van Dijk, Paul: The muted masses

3rd chapter of the paper.
For notes, see the original on


asilyevich Lozenko (1947), Strength in unity!

The way Kafka and Zamyatin portrayed the power of the bureaucracy can be summarized by the words of Kafka-critic David Constantine who termed the eventual result of the bureaucracy as the ‘failure even to begin’. Society ruled by a bureaucracy has stagnated and its citizens trapped in the status quo. The German sociologist Max Weber has termed bureaucracy in similar terms, speaking of the ‘iron cage’ of modernity in his The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. How do the views of Kafka and Zamyatin relate to Weber’s view of the bureaucracy? A comparison between the two writers from Austria-Hungary and (communist) Russia and the contemporary German sociologist serves the purpose of this essay in that it may clarify whether the artistic descriptions of the state-like entities have any relationship to the bureaucratic reality of Europe as observed by a social scientist. This does not mean that the comparison consists of comparing the actual created depictions, but instead it aims at comparing the various attitudes towards bureaucracy, which are determined through the depictions of bureaucracy.

We can be relatively short about how the views of both writers correspond to that of Weber. Weber’s views on bureaucracy can be deduced from several of his works, such as The Protestant Ethic, but also Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order or On the Situation of Constitutional Democracy in Russia among others. Weber’s general contention is that the bureaucracy forced people to live prescribed ways of life. This prescription and regulation comes down to the abolishment of spontaneity and the loss of a full and beautiful life in the modern world.

The rise of the bureaucracy lies, according to Weber, in the advent of mass democracy. This form of politics demands great policies which in turn require a large bureaucracy. Weber claims that the bureaucracy is inimical to genuine (parliamentary) politics in which one can become a political leader through political struggle. To the contrary, the bureaucracy produces leaders and officials not through struggle, but through training. Weber claims that a parliament is the best institution to counterbalance both demagogues and state bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy will always try to usurp political power and, if left unchecked, will do so with disastrous consequences. Because of its regulative nature, it is difficult to give up incompetent policy during the rule of officials, especially when foreign policy is concerned. The bureaucracy will not produce able leaders, because ‘sitting in an office surrounded by files’ is not adequate political training.[1] Weber favours the political arena when it comes to producing leaders.

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