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September 08, 2005

Max Weber Predicted the Katrina Aftermath

As I'm coincidentally preparing readings for a class on government and bureaucracies, I came across this piece by Max Weber, the early 20th century sociologist, who outlined what was needed for a well-functioning bureaucracy.

Office Holding is a Vocation: That is the office is a vocation finds expression, first, in the requirement of a prescribed course of training...Furthermore, it finds expression in that the position of the official is in the nature of a "duty"...Entrance into an office, including one in the private economy, is considered an acceptable of a specific duty of fealty to the purpose of the office in return for the grant of a secure existence. It is decisvie for the modern loyalty to an office that, in the pure type, it does not establish a relationship to a person, like the vassal's or disciple's faith under feudal or patrimonial authority, but rather is devoted to impersonal and functional purposes...The political official -- at least in the fully developed modern state -- is not considered the personal servant of a ruler.
Guess what was lacking at FEMA, with its untrained hacks acting not with duty to their office, but as vassals to Bush's political needs?

The story of Katrina is not of individual incompetence but a more fundamental breakdown in the operations of our nation's civil service. Step-by-step, Bush has been dismantling every rule and every law that they can that would ensure loyalty by government employees to the public, rather than to the political needs of the incumbent. From the destruction of union rights in Homeland Security to the privatization of services to allied political cronies, a Katrina disaster became inevitable.

Weber describes what a functioning "modern developed state" looks like. If Katrina made our response look like a third world nation, it's because while our technology and wealth may be the top in the world, our political institutions are sinking back into feudalism.

Posted by Nathan at September 8, 2005 09:10 AM