command hierarchy

A command hierarchy is a group of people that strictly defer to each other in a hierarchical order.

one leader

In the strictest version, a single command hierarchy, there is one leader who makes operational decisions on a day to day basis. He (and it is almost always a HE as feminists will not fail to indicate) makes statements including command verbs that others obey. If they do not obey, they are removed.

responsibility flows up

Such undemocratic structuring is justified by the fact that the responsibility flows upward to this decision maker and any errors made by those under his (or her) command so that they are forced to resign or pay for those errors. The principle of ministerial responsibility in parliaments is based on this argument and justifies the cabinet minister's control of his or her department.

information flows up

Because of the need to keep the decision maker informed of any change in circumstances, information flow is optimized such that only the "centre", "leader" or "top" of the organization has all the information necessary to make decisions. In this respect the command hierarchy was largely obsoleted by the information age - or at least, it became possible to spread information everywhere without any need to "optimize" its flow to only one group or person. More lateral ideas like workplace democracy, anticipatory democracy - a market-based method, and the learning organization have emerged as replacements.

instructions flow down

A command hierarchy expressed the mindset of command and control that was popular in the 20th century in part due to militarism, the spread of signal infrastructure all over the world, and the needs of modern economies under extreme stress in wartime. It was fostered by. Its overuse may have led to, most of that century's problems. It is now considered obsolete for many kinds of organizations. See social capital and the learning organization for approaches that are more modern, and politics as usual for aspects of resistance.

continued usefulness re: violence and technology

Any human being issuing instructions to their computer via mouse, selected from hierarchical menus, will notice the advantages of command hierarchy, at least when there is a command grammar that is expected to work. Likewise a military or police force should be responding predictably to all human command verbs and answering to judiciary and social contracts like constitutions - just as a computer program answers to its architects.

continued usefulness in politics itself

An organization that only engages in campaigns might have a command hierarchy for strictly mechanical functions, but other functions - such as lobbying - are seriously disabled by them, and participatory democracy can't work at all, only a political party embracing authoritarian principles can tolerate hierarchy.

maintained at great cost

No command hierarchy is maintained "for free". There are costs involved, and they are usually quite significant:

maintained by violent responses to disobedience

Violence ultimately underlies such systems but is rarely seen, except in criminal gangs and other groups that are explicit about their use of violence for intimidation and control.

maintained by charisma

Often a command hierarchy is not obvious. It may for instance rely on various forms of suasion by a charismatic leader - or those led may be lazy about challenging assumptions about what others think - especially in a time-compressed or overly "urgent" process - see groupthink.

maintained by stupidity

"In politics, stupidity is not a disadvantage" - Napoleon

It may also not be obvious that a leader is really leading by stupidity: failing to understand alternatives to his or her own proposals, and by doing so, exhausting those who are forced to explain them. Eventually they submit by sheer exhaustion. The Pointy Haired Boss archetype is a nearly pure expression of this strategy to create a hierarchy.