The second thesis of Eva Etzioni Halevy is that democracy poses a dilemma for bureaucracy. “By democratic rules, bureaucracy is in a double bind: it is expected to be under the control of elected politicians and yet exempt from such control; it is expected to be subject to ministerial responsibility and yet accept responsibility for its own action; it is expected to implement the policy devised by its elected political head and yet participate in the formulation of policy in its own right; it is expected to participate in the formulation of policy and yet the politically neutral, which is another way of saying that bureaucracy is expected to be politicized and non-politicized at one and the same time.”
To the extent that bureaucracy takes part in the formulation of policy, at the higher level, it takes part in the allocation of resources. Therefore it takes part in the exercise of power and as such is engaged in politics. Hence also it is subject to the pressure of interest groups and must respond to or maneuver between such pressures. So it is a participant in the struggle for control over resources or in other words engaged in the struggle for power that is politics. In this sense, bureaucracy is clearly politicized. This type of politicization is considered legitimate and even beneficial to democratic processes.
But if a bureaucracy favors one political party over another in matters of policy, appointments, and promotion of personnel, it gives that party enormous advantage in the electoral process. This type
politicization or partisan functioning is considered illegitimate and therefore harmful to democratic functioning.
This then is the dilemma of bureaucracy in democracy created by the ambiguity of the role definition of the former. The attempts made in several countries (Hoover Commission recommendations in 1955 in the U.S.A., ministerial cabinets in France, etc.) to give clarification of the role definition of bureaucracy have not succeeded as yet.
The third thesis of Eva Etzioni-Halevy is that the ambiguity of the role definition of bureaucracy is the source of considerable strain, friction, and even conflict in the political system of modern democracies. It is especially so between senior bureaucrats and senior politicians (ministers and M.P.s.) In the absence of clear role definition, often senior bureaucrats have been able to “branch out into the bureaucratic political to man’s land which does not fall clearly within the domain of bureaucracy nor clearly outside it. This, however, is disputed territory. Its penetration by bureaucracy has therefore led at times, to an adverse reaction by politicians who lay claim to this territory as well.” He, therefore, opines that the problem bureaucracy causes for democracy lies not only in the power it has amassed but also in the power struggles it has generated.
This is particularly so for bureaucracy’s participation in politics. Whenever the bureaucracy has approached or crossed the boundary, which is always hazy, between policy and party politics, it has led to “especially severe tensions and power struggles, which sometimes contribute to the downfall of senior politicians or even entire governments, to the dismissal of senior bureaucrats or even to the abolition of entire bureaucratic agencies.”
The power struggles generated by bureaucracy may be more ruthless and disruptive than those of politicians or political elites because the latter adhere to rules regulating political processes, but power struggles generated by the former may occur at a point where rules are inadequate or at which they break down. The power struggles of bureaucracy, unlike those of politicians or political elites, are not decided by the electoral process. “For this reason too, such struggles are especially problematic for the already fragile arrangements that constitute democracy.”
Safeguards Against Bureaucratic Threat to Democracy
Different scholars have approached the problem of overpowering bureaucracy’s threat to democracy in different ways. Some safeguards have already been referred to while discussing bureaucracy vis-a-vis
democracy in developing societies. Some other scholars suggest representative bureaucracy’ or ‘balanced bureaucracy’ or participatory bureaucracy’ as desirable structures to safeguard democracy.
Paul P. Van Riper attributed the success of American democracy in part at least to the representative character of the federal civil service. He considers representative bureaucracy to be more responsive to public needs, although several scholars consider additional factors also helping like American bureaucracy cherishing common values which are part of the nation’s socio-political consensus, egalitarian ethos of American society, etc.
According to Paul P.V. Riper, a representative bureaucracy must”
(a) consist of a reasonable cross-section of the body politic in terms of occupations, class, geography and the like, and
(b) must be in general tune with the ethos and attitudes of the society of which it is a part.” In social and economic class characteristics, in geographic, educational, ethnic, religious, and racial characteristics American bureaucracy is essentially a mirror of the nation. To a large extent, the American system does succeed in building a bureaucracy that is representative. Some students of the system declare that the American bureaucracy is more representative of American society than is the elected congress.
David Nachmias and David H. Rosenbloom think that in order for a public democracy to be integrated fully and effectively into the democratic regime, it must be in a state of balance. “A bureaucracy is
in imbalance when it fails to operate on the basis of democratic consent …. Bureaucratic imbalance may be either despotic subservient. Despotic implies that the bureaucracy is too much the master while subservient implies that it is too much the servant.” Such a balance consists of the following elements:
(i) Widespread knowledge about the bureaucracy;
(ii) a feeling that the public’s self-interest is being served by the bureaucracy; and
(iii) a feeling that the bureaucracy provides equal treatment and,
(iv) the bureaucracy must have an adequate prestige value.
Riggs, however, uses the terms “balanced Polity” and “imbalanced Polity” instead. For him “when a reasonably stable balance of power exists between a bureaucracy and constitutive (meaning political) system, we may refer to the resultant form of government as a ‘balanced polity’.” Conversely, an unbalanced polity may be a “party-run-polity” dominated by its constitutive (political) system with the power position of the bureaucracy reduced substantially, or it may be a “bureaucratic polity” dominated by its bureaucracy.
The U.S. and several West European political systems are to an extent attempting reforms called ‘participatory bureaucracy’ to achieve political responsiveness and efficiency in public bureaucracies. The participatory bureaucracy consists of four major elements.
(i) Representation i.e. a high level of social representativeness in a national bureaucracy (being attempted in India, U.S., Israel, etc.)
(ii) Organisational democracy i.e. participation by bureaucratic employees in decisions concerning the structuring of work, personnel matters, and the nature of the public policy.
(iii) Bureaucrats may be allowed, even encouraged to contribute freely to the public debate on matters of public policy. It would provide citizens with better knowledge about the operation, character, and perspectives of national bureaucracy.
(iv) It requires citizen participation in bureaucratic policymaking. In principle, it applies in all cases but it is especially in the case of those citizens who are affected most by bureaucratic decisions in any given policy area. These elements can be integrated into a coherent approach for contributing to the resolution of tensions between democracy and bureaucracy. That will help make bureaucracy more politically responsive to the citizens and more efficient in its operations. There is a strong internal logic to ‘participatory bureaucracy’. The inability to render national bureaucracies completely apolitical strongly suggests that if democracy is to be safeguarded bureaucracies must be socially representative.