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A bureaucracy() is "a body of non-elective government officials" and/or "an administrative policy-making group".[1] Historically, bureaucracy referred to government administration managed by departments staffed with nonelected officials.[2] In modern parlance, bureaucracy refers to the administrative system governing any large institution.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Since being coined, the word "bureaucracy" has developed negative connotations for some.[9] Bureaucracies are criticized when they become too complex, inefficient, or too inflexible.[10] The dehumanizing effects of excessive bureaucracy were a major theme in the work of Franz Kafka, and were central to his most well known work, The Trial.[11] The elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy is a key concept in modern managerial theory[12] and has been a central issue in numerous political campaigns.[13]

Others have defended the necessity of bureaucracies. The German sociologist individual freedom, in which an increase in the bureaucratization of human life can trap individuals in an "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control.[14][15]


  • Etymology and usage 1
  • History 2
    • Ancient bureaucracy 2.1
    • Modern bureaucracy 2.2
  • Theories of bureaucracy 3
    • Karl Marx 3.1
    • John Stuart Mill 3.2
    • Max Weber 3.3
    • Woodrow Wilson 3.4
    • Ludwig von Mises 3.5
    • Robert K. Merton 3.6
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Etymology and usage

The term "bureaucracy" is French in origin, and combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος kratos – rule or political power.[16] It was coined sometime in the mid-18th century by the French economist Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay,[17] and was a satirical pejorative from the outset.[18] Gournay never wrote the term down, but was later quoted at length in a letter from a contemporary:

The first known English-language use dates to 1818.[16] Here, too, the sense was perjorative, with Irish novelist [19]

By the mid-19th century the word was being used in a more neutral sense, to refer to a system of governance in which offices were held by unelected career officials, and in this sense "bureaucracy" was seen as a distinct form of government, often subservient to a monarchy.[20] In the 1920s, the definition was expanded by the German sociologist Max Weber to include any system of administration conducted by trained professionals according to fixed rules.[20] Weber saw the bureaucracy as a relatively positive development; however by 1944, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises noted that the term bureaucracy was "always applied with an opprobrious connotation,"[21] and by 1957 the American sociologist Robert Merton noted that the term "bureaucrat" had become an epithet.[22]


Ancient bureaucracy

Students competed in imperial examinations to receive a position in the bureaucracy of ancient China.

Although the term "bureaucracy" was not coined until the mid 18th century, the idea of organized and consistent administrative systems is much older. The development of writing (ca. 3500 BCE) and the use of documents was critical to the administration of this system, and the first definitive emergence of bureaucracy is in ancient Sumer, where an emergent class of scribes used clay tablets to administer the harvest and allocate its spoils.[23] Ancient Egypt also had a hereditary class of scribes that administered the civil service bureaucracy.[24] Much of what is known today of these cultures comes from the writing of the scribes.

Ancient Rome was administered by a hierarchy of regional proconsuls and their deputies. The reforms of Diocletian doubled the number of administrative districts and led to a large-scale expansion in Roman bureaucracy.[25] The early Christian author Lactantius claimed that Diocletian's reforms led to widespread economic stagnation, since "the provinces were divided into minute portions, and many presidents and a multitude of inferior officers lay heavy on each territory."[26] After the Empire split, the Byzantine Empire developed a notoriously complicated administrative hierarchy, and in time the term "byzantine" came to refer to any complex bureaucratic structure.[27]


  • Albrow, Martin. Bureaucracy. London: Macmillan, 1970.
  • Kingston, Ralph. Bureaucrats and Bourgeois Society: Office Politics and Individual Credit, 1789-1848. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
  • On Karl Marx: Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume 1: State and Bureaucracy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.
  • Marx comments on the state bureaucracy in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right and Engels discusses the origins of the state in Origins of the Family.
  • Ernest Mandel, Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy. London: Verso, 1992.
  • On Weber: Watson, Tony J. (1980). Sociology, Work and Industry. Routledge.  
  • Neil Garston (ed.), Bureaucracy: Three Paradigms. Boston: Kluwer, 1993.
  • Chowdhury, Faizul Latif (2006), Corrupt Bureaucracy and Privatization of Tax Enforcement. Dhaka: Pathak Samabesh, ISBN 984-8120-62-9.
  • Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, Yale University Press, 1962. Liberty Fund (2007), ISBN 978-0-86597-663-4
  • Lavie, Smadar (2014). Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-1-78238-222-5 hardback; 978-1-78238-223-2 ebook.
  • Schwarz, Bill. (1996). The expansion of England: race, ethnicity and cultural history. Psychology Pres. ISBN 0-415-06025-7.
  • Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1947.
  • Wilson, James Q. (1989). Bureaucracy. Basic Books.  

Further reading

  1. ^ "Bureaucracy - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  2. ^ "definition of bureaucracy". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  3. ^ "Bureaucracy Definition". Investopedia. 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  4. ^ Philip K. Howard (2012). "To Fix America's Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It". The Atlantic. 
  5. ^ Devin Dwyer (2009). "Victims of 'Health Insurance Bureaucracy' Speak Out". ABC News. 
  6. ^ David Martin (2010). "Gates Criticizes Bloated Military Bureaucracy". CBS News. 
  7. ^ "How to bend the rules of corporate bureaucracy". 2002-11-08. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  8. ^ "Still a bureaucracy: Normal paperwork continues its flow at Vatican". Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  9. ^ a b J.C.N.  
  10. ^ Ronald N. Johnson; Gary D. Libecap (1994). The Federal Civil Service System and the Problem of Bureaucracy. University of Chicago Press. pp. 1–11. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  11. ^ David Luban; Alan Strudler; David Wasserman (1992). "Moral Responsibility in the Age of Bureaucracy". Michigan Law Review 90 (8). 
  12. ^  
  13. ^ Garrett et al. (March–April 2006). "Assessing the Impact of Bureaucracy Bashing by Electoral Campaigns". Public Administration Review: 228–240. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Richard Swedberg; Ola Agevall (2005). The Max Weber dictionary: key words and central concepts. Stanford University Press. pp. 18–21.  
  15. ^ a b George Ritzer, Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, Pine Forge Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7619-8819-X, Google Print, p.55
  16. ^ a b "Bureaucracy - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  17. ^ Riggs, Fred W. "Introduction : Évolution sémantique du terme 'bureaucratie'". Revue internationale des sciences sociales. Unesco, Paris vol. XXX I (1979), n° 4
  18. ^ Anter, Andreas L'histoire de l'État comme histoire de la bureaucratie. Trivium, 7 , 2010, 6 décembre 2010.
  19. ^ Lady Morgan, Sydney (1818). Florence Macarthy. p. 35. Retrieved 2014-11-18. 
  20. ^ a b c Beetham, David. Bureaucracy. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  21. ^ a b  
  22. ^ a b  
  23. ^ Laurie E. Pearce (1995). "The Scribes and Scholars of Ancient Mesopotamia". In Jack M. Sasson. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Macmillan Library Reference. pp. 2265–2278. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Ronald J. Williams (1972). "Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt". Journal of the American Oriental Society 92 (2). 
  25. ^ As taken from the Laterculus Veronensis or Verona List, reproduced in Barnes, New Empire, chs. 12–13 (with corrections in T.D. Barnes, "Emperors, panegyrics, prefects, provinces and palaces (284–317)", Journal of Roman Archaeology 9 (1996): 539–42). See also: Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 9; Cascio, "The New State of Diocletian and Constantine" (CAH), 179; Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, 24–27.
  26. ^  
  27. ^ "Byzantine - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  28. ^ Riegel, Jeffrey. "Confucius". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). 
  29. ^ Mote, Frederick W. (2003-11-15). Imperial China: 900-1800. Harvard University Press. pp. 313–.  
  30. ^ a b c McKnight, Brian E. (1983-02-15). Village and Bureaucracy in Southern Sung China. University of Chicago Press. pp. 1–.  
  31. ^ Niall Ferguson (2013). The Cash Nexus: Money and Politics in Modern History, 1700-2000. Penguin UK. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  32. ^ "3 Public finance in China and Britain in the long eighteenth century". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  33. ^ Linda Weiss, John Hobson (1995). States and Economic Development: A Comparative Historical Analysis. Wiley. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  34. ^ Walker, David (2003-07-09). "Fair game". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2003-07-09. 
  35. ^ Full text of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report
  36. ^ Bodde,, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University. 
  37. ^ Bodde,, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University. 
  38. ^ Henry Jacoby (1 January 1973). The Bureaucratization of the World. University of California Press. p. 43.  
  39. ^ a b Schwarz (1996), 229
  40. ^ Handbook of Administrative History - Paper - J. C. N. Raadschelders. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  41. ^  
  42. ^ "Viewpoints: How did Margaret Thatcher change Britain?". BBC News. 13 April 2013. 
  43. ^ Ronald Reagan (27 October 1964). A Time For Choosing (Speech). Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. 
  44. ^ "Jack Welch's Encore". June 14, 1997. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  45. ^ Stewart R. Clegg, Martin Harris, Harro Höpfl, ed. (2011). Managing Modernity: Beyond Bureaucracy?. Oxford University Press. 
  46. ^  
  47. ^  
  48. ^ a b George Ritzer (29 September 2009). Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics. McGraw-Hill. pp. 38–42.  
  49. ^ Marshall Sashkin; Molly G. Sashkin (28 January 2003). Leadership that matters: the critical factors for making a difference in people's lives and organizations' success. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. p. 52.  
  50. ^ Liesbet Hooghe (2001). The European Commission and the integration of Europe: images of governance. Cambridge University Press. p. 40.  
  51. ^
  52. ^ a b c d Kenneth Allan; Kenneth D. Allan (2 November 2005). Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social Worl. Pine Forge Press. pp. 172–176.  
  53. ^ Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Administration", Political Science Quarterly, July 1887


See also

The American sociologist [22]

Robert K. Merton

In his 1944 work Bureaucracy, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was highly critical of all bureaucratic systems. He believed that bureaucracy should be the target of universal opprobrium, and noticed that in the political sphere it had few defenders, even among progressives. Mises saw bureaucratic processes at work in both the private and public spheres; however he believed that bureaucratization in the private sphere could only occur as a consequence of government interference. He wrote that "No private enterprise will ever fall prey to bureaucratic methods of management if it is operated with the sole aim of making profit."[21]

Ludwig von Mises

Wilson did not advocate a replacement of rule by the governed, he simply advised "Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices." This essay became the foundation for the study of public administration in America.

Writing as an academic while a professor at Bryn Mawr College, his essay “The Study of Administration[53] argued for a bureaucracy as a professional cadre, devoid of allegiance to fleeting politics of the day. Wilson advocated a bureaucracy that "is a part of political life only as the methods of the counting house are a part of the life of society; only as machinery is part of the manufactured product. But it is, at the same time, raised very far above the dull level of mere technical detail by the fact that through its greater principles it is directly connected with the lasting maxims of political wisdom, the permanent truths of political progress."

Woodrow Wilson

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 a soulless "iron cage" of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.[14][15]

Weber's ideal-typical 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.[14][52]

Weber listed several precondititions for the emergence of bureaucracy.[52] 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 requiring a more efficient administrative system.[52] Development of communication and transportation technologies make 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.[52]

[51] The German sociologist

Max Weber

Writing in the early 1860s, political scientist John Stuart Mill theorized that successful monarchies were essentially bureaucracies, and found evidence of their existence in Imperial China, the Russian Empire, and the regimes of Europe. Mill referred to bureaucracy as a distinct form of government, separate from representative democracy. He believed bureaucracies had certain advantages, most importantly the accumulation of experience in those who actually conduct the affairs. Nevertheless, he thought bureaucracy as a form of governance compared poorly to representative government, as it relied on appointment rather than direct election. Mill wrote that ultimately the bureaucracy stifles the mind, and that "A bureaucracy always tends to become a pedantocracy."[47]

John Stuart Mill

Karl Marx theorized about the role and function of bureaucracy in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, published in 1843. In his Philosophy of Right, Hegel had supported the role of specialized officials in the role of public administration, although he never used the term "bureaucracy" himself. Marx by contrast was opposed to the bureaucracy. He saw the development of bureaucracy in government as a natural counterpart to the development of the corporation in private society. Marx posited that while the corporation and government bureaucracy existed in seeming opposition, in actuality they mutually relied on one another to exist. He wrote that "The Corporation is civil society's attempt to become state; but the bureaucracy is the state which has really made itself into civil society."[46]

Karl Marx

Theories of bureaucracy

Still, in the modern world practically all organized institutions rely on bureaucratic systems to manage information, process and manage records, and administer complex systems and interrelationships in an increasingly globalized world, although the decline of paperwork and the widespread use of electronic databases is transforming the way bureaucracies function.[45]

The 1980s brought a backlash against bureaucratic forms of rule. Politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan gained power by promising to eliminate government regulatory bureaucracies, which they saw as overbearing, and return economic production to a more purely capitalistic mode, which they saw as more efficient.[42][43] In the business world, managers like Jack Welch gained fortune and renown by eliminating bureaucratic structures inside the corporations themselves.[44]

The trend toward increased bureaucratization continued in the 20th century, with the public sector employing over 5% of the workforce in many Western countries. Within capitalist systems, informal bureaucratic structures began to appear in the form of corporate power hierarchies, as detailed in mid-century works like The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, a powerful class of bureaucratic administrators termed nomenklatura governed nearly all aspects of public life.[41]

By the mid-19th century, bureaucratic forms of administration were firmly in place across the industrialized world. Thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx began to theorize about the economic functions and power-structures of bureaucracy in contemporary life. Max Weber was the first to endorse bureaucracy as a necessary feature of modernity, and by the late 19th century bureaucratic forms had begun their spread from government to other large-scale institutions.[20]

Under Louis XIV of France, the old nobility had neither power nor political influence, the sum of their privileges being confined to their exemption from taxes. Their spokesmen complained about this "unnatural" state of affairs, but as they were forbidden to express their criticism in France, their writings being published in the Dutch Republic. These aristocrats discovered similarities between absolute monarchy and the bureaucratic despotism of despotic monarchies.[38] France also saw a rapid and dramatic expansion of government in the 18th-century, accompanied by the rise of the French civil service; a phenomenon that became known as "bureaumania," in which complex systems of bureaucracy emerged. With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe.[39] Voltaire and François Quesnay wrote favourably of the idea, with Voltaire claiming that the Chinese had "perfected moral science" and Quesnay advocating an economic and political system modeled after that of the Chinese. Napoleonic France adopted this mmeritocracy system.[39] In the early 19th century, Napoleon attempted to reform the bureaucracies of France and other territories under his control by the imposition of the standardized Napoleonic Code. But paradoxically, this led to even further growth of the bureaucracy.[40]

Instead of the inefficient and often corrupt system of tax farming that prevailed in absolutist states such as France, the Exchequer was able to exert control over the entire system of tax revenue and government expenditure.[32] By the late 18th century, the ratio of fiscal bureaucracy to population in Britain was approximately 1 in 1300, almost four times larger than the second most heavily bureaucratized nation, France.[33] The implementation of Her Majesty's Civil Service as a systematic, meritocratic civil service bureaucracy, followed the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854.[34] Influenced by of the ancient Chinese Imperial Examination, Northcote-Trevelyan Report recommended that recruitment should be on the basis of merit determined through competitive examination, candidates should have a solid general education to enable inter-departmental transfers and promotion should be through achievement, rather than 'preferment, patronage or purchase'.[35] This system was modeled on the imperial examinations system and bureaucracy of China based on the suggestion of Northcote-Trevelyan Report.[36] Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic.[37]

A modern form of bureaucracy evolved in the expanding Department of Excise in the United Kingdom, during the 18th century. The relative efficiency and professionalism in this state-run authority allowed the government to impose a very large tax burden on the population and raise great sums of money for war expenditure. According to Niall Ferguson, the bureaucracy was based on "recruitment by examination, training, promotion on merit, regular salaries and pensions, and standardized procedures".[31] The system was subject to a strict hierarchy and emphasis was placed on technical and efficient methods for tax collection.

The 18th century Department of Excise developed a sophisticated bureaucracy. Pictured, the Custom House, London.

Modern bureaucracy

[30] codified a set of values held by the officials.Confucian Classics The [30] The upper levels of the system held nine grades, and the officials wore distinctive clothing.[30] were held to determine who held positions.competitive exams Within the bureaucracy, the positions were of a "graded civil service" and [29] In Imperial China, the bureaucracy was headed by a Chief Counselor.[28]

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