lpc1998's Home

Original Posting: 11 Junel 2004 Friday 1400 hrs Singapore

Michelsí Iron Law of Oligarchy

Re-posted from here (http://www.spunk.org/library/places/germany/sp000711.txt)

"...Robert Michels, a friend of Weber's, also was concerned about the depersonalizing effect of bureaucracy. His views, formulated at the beginning of this century, are still pertinent today.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy

"Michels (1911) came to the conclusion that the formal organization of bureaucracies inevitably leads to oligarchy, under which organizations originally idealistic and democratic eventually come to be dominated by a small, self-serving group of people who achieved positions of power and responsibility. This can occur in large organizations because it becomes physically impossible for everyone to get together every time a decision has to be made. Consequently, a small group is given the responsibility of making decisions. Michels believed that the people in this group would become enthralled with their elite positions and more and more inclined to make decisions that protect their power rather than represent the will of the group they are supposed to serve. In effect Michels was saying that bureaucracy and democracy do not mix. Despite any protestations and promises that they would not become like all the rest, those placed in positions of responsibility and power often come to believe that they too are indispensable, and more knowledgeable than those they serve. As time goes on, they become further removed from the rank and file...

"The Iron Law of Oligarchy suggests that organizations wishing to avoid oligarchy should take a number of precautionary steps. They should make sure that the rank and file remain active in the organization and that the leaders not be granted absolute control of a centralized administration. As long as there are open lines of communication and shared decision making between the leaders and the rank and file, an oligarchy cannot easily develop.

"Clearly, the problems of oligarchy, of the bureaucratic depersonalization described by Weber, and of personal alienation all are interrelated. If individuals are deprived of the power to make decisions that affect their lives in many or even most of the areas that are important to them, withdrawal into narrow ritualism (overconformity to rules) and apathy are likely responses. Such withdrawals seemed to constitute a chronic condition in some of the highly centralized socialist countries. However, there are many signs of public apathy in the United States, too. For example, in 1964 about 70 percent of those eligible to vote for president did so. In each of the succeeding national elections this figure has dropped, and in 1988 it was only 50 percent."

[-------- Page Ends Here --------]