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  Bureaucracy originally meant and still means ‘rule by officials’: the implication being that it is a possible, fully fledged system of government, just like democracy or aristocracy. However, bureaucracy has also required more neutral meanings, both as a synonym for public administration, and as a form of organization characterized by a hierarchy of offices, impersonality in its recruitment of staff and its procedures, continuity in form and files, and the primacy of functional expertise.

Much political controversy still surrounds the first and original meaning of bureaucracy. Marxists and radical left-wing critics argue that bureaucracy subverts democracy, and prescribe participatory and egalitarian political systems to prevent this possibility. Their critics in turn maintain that such solutions are worse than the problems of bureaucracy. The German sociologist Max Weber (1864 - 1920) gloomily predicted the bureaucratization of the world, maintaining that all non-bureaucratic organizational forms would be displaced because they would prove less efficient. Weber and his precursor, the French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville, thought that modern mass societies would be both the cause and consequence of bureaucratization. They saw strong liberal representative governmental institutions as the only effective means to prevent over-centralized states from crushing their civil societies.

It was Weber who produced what has become the classic model of bureaucracy. Bureaucratic organizations did exist in a limited form in traditional societies, but Weber believed the expansion of bureaucracy to be an inevitable feature of modern societies. The spread of bureaucracy in the modern world exemplified the process of rationalization. Weber suggested that a bureaucracy was the most efficient administrative form for the rational pursuit of organizational goals.

Weber constructed an ‘ideal type’ of bureaucracy—that is an abstract description which exaggerates certain features of real cases to underline their essential characteristics. Bureaucracies, as outlined by Weber, have the following fundamental features. (1) There exists a precise hierarchy of authority which can be depicted as a pyramid, with a chain of command stretching from the top to the bottom. (2) The conduct of the office holders at all levels is governed by written rules of procedure. (3) Officials are full-time, salaried and recruited on the basis of formal qualifications. Each job within the hierarchy has a fixed salary attached to it. It is expected that individuals will make a career within the organization. (4) The tasks of the officials within the organization are separate from their life outside. (5) In bureaucracies officials do not own the material resources—offices, desks, machinery—with which they work.

Studies have shown, however, that bureaucracies may not work in exactly the ways Weber described. The written rules can make workers inflexible and unable to respond to changing circumstances. It has also been suggested that informal practices developed by the workers themselves may be more efficient than adherence to written standards of procedure.

Economists, especially economic liberals in the public choice school, define bureaucratic public administration as hostile to the free market and enterprises. They claim that bureaucracies maximize their budgets or their staff, and crowd out, over-regulate and stifle the private sector: that is, they see bureaucracies as incipient forms of state socialism. They prescribe privatization, contracting-out and ‘market-testing’ as solutions to bureaucratization. Defenders of bureaucratic public administration maintain by contrast that it provides effective and accountable government and is the best known means of preventing public corruption. DA BO\'L

See also accountability; authority; career; division of labour; élite theory; ideal type; occupation; organization; pluralism; profession; rationalization.Further reading David Beetham, Bureaucracy; , Patrick Dunleavy, Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice; , Stephen Robbins, Organization Theory.



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