Max Weber on Bureaucracy
I. Merriam Webster’s Definition of Bureaucracy:
1 a : a body of nonelective government officials b : an administrative policy-making
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
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