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Organization without leadership

According to the Iron law of oligarchy

  • Bureaucracy happens. If bureaucracy happens, power rises. Power corrupts.
  • Bureaucracy by design leads to centralization of power by the leaders. Leaders also have control over sanctions and rewards. They tend to promote those who share their opinions, which inevitably leads to self-perpetuating oligarchy
  • all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations.
  • According to the “iron law,” democracy and large-scale organization are incompatible.
  • Main reasons for this are

“in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.”
(Jerry Pournelle)

How to avoid oligarchy?

One of the best known exceptions to the iron law of oligarchy was the now defunct International Typographical Union

  • The ITU had a number of large, strong, local unions who valued their autonomy.
  • This local autonomy was strengthened by the economy of the printing industry which operated in largely local and regional markets
  • the existence of factions helped place a check on the oligarchic tendencies that existed at the national headquarters
  • with a powerful out faction ready to expose profligacy, no leaders dared take overly generous personal remuneration
  • irregular work hours led shopmates to spend more of their leisure time together.
  • Aristotle argued that a democratic polity was most likely where there was a large, stable middle class, and the extremes of wealth and poverty were not great (see also Plato’s_five_regimes)

However, Sullivan’s law gives general hope: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” May it prove right.

See also Sortition, Public Choice, Elite theory

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