Max Weber on Bureaucracy
I. Merriam Webster’s Definition of Bureaucracy:
1 a : a body of nonelective government officials b : an administrative policy-making group 2 : government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority 3 : a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation
II. Background and Description
Max Weber was born 1864 and died 1920. Weber asks how is it a leader can give a command and have actions carried out? He answers the question by classifying claims to the "legitimacy" in the exercise of authority.
His observations on bureaucracy were heavily influenced by his experiences in the United States. While traveling there, Weber was struck by the role of bureaucracy in a democratic society. The problem, as he saw it, was that modern democracy required bureaucratic structures of all kinds in the administration of government and even in the conduct of professional party politics. Handing over the reins to a class of unelected "experts," however, threatened to undermine the very basis of democracy itself. In particular, Weber stressed two problems: the unaccountability of unelected civil servants and the bureaucratic tendency toward inflexibility in the application of rules. Weber's interest in the nature of power and authority, as well as his pervasive preoccupation with modern trends of rationalization, led him to concern himself with the operation of modern large-scale enterprises in the political, administrative, and economic realm. Bureaucratic coordination of activities, he argued, is the distinctive mark of the modern era. Bureaucracies are organized according to rational principles. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order and their operations are characterized by impersonal rules. Incumbents are governed by methodical allocation of areas of jurisdiction and delimited spheres of duty. Appointments are made according to specialized qualifications rather than ascriptive criteria. This bureaucratic coordination of the actions of large numbers of people has become the dominant structural feature of modern forms of organization. Only through this organizational device has large- scale planning, both for the modern state and the modern economy, become possible. Only through it could heads of state mobilize and centralize resources of political power, which in feudal times, for example, had been dispersed in a variety of centers. Only with its aid could economic resources be mobilized, which lay fallow in pre-modern times. Bureaucratic organization is to Weber the privileged instrumentality that has shaped the modern polity, the modern economy, the modern technology. Bureaucratic types of organization are technically superior to all other forms of administration, much as machine production is superior to handicraft methods. Yet Weber also noted the dysfunctions of bureaucracy. Its major advantage, the calculability of results, also makes it unwieldy and even stultifying in dealing with individual cases. Thus modern rationalized and bureaucratized systems of law have become incapable of dealing with individual particularities, to which earlier types of justice were well suited. The "modern judge," Weber stated in writing on the legal system of Continental Europe, " is a vending machine into which the pleadings are inserted together with the fee and which then disgorges the judgment together with the reasons mechanically derived from the Code." Weber's focus on the trend of rationalization led him to concern himself with the operation and expansion of large-scale enterprises in both the public and private sectors of modern societies Bureaucracy can be considered to be a particular case of rationalization, or rationalization applied to human organization. Bureaucratic coordination of human action, Weber believed, is the distinctive mark of modern social structures. In order to study these organizations, both historically...
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