Tyranny of Nobody

Arendt has some sharp observations on the dangers of bureaucratization in On Violence (81):

“Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and here all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant.” Writing in 1970, Arendt finds in this an explanation of the student protests that targeted the “system”: “In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted.” It is “impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy” (39). Since Nobody is responsible, the protests lashed out against the System.

She claims that “the transformation of government into administration, or of republics into bureaucracies, and the disastrous shrinkage of the public realm” is one of the key political realities of modernity. This can only have the effect of frustrating real political action, the ability to “act in concert, and to reach out for goals and enterprises” that are novel” (82). Even where “freedom of speech and association is still intact,” the ability to act is muzzled by bureaucracies, including those of the political parties.

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