Domination and organization

Domination and organization are inescapably mutually implicated. Domination requires organization – concerted action by a body of people employed as staff – to exe- cute commands; and, conversely, all organization requires domination in that the power of command over the staff must be vested in an individual or a group of indi- viduals, in an organization of any scale. Hence arises the necessity of a division of labor. What is most remarkable about any organization is the way that it shapes super- ordinate goals that others orient to; in this way, these others will do things that they would not otherwise do and thus will be subject to power. Their social action is constrained and enabled by the manifest will or command of the ruler, rulers, or rules. These are meant to influence the conduct of the rule; that is what they are designed for. Whether or not the rules achieve their purpose is not something to take for granted; the effective legitimacy of rule should never be assumed but is always an empirical matter. Should the rule(r)s positively influence the social action that occurs within the context of organizationally enabled action, it will only be so to the extent that those ruled make the content of the command – its will to power – the maxim of their conduct for its own sake. Of course, the rulers can tilt the probability in their favor by acculturating others to the habitual obedience of commands; they can constitute the others as subjects with a personal interest in seeing the existing domination continue because they derive benefits from it, which was the philosophy behind Taylor’s advocacy of piece-rates; they can hold out the promise of the pleasures of future rule through participation in domination to the subaltern ranks by dividing some elements of the exercise of functions among them; and they always hold a power of dismissal should these incentives fail.

The power of command can exist irrespective of the sense of duty to obey; when that duty is present then the command may be felt as a legitimate obligation to an authority; with a sense of duty, power is transformed into authority, where the legit- imacy of rule and rules is accepted. Where power is bereft of that sense of duty it shades into domination, defined as the non-legitimate imposition of will. It should be evident that the judgment of the legitimacy or otherwise of rule – whether it is authority – is a prerogative not of the rulers but of the putatively ruled. It is for this reason that power, as a social relation, will be inherently dynamic. While claims as to power’s efficacy are made each time that an organizational action is enacted through command (whether habitual, written, spoken, ruled, or construed in any other way whatsoever) there is always the probability that the command will be met with resis- tance, either because it is not construed as being legitimate in the context in which it is interpreted by those subject to it or, which amounts to the same thing, to resist it fits better with another more highly valued course of action than obedience to rule. Command may be interpreted quite flexibly. Organizations seek to replace the necessity of frequent interventions into the body politic through a discipline of power that institutionalizes the domination of formal rationality; that is, the prob- ability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed (Weber 1978: 53). Now it is important not to interpret ‘command’ too literally. A command is not simply something that is necessarily expressed vocally, as in ‘I command you to cease that at once.’ A command also encompasses the orders that are received in writing or through other forms of representation, as well as the generalized duties associated with a particular office. Let a historical example suffice to make the point.

King Henry II of England appointed his friend Thomas à Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England. However, Becket proved recalcitrant to his will with respect to ecclesiastical reform, leading to a long dispute between King and Archbishop. In October 1164 Henry had Becket con- demned on trumped-up charges of contempt of court over a land dispute in Pagham, and ruled that the Archbishop should forfeit all his goods. Becket was summoned to attend a Council at Northampton, where, at morning mass, he pit- ted the rule of the Church against the rule of the Monarch, when he said ‘Princes also sit and speak against me; but thy servant, Lord, is occupied in thy statutes’, and entered the Council bearing his archiepiscopal cross of office. Becket maintained that the Council had no right to judge him, as a servant of God. Nonetheless, to escape its judgment he fled to exile in France.

The dispute dragged on for the next six years, despite frequent attempts at intermediation between the two powerful rulers, one of Church, the other of state. Finally, on May 24, 1170, the Archbishop of York crowned Henry II’s son, Henry the Younger, as successor at Canterbury. Becket, of course, as the head of the Church, took  this  as  a grave  snub, and on  July  22, 1170, the  King  and  the

Archbishop agreed to a compromise that allowed Becket to come home from his French exile in Fréteval and recrown Henry the Younger in a second ceremony. However, the reconciliation was hardly consummated. Henry the Younger refused to meet Becket when he arrived at Windsor.

Becket’s authority was now severely compromised. He attempted to reassert it through an act of power, excommunicating his old ecclesiastical enemies, includ- ing the Archbishop of York who had done the crowning. When this news was brought to him in his Christmas court at Bures in Normandy, Henry exploded and is said to have uttered the words, ‘who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’ The result, of course, was that Henry’s knights took this as a royal command and killed Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

A question, perhaps rhetorical, when uttered by a ruler, can be interpreted as a command because command encapsulates the claims to authority of an office. That obedience to it will always be probabilistic suggests that resistance to power – politics – is a normal part of the rationalization process, and thus of organizations. In this case, Henry was unable to exercise authority over Becket; Becket could counter all attempts on his part to do so by claiming to serve the ‘honor of my God’, as his ultimate value. Nor could he assert his domination over him as Becket claimed that his dominion was the rule of the Church not the rule of the state, and that the two were indubitably separate, with the Lords Spiritual owing a greater allegiance to their ultimate ruler, God, through the will to power manifested in His servant, the Archbishop, than to their temporal ruler.

The only card that Henry could have played in this complex political game was blocked. He could have won the Pope to his cause – in fact he even threatened to support the Holy Roman Emperor’s anti-pope if Pope Alexander III did not decide in his favor – but the Pope was unlikely to settle a dispute on terms that, ultimately, weakened his authority and that of the God in whose name he ruled.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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