Bureaucratic Theory of Public Administration

The bureaucratic theory of public administration owes its existence to Max Weber and his magnum opus Economy and Society published in 1922. It was Weber who popularized the term and in his book gave a glimpse of the extensive research he had carried out by studying ancient and modern states to understand the working of the bureaucracies in different eras. Before we dive into the details regarding Weber’s ideas of bureaucracy, it would be interesting to understand his background and education to appreciate his philosophy and thoughts that run like a common thread all through his work.

Max Weber was a German political economist, philosopher and a social scientist who along with Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx is considered to be one of the three founding pillars of sociology. Weber was a student of law and history throughout his career and later joined the Berlin University as a faculty and lectured and consulted for the Government. Weber was greatly influenced by the Neo-Kantianism wave that swept Germany during the 1860s. Heinrich Rickert the foremost scholars of Neo-Kantianism in Germany was a professional colleague of Weber in the University of Freiburg.

The Neo-Kantianism or the Back to Kant movement of 1860s was to revisit the theories of Immanual Kant the most important and influential of German philosophers and scholars of the 18th century. The scope of this article is limited to throw light on Kant and his philosophies however it is advisable to the readers to read a little about Kant and his work to get a better understanding regarding Neo-Kantianism.

Influenced by Heinrich Rickert and Kant, Weber came to a central core of his theories and that was Rationalization. Weber promulgated rationalization in all areas of life like economy, politics, society, culture and even religion. He went on further to say that Rationalization was the basis of the modern western society. Having said that, let us now make an effort to understand Weber’s work in the areas of social sciences.

In his seminal work Economy and Society, Weber goes to extreme lengths to trace the evolution of bureaucracy and the State and their relations with each other. He cites the Chinese and the African empires that degenerated because of the lack of bureaucracy and methods of administration and the ancient Roam Empire which disintegrated because of increasing bureaucratization.

According to Weber, the need for bureaucratization in the ancient empire state arises from the maintenance of armies, public finances and most importantly power and politics. In the modern times however, the complexity within the civilization is ever increasing and therefore the demands from the administration are also getting complex.

Weber also emphasizes the importance of communication in running the bureaucracy of a State and adds that they act as pacemakers and are the prerequisites of the possibility of bureaucratic administration.

Trained bureaucracy is superior to other kinds of administration in many ways like efficiency, accuracy or precision, unity, discretion, continuation, cost and reducing overall friction in the government functioning. Weber went on to characterize a bureaucratic state by certain behavioral and structural features like:

  • Division of Labor
  • Hierarchy
  • Rules and Rationality
  • Impersonality
  • Rules Orientation
  • Neutrality

Weber also came up with the term called Rational-Legal authority which characterizes the modern liberal states. The tripartite classification of authority proposed by Weber explains that the states travel from Charismatic Authority to Traditional Authority and finally arrive at Rational-Legal Authority. The Rational-Legal Authority upholds that an individual or an institution has powers emanating from the legal offices that they hold. Once they leave, the power is lost as the power is associated with the office and not the office holder.

The above Rational-Legal power lies at the core of the modern bureaucracies and is practiced widely across the world. The writing of constitutions and documents, establishing offices and institutions and holding elections are all in conformity to this kind of authority practiced by political systems in mature states.

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