Max Weber

Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, part III, chap. 6, pp. 650-78.


VIII. Bureaucracy


I: Characteristics of Bureaucracy


MODERN officialdom functions in the following specific manner:

I. There is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered byrules, that is, by laws or administrative regulations.

1. The regular activities required for the purposes of the bureaucratically governed structure aredistributed in a fixed way as official duties.

2. The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of these duties is distributed ina stable way and is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means, physical,sacerdotal, or otherwise, which may be placed at the disposal of officials.

3. Methodical provision is made for the regular and continuous fulfilment of these duties and forthe execution of the corresponding rights; only persons who have the generally regulatedqualifications to serve are employed.

In public and lawful government these three elements constitute 'bureaucratic authority.' Inprivate economic domination, they constitute bureaucratic 'management.' Bureaucracy, thusunderstood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modernstate, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism.Permanent and public office authority, with fixed jurisdiction, is not the historical rule but ratherthe exception. This is so even in large political structures such as those of the ancient Orient, theGermanic and Mongolian empires of conquest, or of many feudal structures of state. In all thesecases, the ruler executes the most important measures through personal trustees,table-companions, or court-servants. Their commissions and authority are not preciselydelimited and are temporarily called into being for each case.

II. The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly orderedsystem of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by thehigher ones. Such a system offers the governed the possibility of appealing the decision of alower office to its higher authority, in a definitely regulated manner. With the full developmentof the bureaucratic type, the office hierarchy is monocratically organized. The principle ofhierarchical office authority is found in all bureaucratic structures: in state and ecclesiasticalstructures as well as in large party organizations and private enterprises. It does not matter forthe character of bureaucracy whether its authority is called 'private' or 'public.'

When the principle of jurisdictional 'competency' is fully carried through, hierarchicalsubordination--at least in public office--does not mean that the 'higher' authority is simplyauthorized to take over the business of the 'lower.' Indeed, the opposite is the rule. Onceestablished and having fulfilled its task, an office tends to continue in existence and be held byanother incumbent.

III. The management of the modern office is based upon written documents ('the files'), whichare preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officialsand scribes of all sorts. The body of officials actively engaged in a 'public' office, along with therespective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a 'bureau.' In privateenterprise, 'the bureau' is often called 'the office.'

In principle, the modern organization of the civil service separates the bureau from the privatedomicile of the official, and, in general, bureaucracy segregates official activity as somethingdistinct from the sphere of private life. Public monies and equipment are divorced from theprivate property of the official. This condition is everywhere the product of a long development.Nowadays, it is found in public as well as in private enterprises; in the latter, the principleextends even to the leading entrepreneur. In principle, the executive office is separated from thehousehold, business from private correspondence, and business assets from private fortunes. Themore consistently the modern type of business management has been carried through the moreare these separations the case. The beginnings of this process are to be found as early as theMiddle Ages.

It is the peculiarity of the modern entrepreneur that he conducts himself as the 'first official' of hisenterprise, in the very same way in which the ruler of a specifically modern bureaucratic statespoke of himself as 'the first servant' of the state. The idea that the bureau activities of the stateare intrinsically different in character from the management of private economic offices is acontinental European notion and, by way of contrast, is totally foreign to the American way.

IV. Office management, at least all specialized office management-- and such management isdistinctly modern--usually presupposes thorough and expert training. This increasingly holds forthe modern executive and employee of private enterprises, in the same manner as it holds for thestate official.

V. When the office is fully developed, official activity demands the full working capacity of theofficial, irrespective of the fact that his obligatory time in the bureau may be firmly delimited. Inthe normal case, this is only the product of a long development, in the public as well as in theprivate office. Formerly, in all cases, the normal state of affairs was reversed: official businesswas discharged as a secondary activity.

VI. The management of the office follows general rules, which are more or less stable, more orless exhaustive, and which can be learned. Knowledge of these rules represents a specialtechnical learning which the officials possess. It involves jurisprudence, or administrative orbusiness management.

The reduction of modern office management to rules is deeply embedded in its very nature. Thetheory of modern public administration, for instance, assumes that the authority to order certainmatters by decree--which has been legally granted to public authorities--does not entitle thebureau to regulate the matter by commands given for each case, but only to regulate the matterabstractly. This stands in extreme contrast to the regulation of all relationships throughindividual privileges and bestowals of favor, which is absolutely dominant in patrimonialism, atleast in so far as such relationships are not fixed by sacred tradition.


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