The Bureaucrats (Les Employes) stands out in Balzac's immense Human Comedy by concentrating precisely and penetratingly on a distinctive "modern" institution: France's state bureaucracy. Rabourdin, aided by his unscrupulous wife, attempts to reorganize and streamline the entire system. Rabourdin's plan will halve the government's size while doubling its revenue. When the plan is leaked, Rabourdin's rival—an utter incompetent—gains the overwhelming support of the frightened and desperate body of low-ranking functionaries.
The novel contains the recognizable themes of Balzac's work: obsessive ambition, conspiracy and human pettiness, and a melodramatic struggle between the social good and the evils of folly and stupidity. It is also an unusual, dramatized analysis of a developing political institution and its role in shaping social class and mentality.