THE EUPHEMISMS OF ORGANIZATIONAL
9-1. Throughout this work, I have defined war not merely as violence, but also as
coercion, which is the attempt to control and dominate through the threat of violence.
Thus someone who never strikes me, but threatens to do so, or who threatens to take
away my source or means of livelihood, has committed an act of war against me.
War as both violence and the threat of violence--coercion--thus implies that, where
coercion is appealed to as the basic mortar or society, there is not true peace: "peace"
has been reduced to a euphemism for domination.
9-2. In the most general terms, the only alternative to war as a means of
promoting ends is the power of ideas, moral truth, for this and only this is totally
lacking in any kind of violence or threat of violence.
Coercion, which depends upon the threat of violence, represents a restriction upon
someone's freedom. Any social order maintained by coercion is thus neither totally
peaceful nor totally free. We cannot speak of any "freedoms" or "rights" in this
country being defended by coercion, unless we mean that the freedom or rights of
some are attained at the expense of those of others. Nor can we speak of peace being
maintained by coercion, for "law and order" through threat of force are not the same
as "peace" in any meaningful sense. Only through the power of ideas, moral suasion,
is it possible to speak of a truly free and peaceful social order.
In defending an idealist pacifism in the Christian tradition, one is not only
condemning violence or the threat of violence (coercion), but one is also defending
the power of ideas and the value of a society governed not by coercion but by the
power of ideas freely communicated and manifested in action under the providential
control of a benign God.
9-3. While one cannot say that the power of moral suasion is always sufficient
over the short haul to get persons to do the right thing, the consistently faithful
Christian does not ever give up on the power of ideas, even in the face of death.
Yet, even one's death in the face of superior force is a statement of an idea; and,
even though it be one's last statement, it might well be one's best: one's seemingly
meaningless death may be the only way to convert another from his or her faith in
9-4. Faith in the power of ideas, of moral suasion, is the essence of what pacifism
is about--indeed, it is what faith in the One True God is all about, for his Spirit of
Truth is that to which we appeal when we forego the appeal to force or violence. It
is this Spirit which providentially rules the social universe through its influence upon
human decisions and actions.
9-5. There are at least three types of war: war between or among nations, war
between or among individuals, and war between some collectivity or organizational
entity and the individual. This chapter emphasizes the last of these. It is a sad
commentary that most discussions of war do not even include this most pervasive and
insidious form of warfare.
In its most common manifestation, this third form of war is simply that of the
bureaucracy against the individual. In this war, overt violence is rarely used, but
coercion--the threat of violence--is virtually ubiquitous. Indeed, it is not too strong
to define bureaucracy as routinized threat. This is its essential defining characteristic,
and everything else that commonly defines bureaucracy is derivative of this coercive
9-6. An army is a bureaucracy. In fact, Max Weber derived his "ideal type"
bureaucracy from his observations of the Prussian military.1 Yet, even IBM and GM
may be seen to be as bureaucratic as the military. Indeed, in some ways, their produc-
tion orientation may make them more rigid and authoritarian than any army.
Although they may not routinely use the force of arms to maintain control, they do
employ their own coercive measures: threat of deprivation of the means of livelihood,
a form of economic violence.
It might be objected that one is always free to leave private (and most public)
organizations. Yet, if the freedom to leave means only the freedom to starve, there
is no true freedom. And, if the freedom to leave means, if not starvation, then a
reduced prospect for a meaningful and prosperous life, then the organization's power
over the means of livelihood is, if not total, nonetheless substantial.
The bureaucrat rules by threat. Anyone who forgets this forgets the first premise
of organizational survival. He or she is also likely to be surprised at just how dirty
bureaucracy can be: the bureaucrat who cannot coerce with one sanction will typically
find another, licit or illicit, according to the conventions of that society. Power is
rarely relinquished casually.
9-7. Since the most violent thing that the ordinary bureaucrat is likely to do is to
"fire" or terminate a member of the organization, it is well to examine this action.
Termination from the organization is an act of violence because the person fired
is being deprived of the means of livelihood. Anyone who denies this need only
consider the limiting case of someone who would not only be fired but blackballed
from further employment of any kind (obviously implying a totalitarian social order).
It is clear that the only modes of survival open to that individual would thus be escape
or becoming an outlaw.
The fact that most firings in democratic societies do not commonly result in such
horrendous consequences (for must of us: let us not forget the very grave economic
prospects for those who are disadvantaged) should not blind us to the fact that firing
or any other kind of social banishment is an act of violence, regardless of whether or
not it is sanctioned by the laws of that particular society.
It is difficult to imagine that such violence is consistent with the laws of a God of
Peace. Would God banish? I dare say that the answer is no. And, if salvation is
thought of only in other-worldly terms, then have not we not missed something
essential about the etymology of the word--salvation as "salvaging"? For modern
organizations, however, the employee is merely an expendable, exploitable
9-8. Before an army can go to war against a foreign country, it must first go to
war against its own citizens. It can do this through deception (the primary method
of military recruitment and socialization), or it can do it through conscription--the
draft. In the former case, the army does what all bureaucracies do: it lies. If that does
not suffice, then it uses its superior force to make individuals do its will: it conscripts.
But make no mistake: no military order ever attacked a foreign country before it
first attacked its own society. The fact that it attacks more often in the lying manner
of the seducer than of the rapist should not hide the fact that it does attack and does
abuse its own people for its own ends.
Lying itself is a form of coercion, for, although it does not depend upon overt force
or threat of force, it assaults the rational autonomy of its victims. Lying, like the
threat of more obvious violence, is ubiquitous in bureaucratic life. Only lying,
violence, or the threat of violence could possibly impel persons to accept the hierarchy
and domination implicit in bureaucratic orders. In criticizing bureaucracy (military or
civilian) from a pacifist point of view, one criticizes the coercive/seductive aspects
which are the foundation of all its other evils. In criticizing bureaucracy, one is
criticizing the coercive, violent, and deceitful state.
9-9. The state and its bureaucracies--both public and private--are coercive because
the very foundation of state coercion is violence: "If you do not do what we command
you to do, then we will either kill you or put you in a cage or banish you from any
means of making a living and feeding yourself and your family."
Public and private bureaucracies exist in a symbiotic relationship with each other.
Public bureaucracies directly enforce the laws of the state, whereas private
bureaucracies live under the state`s umbrella and feed wealth back into both the public
bureaucracy and the dominant elements of society which support that bureaucracy.
So total is this symbiosis, however, that the really meaningful distinction between
public and private is sometimes not discernible.
9-10. The seductive form of state control--deceit, lying--is promoted not by overt
violence nor by the threat of overt violence, but it is violence nonetheless. It is
coercive because it vitiates (or attempts to vitiate) the knowledge and rationality so
vital to autonomous action.
Whereas this deceit is sometimes rather bald, it is more often so covert that it
deludes even those who employ it: the quintessential bureaucrat, a master of deceit
even more than of coercion, may ultimately be the most unfree person within the
organizational structure, if by "unfree" one means deficient in moral understanding
9-11. The bureaucrat lies most often by coming to believe her or his own
euphemisms of power. The most common such euphemism is the taking of the term
"administrator" as the self-appointed label for bureaucrat.
"Administration" is a euphemism which draws its force from the fact that the Latin
root of "administration" is ad + ministrare, which means "to serve." The term
"administer" does not mean any single thing in common parlance, of course, but it has
come to mean "manage" (or "direct") more than "serve." The term "bureaucrat" is
more honest, for it is literally derived from the French root of the word "office"
(bureau) and the Greek root of the word "rule" (-cracy).
Over time, the euphemism which gave birth to the term "administrator" has begun
to lose its euphemistic effect. Nonetheless, the euphemistic usage persists in the
equation of "administrator" with "public servant."
9-12. I should be on shaky ground indeed if I did not concede that many managers
do indeed do more than manage or direct: they also serve. Nonetheless, it does
become obvious that "administrators" are more generally rulers than servants in many
or even most contexts. In such contexts, the term "administrator," like all euphe-
misms, is the velvet glove which covers the iron fist of naked force.
9-13. If one dropped all euphemism about modern "administrators," one would
have to admit that they are often little more than white collar law enforcers--and often
very brutal ones at that.
As one progresses up any hierarchy (or even at the base of the bureaucratic
hierarchy in such fields as police work or corrections), there is a virtual certainty of
running into situations which force the administrator into a law enforcement role, if
he or she is to fulfill the job description for the relevant position.
The "administrator" by definition exists in a superordinate relationship to many
members of the organization, at least in certain capacities and situations. This
superordinate status is logically linked to the law enforcement function, whether
admitted or labeled as such or not. "Law enforcement" in this context might be as
innocuous as seeing that federal grant monies are spent in accordance with law, on the
one hand, or as harsh and unpleasant as firing an employee, on the other. The legal
or institutional pressures upon the administrator are often such that the unpleasant
roles cannot be avoided, consistent with meeting the job description.
The administrator who does not want to resign or be transferred (which in this
context usually implies a demotion) will therefore carry out these law enforcement
duties. Failure to do so will result in dismissal or at least complaint, typically from
below as well as above.
Most persons tend to go ahead and do whatever harsh things the institutional rules
or laws require. One empathizes with their plight, since they, too, would like to
continue to feed themselves and their families. If the degree of evil is less for the
typical "administrator" than for a member of the Third Reich, the numbers of
bureaucrats and their cultural dominance in nominally "free" societies make the
institution of bureaucracy approach the evils of the holocaust, if not in actual lives
lost, then in terms of lives disrupted, careers frustrated or ended, and persons treated
generally indifferently and inhumanely as means rather than as ends--or simply as non-
entities, unworthy of consideration or even communication. Yet, even in terms of
lives lost, how can one calculate the psychological and physiological costs of working
in such an environment, an environment which is endemic to Western culture?
As I have stated elsewhere, the fact that I cannot offer a blueprint for the perfect
society does not mean that I cannot diagnose the ills of this one. As noted previously,
to say that I should not offer such a criticism unless I can offer the solution is akin to
telling a doctor, "Doctor, don't tell me that I have cancer unless you are also prepared
to tell me that you have the cure."
Bureaucracy is a cancer, and, though one may not be able to offer a cure, it is quite
clear that one will not find the cure as long as one denies that there is a disease.
Diagnosis is both logically and temporally prior to treatment.
The problem, of course, with the above indictment is that in the modern age it is
an indictment of almost all of us. Yet, does that fact make the indictment any less
9-14. To say that one has no alternative to bureaucracy in modern life is not quite
true. One can, after all, occupy bureaucratic posts without resorting to the violent or
threatening methods which most bureaucrats routinely employ.
One should nonetheless be aware that, if one refuses to carry out a coercive or
violent order from above, then one must be prepared to take the consequences. One
who does so is what we might call the "bureaucratic pacifist," for such a person
demonstrates a rather extraordinary propensity toward personal risk for the sake of
the welfare of others. We should not expect many more "bureaucratic pacifists" than
we find pacifists in the military. For, although positions of true service are
everywhere around us, opting for them in lieu of some office which promises greater
social and economic security is about as palatable for most persons as turning the
other cheek in the face of a threat to one's life.
It is quite false to say that we have no cure for the evils of bureaucracy: the cure
is that everyone would treat everyone else with perfect respect and equal dignity. The
practical problem is that one who does this when others do not reciprocate might not
survive very long.
Yet, has the pacifist solution to war at any level ever guaranteed personal survival
or success according to worldly norms?
9-15. One who is violated by the officers of an organization has the option to
resort to state-sanctioned violence: lawsuit, disciplinary proceedings, criminal
indictment, or threat of such.
The consistent pacifist who forgoes such "legitimate" retaliation and who then
suffers at the hands of bureaucrats is thus not unlike the pacifist who suffers at the
hands of someone's military: he or she is going to be tempted to use the coercive
measures at his or her disposal, in the same way that one who is attacked by the
military (whether that of a foreign country or of one's own country) will be tempted
to join a violent group in order to defend oneself and one's country or to try to
overthrow the existing regime which threatens one.
Is it any wonder that consistently pacifistic solutions, rare enough in the face of
overtly violent threat, are even less likely to be invoked in the bureaucratic setting,
where the threats are more subtle and where the rationalizations for employing
counter-threats of a legal nature are so abundant--indeed, where such legal
countermeasures, so essential and ubiquitous to formal organizations, are cloaked
with an air of moral and social legitimacy. ("Fighting for one's rights" is, in such a
setting, usually a phrase of approbation, not disapprobation.)
Bureaucracy is, after all, the "legal-rational" model of organization, to use
Weberian terminology. Those who live and work in it cannot be expected to see too
easily and too clearly the violence that inheres in any merely legal solution, anymore
than they are likely to be able to admit to themselves that the power, wealth, and
prestige which they enjoy simply by working for any bureaucracy--especially at the
higher levels--tend to come at the expense of those who are oppressed in order to
maintain the organization's survival and dominance.
Is it any wonder that the Prince of Peace held no formal office and had no place
to lay his head?
9-16. Lest I sound as if I am indicting administrators unfairly, let us remember
again that we are all administrators now. This includes teachers: is the giving of tests
and the recording and "turning in" [!] of grades not a bureaucratic action? I have
often told myself that I merely offer the grade as my personal assessment of
competency, that I cannot be responsible if others use the grades as part of
recruitment and selection process that is at best exclusive and at worst discriminatory.
Yet, is this really true or is it not one more rationalization for maintaining a position
of power and dominance over somebody--in this case, one's students?
9-17. If we would imitate the Prince who had no place even to lay his head, we
must all be prepared to surrender a position of relative prestige and wealth if the
requirements of peace demand it. Nor can we, I fear, even defend our reputations in
most instances without sullying someone else's by making counter-accusations: at the
very best, we are usually calling someone else a liar when we merely speak the truth.
Is it any wonder that Jesus was silent before Pilate, except to affirm his own
9-18. Dare one speak of the "banality of evil" as the defining characteristic of
bureaucrats? What is the great evil which they are typically guilty of, if not mere
Perhaps we all tend to have more in common with the Eichmanns of this world
than we like to admit. No wonder that organizational life seems to be associated with
its own malaise of the soul.
9-19. The question for administrators of pacifistic and voluntaristic proclivities is
whether a given organizational role can be morally accepted, as well as what
circumstances are likely to arise in which one can have sufficient discretion to avoid
punitive and coercive solutions. In limiting cases, one must ask which situations bring
such conflict between institutionally-defined duties and moral ideals as to require
resignation or special status. The most obvious example of "special status" might be
that of conscientious objector in the military.
The typical administrator, however, does not have such an escape clause. Since
most do not resign or seek transfer when confronted with an order of dubious
humanity, most sooner or later become resigned, even hardened, to the more
unpleasant side of their formal duties. (Again, this is also true of teachers, as in the
case of flunking students who then lost draft deferments--and then their lives.) After
a certain point, they (we) are no longer merely thoughtless in their mindless carrying
out of inhumane orders. They (we) have now learned to think all too well--to
rationalize inhumanity in the name of duty, and to pass along such dubious
socialization to the next generation.
The evaluative component is always the foundation of other violent administrative
actions, and, in those truly sick organizations where evaluation is ubiquitous, violence
in some form is endemic; and rare are those administrators who have the courage to
lead the way toward a less evaluative, less horrendously judgmental organizational
9-20. Any study of bureaupathology would be incomplete if it did not deal with
the problem of bureaucratic callousness. More mental and emotional energy is
probably expended for the sake of rationalizing the "morality" or at least the
"necessity" of the unpleasant (and sometimes obviously immoral) requirements of a
job than for all other aspects of the job combined. In the worst cases, the process of
rationalization is so insidious that the rationalizer is not conscious of it. In other cases
the person feels uncomfortable with the discrepancy between reality and ideal without
yet having any clear guide as to what to do.
One can only empathize with sensitive administrators facing tortuous decisions.
Yet, if their torture is a function of pride and ambition, it is well to remember that no
human being has a moral obligation to "serve" by ruling over other persons.
9-21. Do I sound callous? After all, is not the bureaucrat also a victim of
bureaucracy, in the same way that the soldier is a victim of war (conventionally
defined)? Therefore, when one judges the evil of either abomination, one must be
careful not to let the judgment of institutions too easily become a judgment of persons
who are trapped within them, who perhaps protest the actions required of them, but
who all too often do not even find colleagues or peers who understand their moral
discomfort with bureaucratic norms.
If bureaucrats knew a better way, would they not pursue it? Perhaps, but
sometimes persons know better and still refuse for a time to do it, because they find
some convenient rationale which maintains the stability of their lives while upsetting
or destroying the lives of others.
9-22. Since all persons have their testing grounds as moral beings, the temptations
and pressures upon administrators are not essentially different from those upon other
persons facing ethical decisions. The scope of the consequences, as well as the
publicity factor, possibly do nonetheless serve to make the crucible of building
character more hellish for those in such situations and offices than they do for those
who have less to lose, socially or materially. The costs of power and privilege can be
high--sometimes too high.
Yet, if the crucible is so unbearable, would many prefer to jump into the crucible
of poverty--or of road maintenance, or brick-laying? (Jesus was a carpenter, I am
In the Faustian bargain for power, what the bureaucracy too often demands is one's
soul. It too often gets it.
9-23. Has not "democracy" become a euphemism in most contexts? After all,
what is called "democracy" is really not rule by the people at all. The legal rational
model would tell us that the people rule because the officials in power are accountable
to the people. Formal accountability to the people is thus seen to be synonymous with
"rule by the people," even though the linkage is quite tenuous: at the federal level, for
example, from popular elections of Presidents and Congressmen we get (with
senatorial confirmation) presidential appointment of the highest bureaucrats, and the
others are responsible to either the President (those in cabinet level departments) or
to the Congress (those in, say, independent regulatory agencies). These members of
bureaucracy then make most of the routine, daily governmental decisions which affect
our lives, and they are presumed to be accountable to the people because the persons
who appoint them, legislate their scope of action, or oversee such actions are
This formal, legalistic linkage from the people to the elected officials to the
appointed officials is thought to mean democracy, rule by the people. Only a lawyer
(which Madison was) could see democracy in such formal lines of accountability.
9-24. The term "self-government" refers, or should refer, not to pure or
representative democracy but to personal autonomy, self control by individuals over
their own lives, guided by the Spirit of Truth, under the authority of "right judgment."
Is such a conception of self-government conceivable? One may say that it is not
even conceivable unless one posits a providential God to coordinate the activities of
individuals with each other. Even then, one would surely not be freed of the necessity
to use reason to work out arrangements with other human beings. Self-rule, even in