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What Max Weber Saw in the Machine of Bureaucracy


The theory of bureaucracy hinged upon five key elements:

  1. a division of labor and functional specialization;
  2. a hierarchy;
  3. a formalized frame work for rules and regulations;
  4. the maintenance of files and other records; and
  5. high levels of professionalism.

Max Weber's theory on bureaucracies painted a gruesome picture of what he referred to as the "Iron Cage." He viewed the system as an unstoppable westernized idea, incapable of being halted. His view of mankind's future was almost despondent. The individual in modern capitalist society is, as Weber sees it, "chained" to the bureaucratic apparatus, transformed into little more than a single cog in an ever-moving mechanism which prescribes to him an essentially predetermined course of march.

The horror continues as Weber goes on to explain that the new mechanized way of thinking has created cultural "disenchantment," and has robbed people of their ability to be creative and think for themselves. In Novak’s work, From Light Cloak to Iron Cage: An Examination of Max Weber’s Theory of Rationalization, he goes on to say that it effects even religion, because it has  "departed a deeply enchanted past en route to a disenchanted future—a journey that would gradually strip the natural world both of its magical properties and its capacity for meaning." Weber believed that the meaning of life would be lost in mystery while highly mechanized organizations developed and ruled the world.

This terrified Weber, who predicted a world void of human emotion. He thought that this new, idealistic, and bureaucratic hemisphere would encapsulate humanoids that lacked hatred or passion, affection or enthusiasm. These humanoids would function in a predetermined path, provide the same specialized service without any capacity for soul, and possess a lack of warmth.

This is the new world. This is the world that no longer explores, or has the capacity for feeling anything outside of its predetermined algorithm. Weber's prophecy, though grim, has been systematically played out in the modern western world. This is, by definition, a moral issue of human exploitation and slavery: a modern slavery that flies under the false flags of expansionism, intellectual freedoms, and moral liberation. Prosperity is a euphemism for slavery. And, as Weber describes the bleak existence of human life, "no summer bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness."

Weber saw the imminent decapitation of any moral compass in the human heart.


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