, rather than to local authorities or subjects) finally allowed the central monarch to have direct control over the rear vassals; as a result governmental processes were much tightened at the upper level, and more relaxed at the lower. France was now on the way toward becoming a true state in the hands of Louis XIV and nation-state after the French Revolution. (Recall that the essence of French Revolution lies in fact in the elimination of the “middle men” of politics that prevented the central government from direct control of the citizens, and who were however in time past necessary due to under-development of technology.)

Coulborn also made the important point that feudalism can only flourish in a subsistence, agricultural economy where economic interests are entirely local; that as soon as international trade or economy (and so international division of labor) emerges feudalism crumbles; indeed both the French Revolution and the British reform of the parliament of 1830 have been called just a bourgeois usurpation/ revolution. This is when the modern form of power, discipline, started to sink in, not the old kind of forceful oppressive type that aimed to tax its subjects for their labor or violently crushed this and that person in an éclat in order to suppress resistances, but the modern type which created a situation, like Panopticon, in which the subjects were positively trained and disciplined to be docile but productive citizens constantly, a power-situation whose "domaine, c'est... toute cette région d'en bas, celle des corps irréguliers, avec leurs détails, leurs mouvements multiples, leurs forces hétérogènes, leurs relations spatiales; il s'agit de mécanismes qui analysent des distributions, des écarts, des séries, des combinaisons, et qui utilisent des instruments pour rendre visible, enregistrer, différencier et comparer." (Surveiller et Punir, p. 243) The power that aimed at increasing production, and at diffusion into a situation: "physique d'un pouvoir relationnel et multiple, qui a son intensité maximale non point dans la personne du roi, mais dans les corps que ces relations, justement, permettent d'individualiser... [U]ne 'anatomie politique' dont l'objet et la fin ne sont pas le rapport de souveraineté mais les relations de discipline." (Ibid.) The ultimate realization of this new power is of course the American democracy, an impersonal machine which no one really controls, which is diffused into the entire society, and in which everyone is immersed and caught because it is the avenue through which everyone exercises tyranny on everyone else -- thus the unrelenting self-discipline of the total population is achieved: mass tyranny, the most "productive" of forces. The immature budding of this new form of power of course was only slightly showing itself at this time, the late period of feudalism which was also the beginning of international capitalism in European history.

Janet Abu-Lughod’s Before European Hegemony: The World System A. D. 1250- 1350 deals with this tentative commencement of international capitalism. The thesis of this book is that before the European-controlled world capitalist system emerged in the 1500s there was a prior world system formed which was Orient-directed (with China and the Middle-East playing the determining role) but in which the European civilization was caught – tasting international capitalism for the first time. At this time the major players are the Italian merchants and bankers from Genoa and Venice and the Flemish textile manufacturers in Bruges, Ghent and Ypres, rather than the Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch of the later, European-controlled world system. The Europeans were only marginally involved in this world system: the Flemish made the clothes and the Italian sold them, to other Europeans or to the Near East. The Italians also monopolized the import of luxuries from the Near East into the European market, and in this way became the richest of Europeans, paving the way for the glory of the Renaissance. This world system came to its apex when the Mongols united entire Asia and Eastern Europe into one universal empire, but soon collapsed with the disintegration of the Mongol empire and the consequent isolation of the major parts of the world system from one another. The Italian and Flemish glory ended as well, partly because of the collapse of the world system and partly due to factors internal to the European world. At any rate the “Middle-Age” was over with them, and the modern era with European world-domination was about to begin.

We have thus followed the career of the Germanic peoples from their tribal stage (pre-invasion) through tribal confederacy (at the time of invasion) to (premature) state in the body of literatures reviewed. The process of evolution seems to have been running on its own momentum, despite the Roman political notions (emperor, universal empire, and hence the idea of unification under a single centralized political authority) lingering around to influence the thinking of the able monarchs. However much the able monarch wanted to translate Roman political notions into reality, this reality was that his subjects refused to subordinate themselves to him for the sake of his grand ideals. It would take about a thousand years for the loose conglomeration of tribes to evolve into a bureaucratic state on a par with the Roman empire – that is, as if the Roman ideals had never been lingering around in the first place. It is then somewhat justified to see a continuity in the political history of the invading Germans.

2. The advanced mode of power: the American bureaucratic democracy

This prehistory of the nation-state has allowed us to get a glimpse of the natural course of the evolution of the "state" (supraorganism). The origin and essence of a constitutional representative democratic government can be understood only within this process (the evolution of the state). We have seen that "representation" (democracy) is just a most efficient way of integration which moreover is most adaptive, and that "constitution" is the method by which to reduce the governmental processes to mechanical automation so as to increase their efficiency. By now we can understand why the enormous increase of control and surveillance which the American federal government exercises over its citizens -- deserving the epithet "totalitarian" in the traditional sense and so much in contradiction, for many ordinary minds, to the spirit of "freedom from tyranny" (i.e. from governmental control) on which the American republic is supposedly founded -- not only does not pose this contradiction but actually shares the same goal with the "Constitution", the "Bill of Rights", and whatever legal guarantees of the liberty of the individuals which are supposed to be the sacred component in any scheme of "democracy". The true purpose of the legal guarantees of the liberty of the individual is, just like the Constitution, to transform the relationship between the citizens and the government into a mechanical one operating automatically according to predetermined fixed rules: it being spelled out beforehand what the government may and may not do with respect to the citizens, and the citizens consenting to this as if in a contract and consequently no longer resisting governmental actions, this will increase the efficiency of the functionings of the supraorganism but has nothing to do with the protection of the freedom of the individuals from a governmental tyranny, which, as seen, means no more than a capricious ruler ruling without pre-determined rules. On the other hand, the recent enormous increase of the governmental control and surveillance of the populace in America is usually justified thusly: "If you are a law-abiding citizen, then you should not worry about all this surveillance of everything you do and say." Only the "straying ones" have reasons to fear, and they don't count. In other words, the goal of these controls and surveillances of the populace is to ensure the efficiency of the functioning of the society. Thus the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the governmental "totalitarian" control of citizens all aim at the same goal of the order of the system, i.e. the conformity of the individuals to the dictate of society. The former legal guarantees of liberty can then be expected to evolve into the latter "totalitarianism." In this way, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights together constitute more a system of threats to the freedom of the individual than a system protecting it. Hence Madison in the very beginning expressed doubts about the liberty-protecting function of the "Bill of Rights." We'll need to bear this principle of interpretation in mind when approaching any narrative of the emergence of "democracy."

American democracy’s effectiveness in ensuring the order of the system and thus its own stability signifies its greater degree of mechanization, and so efficiency, which constitute the essence of what is usually referred to as “bureaucratization.” The essence of American democracy therefore must in fact consist in its “genius of bureaucratization.” Consider, for example, Max Weber’s (best) description of bureaucracy (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, part III, Ch. 6, p. 650):

Es besteht das Prinzip der festen, durch Regeln: Gesetze oder Verwaltungsreglements generell geordneten behördlichen Kompetenzen:

1. Es besteht eine feste Verteilung der für die Zwecke des bürokratisch beherrschten Gebildes erforderlichen, regelmässigen Tätigkeiten als amtlicher Pflichten;

2. Die für die Erfüllung dieser Pflichten erforderlichen Befehlsgewalten sind ebenfalls fest verteilt und in den ihnen etwa zugewiesenen (physischen oder sakralen oder sonstigen) Zwangsmitteln durch Regeln fest begrenzt;

3. Für die regelmässige und kontinuierliche Erfüllung der so verteilten Pflichten und die Ausübung der entsprechenden Rechte ist planmäßige Vorsorge getroffen durch Anstellung von Personen mit einer generell geregelten Qualifikation.

There is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional (behördlichen) areas, which are generally ordered by rules or by laws of administrative regulations:

1. There is a fixed distribution as official duties of regular activities, which are required for the purposes or ends of the bureaucratically governed structure;

2. The command authority required for the fulfillment of these duties is distributed in a fixed way and strictly delimited by rules within the coercive means [i.e. enforcement mechanisms] (physical, sacerdotal, or otherwise) assigned to them;

3. For the rule-wise [i.e. regularly] and continuous fulfillment of the duties so distributed and the execution of the corresponding rights a methodical provision is made through the employment of persons with a generaly regulated qualification.

Of these three “moments” of bureaucracy proper to the continental mode of government – the basis of Weber’s description – the first two constitute the essence of American democracy as well: the “separation of power” expresses simply the principle of “fixed and official jurisdictional areas,” of “fixed distribution, as official duties, of regular activities which are required for the purposes or ends of the bureaucratically governed structure”: the government being divided up into the fixed jurisdictional areas of the legislature, the executive, and the judicial, each with its own “official duties”; and “constitutional constraint” means no more than that “the command authority required for the fulfillment of these duties is distributed in a fixed way and strictly delimited by rules [i.e. constitutional postulates as to what branch of government can only do what] within the enforcement mechanisms assigned to them, ” so that “such limitation of the government from within” (the usual definition of a constitutional government) refers simply to the principle of bureaucratization, i.e. mechanization, such that each of its branches is predetermined to perform only this function and no more and that together they perform only those functions and no more.

The personnel of the American government at the upper level, on the other hand, unlike their continental counterpart (even the contemporary EU functionaries at Brussels), are rarely specialized and trained “experts”, but are either elected or appointed personnel who have got there mainly through social connections and personal charms (“charisma”), and not through “qualifications” acquired through specialized training (at universities, for example).

At the lower level of the American government (such as the sprawl of federal agencies [of the executive branch]: Environmental Protection Agency, for example), however, Weber’s description of the bureaucratic functionaries, based on the continental experience as it is, applies as well:

Das Amt ist “Beruf.” Dies äussert sich zunächst in dem Erfordernis eines fest vorgeschriebenen, meist die ganze Arbeitskraft längere Zeit hindurch in Anspruch nehmenden Bildungsganges und in generell vorgeschriebenen Fachprüfungen als Vorbedingungen der Anstellung. Ferner in dem Pflichtcharakter der Stellung des Beamten…: die Innehabung eines Amts wird rechtlich und faktisch nicht als Besitz einer gegen Erfüllung bestimmter Leistungen ausbeutbaren Renten- oder Sportelquelle – wie normalerweise im Mittelalter und vielfach bis an die Schwelle der neuesten Zeit – und auch nicht als ein gewöhnlicher entgeltlicher Austausch von Leistungen, wie im freien Arbeitsvertrag, behandelt (p. 651 - 2).

Office holding is a “profession” [“calling”]. This is expressed in the requirement of a firmly prescribed course of training which demands the entire capacity for work for a long period of time, and in the generally prescribed and specialized examination as the prerequisites of employment. And furthermore in the duty-character of the position of the official…: The occupation of the office is not to be handled, legally and actually, as the possession of a source yielding rents or emoluments for the fulfillment of certain services) -- such as normally in Medieval time and frequently until the threshold of modern time – nor as a usual exchange of services for equivalents, such as in free labor contracts.

Herein is expressed the real meaning behind the humanitarian outrage against “corruption”: the Medieval manner of considering one’s office as one’s private, personal possession yielding profits (“corruption”) renders the governing machinery (bureaucracy) inefficient; with the mechanization of office-holding into a “profession,” i.e., with the reduction of the functionaries to mere cogs in a self-operating, impersonal machine – the efficiency of the governmental processes is increased, and it is for the sake of this efficiency that the idea of “duty” or “dutifulness of the official” – his or her performing his or her function like a machine, without looking forward to personal profits but simply for its own sake: the un-corruptible official – becomes substituted for the traditional idea of “royalty,” such as the knight has for his lord in Medieval time. “Für den spezifischen Charakter der modernen Amtstreue ist entscheidend, daß sie, beim reinen Typus, nicht – wie z. B. im feudalen oder patrimonialen Herrschaftsverhältnis – eine Beziehung zu einer Person nach Art der Vasallen- oder Jüngertreue herstellt, sondern, daß sie einem unpersönlichen sachlichen Zweck gilt” (p. 652; “It is decisive for the specific character of modern loyalty to an office that it in its pure type does not establish a relationship to a person in the manner of a vassal’s or disciple’s royalty – such as for example in the feudal or patrimonial relationships of authority – but that it is devoted to an impersonal and functional goal”).

The humanitarian sentiment is thus simply the advocacy of mechanization and efficiency:

Der entscheidende Grund für das Vordringen der bürokratischen Organisation war von jeher ihren rein technische Ueberlegenheit über jede andere Form. Ein voll entwickelter bürokratischen Mechanismus verhält sich zu diesen genau wie eine Maschine zu den nicht mechanischen Arten der Gütererzeugung. Präzision, Schnelligkeit, Eindeutigkeit, Aktenkundigkeit, Kontinuierlichkeit, Diskretion, Einheitlichkeit, straffe Unterordnung, Ersparnisse an Reibungen, sachlichen und persönlichen Kosten sind bei streng bürokratischer, speziell: monokratischer Verwaltung durch geschulte Einzelbeamte gegenüber allen kollegialen oder ehren- und nebenamtlichen Formen auf das Optimum gesteigert (p. 660 – 1).

The decisive reason for the advancement of the bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form [of organization]. A fully evolved bureaucratic mechanism compares itself with these [other forms] exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of production of goods. Precision, speed, in-ambiguity, file-systemic, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs – these are with the strictly bureaucratic, and especially monocratic administration raised to the optimum through specially trained bureaucrats as compared with all the collegiate, honorific, and avocational forms [of administration].

The bureaucratic official (Amt), specially trained and reduced to the pursuit of a “Beruf”: this is in contradistinction to the traditional, such as the old Confucian, officials, whose examination (in classics, in philosophy) is to test “virtue,” to ensure the success in the cultivation of a virtuous personality fit for ruling, not to test technical knowledge.

Das soziale Prestige auf Grund des Genusses einer bestimmten Erziehung und Bildung ist an sich durchaus nichts dem Bürokratismus Spezifisches. Im Gegenteil. Nur ruht es unter anderen Herrschaftsstrukturen auf wesentlich anderen inhaltlichen Grundlagen: in der feudalen, theokratischen, patrimonialen Herrschaftsstruktur, in der englischen Honoratiorenverwaltung, in der altchinesischen Patrimonialbürokratie, in der Demagogenherrschaft der hellenischen sogenannten Demokratie war Ziel der Erziehung und Grundlage der sozialen Schätzung, bei aller noch so großen Verschiedenheit dieser Fälle untereinander, nicht der “Fachmensch,” sondern – schlagwörtlich ausgedrückt – der “kultivierte Mensch.” Der Ausdruck wird hier gänzlich wertfrei und nur in dem Sinne gebraucht: daß eine Qualität der Lebensführung, die als “kultiviert” galt, Ziel der Erziehung war, nicht aber spezialisierte Fachschulung. Die, je nachdem, ritterlich oder asketisch oder (wie in China) litterarisch oder (wie in Hellas) gymnastisch-musisch oder zum konventionellen angelsächsischen Gentleman kultivierte Persönlichkeit war das durch die Struktur der Herrschaft und die sozialen Bedingungen der Zugehörigkeit zur Herrenschicht geprägte Bildungsideal. Die Qualifikation der Herrenschicht als solcher beruhte auf einem Mehr von “Kulturqualität”…, nicht von Fachwissen. Das kriegerische, theologische, juristische Fachkönnen wurde natürlich dabei eingehend gepflegt. Aber im hellenischen wie im mittelalterlichen wie im chinesischen Bildungsgang bildeten ganz andere als fachmäßig “nützliche” Erziehungselemente den Schwerpunkt. Hinter allen Erörterungen der Gegenwart um die Grundlagen des Bildungswesens steckt an irgendeiner entscheidenden Stelle der durch das unaufhaltsame Umsichgreifen der Bürokratisierung aller öffentlichen und privaten Herrschaftsbeziehungen und durch die stets zunehmende Bedeutung des Fachwissens bedingte, in alle intimsten Kulturfragen eingehende Kampf des “Fachmenschen”-Typus gegen das alte “Kulturmenschentum” (p.677).

The social prestige based on the advantage of a special education and training is in itself by no means specific to bureaucracy. On the contrary. Only that in other structures of domination it [i.e. educational prestige] is based on essentially other foundations: in the feudal, theocratic, and patrimonial structures of domination, in the English honorary administration, in the old Chinese patrimonial bureaucracy, and in the demagogue rule of the Hellenic so-called democracy, the goal of education and the foundation of social estimation, even with all their differences one from another, were not the “specialist,” but, to speak in a slogan-like fashion, the “cultivated man.” This expression is used here in a completely value-free way and only in this sense: that a certain quality of life-leading which is considered “cultivated” was the goal of education, not the specialized training for expertness. The knightly or the ascetic personality, or (as in China) the literary or (as in Hellas) the gymnastico-musical, or the personality cultivated to become the conventional Anglo-Saxon gentlemen – these were educational ideals which were stamped by the structure of domination and the social conditions for belonging to the ruling stratum. The qualification for the ruling stratum as such is based on the “more” of “cultural quality”… and not of expert knowledge. Special military, theological, and juristic ability would of course there be intensely practiced. But in the Hellenic as in the Medieval and the Chinese educational courses educational elements completely other than specialized and “useful” formed the point of gravity. Behind all the present discussions surrounding the foundations of the educational system is hidden at some decisive point the struggle of the “specialized type of man” against the older “cultivated man,” a struggle which is conditioned by the irresistible expansion of bureaucratization of all public and private relations of authority and by the always increasing significance of specialized knowledge and which intrudes into all the most intimate cultural questions.

The specialized expert (Fachmenschen) is the person mechanized to the optimal efficiency in the performance of his or her role in the bureaucratic and metabolic machinery of the supraorganism; he or she is just a cog, but a good cog. He or she is henceforth also in the most minimal possession of his or her original humanity, his or her human individuality, in contrast to the cultivated person who is most maximized in his or her humanity. One is just a robot, the other the most thinking sentient being most clear-minded-ly conscious of reality. The growth of supraorganismic individuality and efficiency (during modernity) always occurs at the expense of multicellular individuality and efficiency, just as the growth of multicellular individuality and efficiency has progressed (during the Cambrian era) at the expense of cellular individuality and efficiency. This is the meaning behind Weber’s lamentation over our dim future: the age of “specialists without heart” and “sensualists without spirit.”1

The effectiveness of bureaucratic mechanization in the business of integration and stability (this supraorganismic individuality and efficiency), such as manifested most magnificently by the American democracy, and ensured by the specialized experts rather than by the “cultivated men,” is in total contrast to the inefficiency of the Medieval feudal system without as yet the physical and disciplinary technology that would make such bureaucratization possible: “Der Bestand der zahlreichen großen Negerreiche und ähnlicher Bildungen ist in erster Linie infolge des Fehlens eines Beamtenapparats ephemer gewesen. Ebenso zerfiel die staatliche Geschlossenheit des Karolingerreichs mit dem Verfall seiner Beamtenorganisation, die allerdings vorwiegend patrimonialen, nicht bürokratischen, Charakters war” (p. 658: “The existence of the numerous great Negro empires and similar foundations has in the first place been ephemeral because of the lack of an apparatus of officials. And the state-unity of the Carolingian empire disintegrated with the disintegration of its organization of officials, which was predominantly patrimonial, and not bureaucratic, in character”). The stability of bureaucracy – and of the American democracy – then is a function of its independence from the personnel (“cogs”) it employs within itself, who are, as “experts without personality” (or, in the higher level of the American government, electable charming personalities without cultivation), like spare-parts, always replaceable. Education becomes the production of these interchangeable and replaceable spare-parts. The state-unity thereby is never endangered just because certain “officials” collapse or are assassinated. This advantage is the true meaning of the American democratic principle of a limited term of office for elected officials (such as the four-year term for the presidency, the personal occupancy of which furthermore is not permitted to go beyond two terms): to ensure the impersonalness of the system.

Just as the essence of modern nation-state lies in its greater integration and enlarged metabolism, so, first of all, the leveling of population normally legitimized as “equality” but required by tighter integration of the supraorganism (e.g. the break-up of the centrifugal feudal lordship) and effected most effectively through “democracy” necessarily requires the mechanization and so bureaucratization of the state-apparatus, as Weber notes:

Die bürokratische Organisation ist nämlich regelmäßig zur Herrschaft gelangt auf der Basis einer, mindesten relativen, Nivellierung der ökonomischen und sozialen Unterschiede in ihrer Bedeutsamkeit für die Innehabung der Verwaltungsfunktionen. Sie ist insbesondere eine unvermeidliche Begleiterscheinung der modernen Massendemokratie im Gegensatz zu der demokratischen Selbstverwaltung kleiner homogener Einheiten (p. 666).

The bureaucratic organization is usually required to come to power on the basis of an at least relative leveling of economic and social differences in their significance for the assumption of administrative functions. [Bureaucracy] is especially an inevitable phenomenon attendant upon modern mass democracy in contrast to the democratic self-government of small homogeneous units [such as the Greek city-states in the classical period].

Hopefully we do not need to remind ourselves that the American federal democracy appears as a best way to “manage” such a huge population over such a large territory that supraorganisms in the past could not dream of having (at least in terms of population). Democracy, humanitarian sentiments, and bureaucratic mechanization in the regulation of the life of citizens all form parts of the package called “nation-state.” Secondly, mass-economy (industrialization, capitalism, and mass noo-sphere consumption) necessarily entails bureaucratization of society – both of business corporations and of government – since it too belongs as an essential part to this package of “nation-state” (as its thus enlarged metabolic mode); and this is more than the sense in which Weber considers the money economy (Geldwirtschaft) as the economic presupposition of bureaucracy: that the professionalization (mechanization) of bureaucrats (as “Beruf”) requires money-payment or pecuniary compensation (Geldentlohnung der Beamten) instead of payment in agricultural products, etc. (Naturalienentlohnung), such as in Medieval feudal time or in imperial Chinese government (p. 655).


1. Note, however, the Straussian attempt to bring the “cultivated man” (reared on classics) back into the ruling stratum, who however unfortunately is without any expert knowledge about how to run a modern-nation state immersed in a global economy: the core Neoconservatives.

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