The Development of Bureaucracy

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Bureaucracies are pervasive in our society. In this lesson, you will learn about the historical and philosophical development of the modern bureaucracy, including some of its key concepts. You will also be given an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz.

Max Weber - Father of the Modern Bureaucracy

Max Weber (1864-1920) is one of the most important theorists in modern organizational theory and is considered the father of the modern bureaucratic model. He was a German sociologist and political economist. Weber viewed bureaucracy in a positive light, believing it to be more rational and efficient than its historical predecessors.

Development of the Modern Bureaucracy

In order to understand the development of bureaucracy, you must have an understanding of what came before it and what competes with it. Weber believed that legitimate authority rested upon one of three bases. According to Weber, traditional authority is authority based upon the sanctity of immemorial tradition and loyalty to the leader. A great example of traditional authority is the idea of the divine right of kings supporting a hereditary royal line of leaders. The second basis of authority is charismatic authority, which is based upon the extraordinary personal traits of the leader such as heroism, sacredness, or unique character. An example of a charismatic leader is Gandhi. The third type of authority is legal-rational authority. Legal-rational authority finds its support in a system of laws or rules and the right of leadership derived from those rules. An individual elected to the U.S. Senate is an example of a person elevated to leadership through legal-rational authority.

Each basis of authority has its corresponding type of administration, which implements the policies and decisions of the leader. Charismatic administration is typically unstable and usually is composed of the leader's 'disciples.' These administrators do not have a set of express duties to follow based upon a set of rules. Traditional administration, on the other hand, is typically structured under a patriarchal, patrimonial or feudal system. A great example is from the feudal period: nobles would govern fiefs given to them by the king. Like charismatic leadership, there are not formal rules for the administrators to follow or for the protection of the subjects. They served at the pleasure of the leader. Weber championed the third type of administration that corresponded to legal-rational authority, which he called bureaucratic administration. A bureaucratic administration is subject to a system of laws and rules. In fact, the administrator's position, its relations with the leader and the followers are all governed by the system of laws and rules.

Weber developed a concept called an ideal-type bureaucracy. Weber identified six characteristics of an ideal-type bureaucracy:

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