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A bureaucracy is a group of non-elected officials within a government or other institution that implements the rules, laws, ideas, and functions of their institution.

The term "bureaucracy" was created from the French word bureau, meaning desk or office, and the Greek κράτος ''kratos'', meaning rule or political power.


Bureaucracies date back to ancient societies across the globe.

Pre-modern world

In Imperial China, the bureaucracy was headed by a Chief Counselor. Within the bureaucracy, the positions were of a "graded civil service" and competitive exams were held to determine who held positions. The upper levels of the system held nine grades, and the officials wore distinctive clothing. The Confucian Classics codified a set of values held by the officials.

Modern world

Richard Rahn states that in modern times bureaucracy is a government administrative unit that carries out the decisions of the legislature or democratically-elected representation of a state.

Weberian bureaucracy

Weberian bureaucracy has its origin in the works by Max Weber (1864–1920), a German sociologist, political economist, and administrative scholar who contributed to the study of bureaucracy and administrative discourses and literatures during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Weber belongs to the Scientific School of Thought, who discussed such topics as specialization of job-scope, merit system, uniform principles, structure and hierarchy. His contemporaries include Frederick Taylor (1856–1915), Henri Fayol (1841–1925), Elton Mayo (1880–1949), and later scholars, such as Herbert A. Simon (1916–2001), Dwight Waldo (1913–2000), and others.

Weber described many ideal types of public administration and government in his magnum opus ''Economy and Society'' (1922). His critical study of the bureaucratisation of society became one of the most enduring parts of his work. It was Weber who began the studies of bureaucracy and whose works led to the popularization of this term. Many aspects of modern public administration go back to him, and a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the Continental type is called "Weberian civil service". As the most efficient and rational way of organizing, bureaucratization for Weber was the key part of the rational-legal authority, and furthermore, he saw it as the key process in the ongoing rationalization of the Western society.

Weber listed several precondititions for the emergence of bureaucracy. The growth in space and population being administered, the growth in complexity of the administrative tasks being carried out, and the existence of a monetary economy requires a more efficient administrative system. Development of communication and transportation technologies makes more efficient administration possible but also in popular demand, and democratization and rationalization of culture resulted in demands that the new system treats everybody equally.

Weber's ideal bureaucracy is characterized by hierarchical organization, delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, action taken on the basis of and recorded in written rules, bureaucratic officials need expert training, rules are implemented by neutral officials, career advancement depends on technical qualifications judged by organization, not individuals.

While recognizing bureaucracy as the most efficient form of organization, and even indispensable for the modern state, Weber also saw it as a threat to individual freedoms, and the ongoing bureaucratization as leading to a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalization of human life traps individuals in the aforementioned "iron cage" of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control. In order to counteract bureaucrats, the system needs entrepreneurs and politicians.

In Max Weber's "Economy and Society", Weber describes six bureaucratic values that are vital in obtaining a functioning and self-sufficient business. These six characteristics include imperial positions, rule-governed decision making, professionalism, chain of command, defined responsibilities, and bounded authority (Weber 956–958). Although many of these values seem to collide and be seemingly similar to each other, they are unique with individualized qualities.

Imperial positions should be utilized for three main purposes. The first is every day activities must be maintained by official positions (Weber 956). These positions are needed for a successful bureaucratic business. The second purpose is for those who hold these positions to disseminate orders in a specific and stable manner (Weber 956). Finally, the third purpose is for methodical provision, which is used for the constant fulfillment of these specified duties (Weber 956). The imperial positions are on the top of the communication hierarchy and determine the methods as to which the information is shared throughout the organization.

Weber states "with the full development of the bureaucratic type, the office hierarchy is monocratically organized" (Weber 957). This speaks directly to rule-governed decision making. Every worker needs to know the office hierarchy and which avenues to take when they have a question. The upper management communicates their ideas to those under them who will then funnel these directives throughout the business in an orderly fashion.

Furthermore, professionalism is another important aspect of a successful bureaucratic business that Weber goes on to describe. A sense of professionalism in the workplace creates a distinguished atmosphere creating the opportunity for workers to achieve their utmost potential (Weber 957). This feeling yields a drive in the workplace because the workers want to perform well for those in command thus creating a positive overall attitude in the workplace.

Yet another Weberian value is chain of command. Everyone in the organization must know whose directives they should follow. The hierarchy of power is exemplified through salaries (Weber 958–965). Those that have higher salaries in turn have more power in the decision-making process. Those in power make decisions and relay these decisions to an associate who will then tell a manager, who will then tell his employees, and so on. The chain of command is extremely important to a bureaucratic business because it sets up a specific ladder that allows for information and important decisions to be relayed swiftly and efficiently.

Max Weber also describes defined responsibility to be an important value to Weberian Bureaucracy. An office or workplace must have fields of specialization in order to diversify the company. Every worker must know the responsibilities of his job in the most intimate detail possible (Weber 958). For a company to be successful, employees have to know the details of their job so they can be supremely efficient and not conflict with the obligations of another employee.

The last value that Weber discusses is bounded authority. In the workplace, there must be a stable, defined set of general rules for the employees that they must abide by at all times (Weber 958). This commitment yields jurisprudence and business management. In turn this will instill a hardworking and confident frame of mind throughout the workforce.

Each of these values is pertinent to the success of a bureaucratic business. Every individual Weberian characteristic yields a different aspect that builds the foundation of a strong bureaucracy. Max Weber specifically discusses the values of imperial positions, rule-governed decision making, professionalism, chain of command, defined responsibilities, and bounded authority because he believes that these are the predominant qualities that an office or workplace must possess in order to have stability, power, order, and success. If one value is missing from the equation, then the bureaucracy will fail. Each aspect to Weberian Bureaucracy is a vital building block to the foundation of creating a flourishing business.

Source: Wikipedia