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quotations about bureaucracy

Bureaucracy quote

Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.

MARY MCCARTHY, "The Vita Activa," The New Yorker, Oct. 18, 1958

Though it is disguised by the illusion that a bureaucracy accountable to a majority of voters, and susceptible to the pressure of organized minorities, is not exercising compulsion, it is evident that the more varied and comprehensive the regulation becomes, the more the state becomes a despotic power as against the individual. For the fragment of control over the government which he exercises through his vote is in no effective sense proportionate to the authority exercised over him by the government.


Remove the document—and you remove the man.

MIKHAIL BULGAKOV, The Master and Margarita

The atmosphere of officialdom would kill anything that breathes the air of human endeavour, would extinguish hope and fear alike in the supremacy of paper and ink.

JOSEPH CONRAD, The Shadow-Line

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

FRANZ KAFKA, attributed, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

In our time ... a man whose enemies are faceless bureaucrats almost never wins. It is our equivalent to the anger of the gods in ancient times. But those gods you must understand were far more imaginative than our tiny bureaucrats. They spoke from mountaintops not from tiny airless offices. They rode clouds. They were possessed of passion. They had voices and names. Six thousand years of civilization have brought us to this.

CHAIM POTOK, Davita's Harp

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.

HONORE DE BALZAC, attributed, The Harper Book of Quotations

Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.


No one comes or stays in the government offices but idlers, incapables, or fools. Thus the mediocrity of French administration has slowly come about. Bureaucracy, made up entirely of petty minds, stands as an obstacle of prosperity of the nation; delays for seven years, by its machinery, the project of a canal which would have stimulated the production of a province; is afraid of everything, prolongs procrastination, and perpetuates the abuses which in turn perpetuate and consolidate itself. Bureaucracy holds all things and the administration itself in leading strings; it stifles men of talent who are bold enough to be independent of it or to enlighten it on its own follies.


Bureaucracies force us to practice nonsense. And if you rehearse nonsense, you may one day find yourself the victim of it.

LAURENCE GONZALES, Everyday Survival

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.

LAURENCE J. PETER, Peter Prescription

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers' enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

SIMONE WEIL, "Reflections on War"

However many people complain about the "red tape," it would be sheer illusion to think ... continuous administrative work can be carried out in any field except by means of officials working in offices.... The choice is only that between bureaucracy and dillettantism.

MAX WEBER, Economy and Society

Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept. Who enjoys appearing inept?

FRANK HERBERT, Heretics of Dune

Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy, but an inevitable complement to it.

JOSEPH A. SCHUMPETER, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

Bureaucracy is, for its detractors, one of the predicaments of modern life and must be examined as what it is, at best, a functional solution to administrative problems and, at worst, an immediate and living threat to the open society.

ALEXANDER STYHRE, The Innovative Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy gives birth to itself and then expects maternity benefits.

DALE DAUTEN, attributed, The Greatest Quotations of All-Time

Willpower subverts passion. Bureaucracy subverts willpower. Idiocy subverts bureaucracy.

BAUVARD, Some Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic

If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.

HYMAN G. RICKOVER, attributed, Words from the Wise

We have a system laden with rules; elsewhere that is a sure sign that the bureaucracy is aloof from the people, distant from their concerns, and preoccupied with the power and privileges of the bureaucrats--an elaborate, grinding machine that can crush the spirit of any who dare oppose it. We also have a system suffused with participation: advisory boards, citizen groups, neighborhood councils, congressional investigators, crusading journalists, and lawyers serving writs; elsewhere this popular involvement would be taken as evidence that the administrative system is no system at all, but a bungling, jerry-built contraption wallowing in inefficiency and shot through with corruption and favoritism.

JAMES Q. WILSON, Bureaucracy

The disease which inflicts bureaucracy and what they usually die from is routine.

JOHN STUART MILL, attributed, As It Is: An Ode to a Decade of Hidden Issues

Recognition of the inevitability of comprehensive bureaucratization does not solve the problems that arise out of it.

JOSEPH A. SCHUMPETER, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

The true nature of bureaucracy may be nowhere more obvious to the observer than in a developing country, for only there will it still be made manifest by the full complement of documents, files, veneered desks and cabinets - which convey the strict and inverse relationship between productivity and paperwork.

ALAIN DE BOTTON, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

I hated the maze of bureaucracy with a passion, but I've found the best way to deal with it is to smile and act stupid.

KIM HARRISON, Dead Witch Walking

Plato argued that good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around law. By pretending that procedure will get rid of corruption, we have succeeded only in humiliating honest people and provided a cover of darkness and complexity for the bad people. There is a scandal here, but it's not the result of venal bureaucrats.

PHILIP K. HOWARD, Death of Common Sense

Bureaucracies are inherently antidemocratic. Bureaucrats derive their power from their position in the structure, not from their relation with the people they are supposed to serve. The people are not masters of the bureaucracy, but its clients.

ALAN KEYES, attributed, Public Administration: An Introduction

The greatest power of bureaucracies is to make the smart act stupid and the good to act evil.



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