The Organization as a Political System

Published date01 December 1971
Date01 December 1971
Subject MatterArticles
Louisiana State University
INTENSE relationship between that which is organizational and that
which is political has proven an annoyingly recurring theme in recent inquir-
ies into human association. Annoying, that is, for despite the many skillful
attempts to unravel its complexities, the topic continues to present an abundance
of problems. For social analysts no less than for social actors, the increasing afilu-
ence of the bureaucratic phenomenon has proven most deceptive -
especially in
collision with the new poverty of politics.’ Yet, curiously, while strong existential
factors seem to tear organization and politics apart, in analytic terms, the two are
being drawn closer and closer together and perhaps becoming more alike.
The likelihood of division between the organizational and political is most
clear when one considers the relation of each sphere to the individual. First of all,
both forms of association not only actively seek the services or contributions of
modern man, but also compete for the individual’s devotion and allegiance. To
build a base for such a commitment, attempts are made in each sphere to teach
members and prospective members appropriate patterns of belief and acceptable
standards of behavior. Thus, just as students of political socialization have indi-
cated the extent to which children develop early images of governmental figures
and institutions,2 so are other social scientists beginning to document the same type
of learning process with respect to such bureaucratic norms as the cultural trait of
Indeed, under special circumstances, it has now been demonstrated
that the instructive power of organization may even surpass that of civic culture.4
The resulting multiplicity of associational roles has at least the potential of creating
The rise of bureaucracy in this country has been described by Robert Presthus, The Organi-
zational Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1962), esp. Chapter 3. The sublimation
of politics which has occurred in response to extensions of bureaucracy is analyzed by
Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political
Thought (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960), Chapter 10.
Recent major works in the area of political socialization include Richard E. Dawson and
Kenneth Prewitt, Political Socialization (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969) ; David Easton
and Jack Dennis, Children in the Political System (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969);
Robert D. Hess and Judith V. Torney, The Development of Political Attitudes in Chil-
dren (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1967); an excellent survey of the study
of political socialization is contained in Jack Dennis, "Major Problems of Political
Socialization Research," Midwest Journal of Political Science, 12 (February 1968),
Herbert G. Wilcox, "The Cultural Trait of Hierarchy in Middle Class Children," Public
Administration Review, 29 (May-June 1968), 222-35. See also Betty E. Cogswell,
"Some Structural Properties Influencing Socialization," Administrative Science Quar-
terly, 13 (December 1968), 417-40; Amitai Etzioni, A Comparative Analysis of Com-
plex Organizations (Glencoe: Free Press, 1961), pp. 141-49; Edgar H. Schein, "Organi-
zational Socialization and the Profession of Management," Industrial Management
Review, 9 (Winter 1968), 1-16.
Robert B. Denhardt, "Bureaucratic Socialization and Organizational Accommodation,"
Administrative Science Quarterly, 13 (December 1968), 441-50. For a study of politi-
cal socialization in the same cultural setting, see Dean Jaros, Herbert Hirsch, and
Frederic J. Fleron, Jr., "The Malevolent Leader: Political Socialization in an American
Sub-culture," American Political Science Review, 62 ( June 1968), 564-75.

situations of intense psychological stress in which the individual may be torn be-
tween divergent loyalties.5
But the opposition of organization and politics in these areas suggests a serious
predicament: if citizenship is two-pronged -
applicable to the member in his
relations with both the organization and the body politic - the function of role
integration typically associated with the perspective of citizenship cannot be ful-
filled in either sphere as it acts independently of the other.’- Neither can provide a
comprehensive frame for meaning in human association, and in turn neither can
provide an inclusive focus for the study of citizen behavior. From this standpoint,
competition between the organizational and the political seems inherent and
These developments tend to suggest an increasing cleavage between the two
modes of association, yet at the analytic level this has not proven to be the case.
Indeed, the rise of bureaucracy, finally modified by a recognition of the pervasive-
ness of human values in complex organizations, has led students of bureaucracy
to broadened interest in subjects once solely the province of the political scientist.7
Such traditional political questions as the relation of authority and obedience, the
juxtaposition of freedom and order, and the quest for the civic good are now
appearing in contexts highly organizational.&dquo; The student of bureaucracy is no
longer concerned solely with the rational and efficient manipulation of social
power.9 He is now compelled to talk also of ideas of order through participatory
administration and freedom through self-actualization; he is asked to comment on
the development of fraternity among workers and responsibility among managers
as steps toward the bureaucratic &dquo;good life.&dquo; 10
See the comments on interrole conflict in Robert L. Kahn et al., Organizational Stress —
Studies in Role Conflict and Ambiguity (New York: Wiley, 1964); See also Robert L.
Kahn and Elise Boulding, ed., Power and Conflict in Organizations (New York: Basic
Books, 1964).
For a view of citizenship as role integration see Wolin, op. cit., pp. 429-34. See also Robert
J. Pranger, Action, Symbolism and Order (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press,
1968), pp. 13-14, 17-32; Robert J. Pranger, The Eclipse of Citizenship (New York:
Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968), Chapter 5; Joseph Tussman, Obligation and the
Body Politic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), esp. Chapter 2.
As just one example of this logic, we may note that Philip Selznick, having suggested that
no organization is completely free of institutionalization (value infusion), then speaks
of the role of the leader in highly political terms. "... creative men are needed... who
know how to transform a neutral body of men into a committed polity. These men are
called leaders; their profession is politics." See Selznick, Leadership in Administration
(New York: Harper and Row, 1957), p. 61. The implications of Selznick’s view are
traced by Robert J. Pranger, "The Clinical Approach to Organization Theory," Mid-
west Journal of Political Science, 9 (August 1965), 215-34.
Parallels between organization theory and political theory are cited by Herbert Kaufman,
"Organization Theory and Political Theory," American Political Science Review, 63
(March 1964), 5-14. Many of the problems in this area were anticipated in earlier
works. See Dwight Waldo, "Development of Theory of Democratic Administration,"
American Political Science Review, 46 (March 1952), 81-103.
While the focus of this article is the internal allocation of power in complex organizations,
the power position of large bureaucracies in the total society should not be overlooked.
See, for example, John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State (Boston: Hough-
ton Mifflin, 1967); Edward S. Mason, The Corporation in Modern Society (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1966).
A number of these issues are covered in articles contained in a "Symposium on Alienation,
Decentralization, and Participation," Public Administration Review, 29 (January-
February 1969).

Obviously, by asking such questions as these, organizational analysis is brought
closer to its nearby sister discipline, political science. But this fact in turn means
that the distinction between the two has become increasingly confused. The field
of organization theory is purported to seek an explanation of the behavior of indi-
viduals and groups within organizations, which are defined as systems having a
&dquo;complex hierarchical structure, that operates in an amorphous environment with
which it continually interacts.&dquo; 11 A political system, on the other hand, seeks to
explicate a system of behavior involving &dquo;those interactions through which values
are authoritatively allocated for a society.&dquo; 12
The interchange of terms, the borrowing of ideas, and the transfer of concepts

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