Max Weber was one of the 20th century's greatest sociologists.
This great German thinker discovered the concept of RATIONLIZATION.
Where massive organizations in all spheres of modern life dominated
the individual and depersonalized him. Huge bureaucracies generated
wealth, but also destroyed the very enviornment that generated
this wealth. Regardless of the political color of the bureacuracy
whether it be Capitalist, Communist, Socialist, or Fascist.
The end-result was often the same.
The Auschwitz chapter in Harvest of Gems shows the ultimate
outcome of this rationalization. The Vietnam war and Hiroshima
and the currrent Gulf conflict are also examples of rationalization
gone crazy. The Harvest pilgrim renounces being a participant
of this rationalization process and goes to small-scale spiritual
centers to escape this iron cage and explore his inner mind
where a vast inner universe is discovered and prepares the pilgrim
to come back to society with a vision much larger than the iron
cage he left....
Kafka and George Orwell were both reacting to Weber's rationalization
with their literary masterpieces: The Trial and 1984.
I leave you with an article on Weber's work.
extreme case of rationalization was the extermination camps
of Nazi Germany. The goal was to kill as many people as possible
in the most efficient manner, and the result was the ultimate
of dehumanization--the murder of millions of men, women and
children. The men and women who ran the extermination camps
were, in large part, ordinary human beings. They were not particularly
evil people. Most went to church on Sundays; most had children,
loved animals and life. William
Shirer (1960) comments on business firms that collaborated
in the building and running of the camps: "There had been,
the records show, some lively competition among German businessmen
to procure orders for building these death and disposal contraptions
and for furnishing the lethal blue crystals. The firm of I.
A. Topf and Sons of Erfurt, manufacturers of heating equipment,
won out in its bid for the crematoria at Auschwitz. The story
of its business enterprise was revealed in a voluminous correspondence
found in the records of the camp. A letter from the firm dated
February 12, 1943, gives the tenor:
The Central Construction Office of the S.S. and Police, Auschwitz
Subject: Crematoria 2 and 3 for the camp.
acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces,
including two electric elevators for raising corpses and one
emergency elevator. A practical installation for stoking coal
was also ordered and one for transporting ashes (Shirer, 1960:
lethal blue crystals of Zyklon-B used in the gas
chambers were supplied by two German firms which had acquired
the patent from I. G. Farben (Shirer, 1960). Their product could
do the most effective job for the least possible cost, so they
got the contract. Shirer (1960) summarizes the organization
of evil. Before the postwar trials in Germany it had been
generally believed that the mass killings were exclusively the
work of a relatively few fanatical S.S. leaders. But the records
of the courts leave no doubt of the complicity of a number of
German businessmen, not only the Krupps and the directors of
I.G. Farben chemical trust but smaller entrepreneurs who outwardly
must have seemed to be the most prosaic and decent of men, pillars--like
good businessmen everywhere--of their communities (972-973).
In sum, the extermination camps and their suppliers were models
of bureaucratic efficiency using the most efficient means available
at that time to accomplish the goals of the Nazi government.
German corporations went beyond supplying the government with
the machinery of death, some actively participated in the killing
process. "This should occasion neither surprise nor shock.
I.G. Farben was one of the first great corporate conglomerates.
Its executives merely carried the logic of corporate rationality
to its ultimate conclusion...the perfect labor force for a corporation
that seeks fully to minimize costs and maximize profits is slave
labor in a death camp. Among the great German corporations who
utilized slave labor were AEG (German General Electric), Wanderer-Autounion
(Audi), Krupp, Rheinmetall Borsig, Siemens-Schuckert and Telefunken"
Farben's synthetic rubber (Buna) plants at Auschwitz are
a good example of the relationship between corporate profits
and Nazi goals. I.G. Farben's investment in the plant at
Auschwitz was considerable--over $1,000,000,000 in 1970s
American dollars. The construction work required 170 contractors
and subcontractors, housing had to be built for the corporate
personnel, barracks for the workers.
SS guards supplied by the state would administer punishment
when rules were broken. The workers at the plants were treated
as all other inmates in the camp. The only exception was
one of diet, workers in the plants would receive an extra
ration of "Buna soup" to maintain "a precisely
calculated level of productivity" (Rubenstein, 1975:
58). Nor was any of this hidden from corporate executives;
they were full participants in the horror. With an almost
inexhaustible supply of workers, the corporation simply
worked their slave laborers to death.
fact that individual officials have specialized and limited
responsibility and authority within the organization means that
they are unlikely to raise basic questions regarding the moral
implications of the overall operation of the organization. Under
the rule of specialization, society becomes more and more intricate
and interdependent, but with less common purpose. The community
disintegrates because it loses its common bond. The emphasis
in bureaucracies is on getting the job done in the most efficient
manner possible. Consideration of what impact organizational
behavior might have on society as a whole, on the environment,
or on the consumer simply does not enter into the calculation.
problem is further compounded by the decline of many traditional
institutions such as the family, community, and religion,
which served to bind pre-industrial man to the interests
of the group. Rationalization causes the weakening of traditional
and religious moral authority (secularization); the values
of efficiency and calculability predominate. In an advanced
industrial-bureaucratic society, everything becomes a component
of the expanding machine, including human beings (Elwell,
Wright Mills, whose social theory was strongly influenced
by Weber, describes the problem:
is not the number of victims or the degree of cruelty that
is distinctive; it is the fact that the acts committed and
the acts that nobody protests are split from the consciousness
of men in an uncanny, even a schizophrenic manner. The atrocities
of our time are done by men as "functions" of social
machinery--men possessed by an abstracted view that hides
from them the human beings who are their victims and, as well,
their own humanity. They are inhuman acts because they are
impersonal. They are not sadistic but merely businesslike;
they are not aggressive but merely efficient; they are not
emotional at all but technically clean-cut (C. Wright Mills,
result is a seeming paradox-- bureaucracies, the epitome
of rationalization, acting in very irrational ways. Thus
we have economic bureaucracies in pursuit of profit that
deplete and pollute the environment upon which they are
based; political bureaucracies, set up to protect our civil
liberties, that violate them with impunity; Agricultural
bureaucracies (educational, government, and business) set
up to help the farmer, that end up putting millions of these
same farmers out of business;
Service bureaucracies designed to care for and protect the
elderly, that routinely deny service and actually engage
in abuse. The irrationality of bureaucratic institutions
is a major factor in understanding contemporary society.
Weber called this formal rationalization as opposed to substantive
rationality (the ability to anchor actions in the consideration
of the whole). It can also be called the irrationality of
rationalization, or more generally, the irrationality factor
(Elwell, 1999). The irrationality of bureaucratic institutions
is a major factor is understanding contemporary society.
believed that Marxist theory was too simplistic, reducing all
to a single economic cause (Gerth and Mills, 1946). However,
Weber does not attempt to refute Marx, rather he can be interpreted
as an attempt to round out Marx's economic determinism (Gerth
and Mills, 1946).
views about the inescapable rationalization and bureaucratization
of the world have some obvious similarities to Marx's notion
of alienation. Both men agree that modern methods of organization
have tremendously increased the effectiveness and efficiency
of production and organization and have allowed an unprecedented
domination of man over the world of nature. They also agree
that the new world of rationalized efficiency has turned into
a monster that threatens to dehumanize its creators. But Weber
disagrees with Marx's claim that alienation is only a transitional
stage on the road to man's true emancipation" (Coser,
believed that the alienation documented by Marx had little to
do with the ownership of the mode of production, but was a consequence
of bureaucracy and the rationalization of social life. Marx
asserted that capitalism has led to the "expropriation"
of the worker from the mode of production. He believed that
the modern worker is not in control of his fate, is forced to
sell his labor (and thus his self) to private capitalists. Weber
countered that loss of control at work was an inescapable result
of any system of rationally coordinated production (Coser, 1977).
Weber argued that men could no longer engage in socially significant
action unless they joined a large-scale organization. In joining
organizations they would have to sacrifice their personal desires
and goals to the impersonal goals and procedures of the organization
itself (Coser, 1977). By doing so, they would be cut off from
a part of themselves, they would become alienated.
and capitalism are both economic systems based on industrialization--the
rational application of science, observation, and reason
to the production of goods and services. Both capitalism
and socialism are forms of a rational organization of
economic life to control and coordinate this production.
Socialism is predicated on government ownership of the
economy to provide the coordination to meet the needs
of people within society. If anything, Weber maintained,
socialism would be even more rationalized, even more bureaucratic
than capitalism. And thus, more alienating to human beings
as well (Gerth and Mills, 1946: 49).
to Weber, because bureaucracy is a form of organization superior
to all others, further bureaucratization and rationalization
may be an inescapable fate. "Without this form of (social)
technology the industrialized countries could not have reached
the heights of extravagance and wealth that they currently enjoy.
All indications are that they will continue to grow in size
and scope." Weber wrote of the evolution of an iron cage,
a technically ordered, rigid, dehumanized society:
is apparent that today we are proceeding towards an evolution
which resembles (the ancient kingdom of Egypt) in every
detail, except that it is built on other foundations, on
technically more perfect, more rationalized, and therefore
much more mechanized foundations. The problem which besets
us now is not: how can this evolution be changed? --for
that is impossible, but: what will come of it."
Weber feared that our probable future would be even more
bureaucratized, an iron cage that limits individual human
potential rather than a technological utopia that sets us
1970; Coser, 1977).
is perhaps fitting to close with a quote from Max engaged in
speculation on the other future possibilities of industrial
systems. While Weber had a foreboding of an "iron cage"
of bureaucracy and rationality, he recognized that human beings
are not mere subjects molded by sociocultural forces. We are
both creatures and creators of sociocultural systems. And even
in a sociocultural system that increasingly institutionalizes
and rewards goal oriented rational behavior in pursuit of wealth
and material symbols of status there are other possibilities:
one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether
at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets
will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and
ideals or, if neither, mechanized petrification embellished
with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage
of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists
without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines
that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved"
(Weber, 1904/1930: 181).
1996 Frank Elwell