Bureaucratization of public life, progress and the power to act- (1969) (...) (2013)

“[t]he greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant. The crucial feature in the students’ rebellions around the world is that they are directed everywhere against the ruling bureaucracy. This explains, what at first glance seems so disturbing, that the rebellions in the East demand precisely those freedoms of speech and thought that the young rebels in the West say they despise as irrelevant. Huge party machines have succeeded everywhere to overrule the voice of the citizens, even in countries where freedom of speech and association is still intact. 

The dissenters and resisters in the East demand free speech and thought as the preliminary conditions for political action; the rebels in the West live under conditions where these preliminarics no longer open the channels for action, for the meaningful exercise of freedom. The transformation of government into administration, of republics into bureaucracies, and the disastrous shrinkage of the public realm that went with it, have a long and complicated history throughout the modern age; and this process has been considerably accelerated for the last hundred years through the rise of party bureaucracies.

What makes man a political being is his faculty to act. It enables him to get together with his peers, to act in concert, and to reach out for goals and enterprises which would never enter his mind, let alone the desires of his heart, had he not been given this gift—to embark upon something new. All the properties of creativity ascribed to life in manifestations of violence and power actually belong to the faculty of action. And I think it can be shown that no other human ability has suffered to such an extent by the Progress of the modern age.

For progress, as we have come to understand it, means growth, the relentless process of more and more, of bigger and bigger. The bigger a country becomes in population, in objects, and in possessions, the greater will be the need for administration and with it, the anonymous power of the administrators. Pavel Kohout, the Czech author, writing in the heyday of the Czech experiment with freedom, defined a “free citizen” as a “Citizen-Co-ruler.” He meant nothing else but the “participatory democracy” of which we have heard so much in recent years in the West. Kohout added that what the world, as it is today, stands in greatest need of may well be “a new example” if “the next thousand years are not to become an era of supercivilized monkeys.”” 

H. Arendt, A Special Supplement: Reflections on Violence, FEBRUARY 27, 1969 • VOLUME 12, NUMBER 4, pp. 22-23. 

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