This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
This means the government of a primary group. The officers are elected by a general assembly of the members and are answerable to it through the reports which they have to make of the progress of their work, and because any funds which they may need must be raised and voted by the assembly. The assembly may also legislate for them, that is, make rules to govern the activities of the organization, although the legislation is usually initiated by the officers themselves to relieve them of responsibility or else to help them in carrying out their plans. If any wrong-doing occurs, particularly any violation of the rules of the organization, then the assembly acts as a judicial body, hears both sides of the case, and pronounces judgment, again acting largely under the advice of its executive officers. This assumption of the legislative and judicial functions of government by the executive officers is due, in part at least, to the character of the executive officers themselves. They are nearly always eminent examples in their own persons of the ideals for which the organization stands; the assembly elected them for this reason, and they in turn do their utmost to be worthy of the trust which was reposed in them. It is therefore safe to give them large powers. Another reason is in the simplicity of the organization. The assembly may at any time take hold of any feature of its government and direct it in any manner whatsoever by its own vote.
It is desirable to recall the discussion of public opinion at the close of Chapter VI (The Social Mind) (p. 144), and note how the most capable members of a group have a preponderating influence in shaping its opinion, provided, however, that the group is stable enough to be well organized, and that the opinion has been carefully matured. In any congenial group it is easy to see how naturally the leaders are held to responsibility for their acts. They are allowed to lead only so long as they are competent and appear to be working in the interest of the group. The leader who either bungles his work or seems to be acting selfishly is soon crowded out, by jeers or force if he does not yield to gentler pressure.
An assembly, however, is a clumsy instrument with which to handle administration or judicature, as every teacher knows who has worked in a faculty of a dozen or more. It acts slowly and unevenly; it cannot dispatch business; it is an extravagant consumer of time. When a meeting of twentyfive teachers takes twenty minutes to decide that John is below grade in his studies, it uses the equivalent of a day's time. A single officer, or a committee of three, would have gathered all the essential information in ten minutes and arrived at fully as wise a conclusion, and probably with greater likelihood of conforming to precedents. An assembly, after electing officers, should confine itself to legislation for the most part, leaving administrative and judicial work to the executives.
These limitations on the functions of an assembly apply to any large deliberative body, whether popular or representative. Nor does it make very much difference how well-intentioned and intelligent the members may be. A college faculty will fumble a bit of administrative work as badly as a rural district school meeting.
There is a radical distinction between controlling the business of government and actually doing it. The same person or body may be able to control everything, but cannot possibly do everything; and in many cases its control over everything will be more perfect the less it personally attempts to do. The commander of an army could not direct its movement so effectually if he himself fought in the ranks or led an assault. It is the same with bodies of men. Some things cannot be done except by bodies; other things cannot be well done by them. It is one question, therefore, what a popular assembly should control, another what it should itself do. . . .
... In the first place, it is admitted in all countries in which the representative system is practically understood, that numerous representative bodies ought not to administer. The maxim is grounded not only on the most essential principles of good government, but on those of the successful conduct of business of any description. No body of men, unless organized and under command, is fit for action, in the proper sense. Even a select board, composed of few members, and these specially conversant with the business to be done, is always an inferior instrument to some one individual who could be found among them, and would be improved in character if that one person were made the chief, and all the others reduced to subordinates. What can be done better by a body than by any individual is deliberation. When it is necessary or important to secure hearing and consideration to many conflicting opinions, a deliberative body is indispensable. . . .
But a popular assembly is still less fitted to administer, or to dictate in detail to those who have the charge of administration. Even when honestly meant, the interference is almost always injurious. Every branch of public administration is a skilled business, which has its own peculiar principles and traditional rules, many of them not even known in any effectual way except to those who have at some time had a hand in carrying on the business, and none of them likely to be duly appreciated by persons not practically acquainted with the department. ... - Mill, Representative Government, pp. 100-103.