Characteristics of Bureaucracy, as identified by Max Weber

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The growth of capitalism according to Weber, facilitated the birth and development of bureaucracy. As he wrote, “Today, it is primarily the capitalist market economy which demands that the official business of the administration be discharged precisely, unambiguously, continuously and with as much speed as possible.”

In his view, the very large modern capitalist enterprises proved to be the “unequalled models of strict bureaucratic organisation.”
A major technical advantage of bureaucratic organisation, according to Weber, is the optimum possibility that bureaucratisation offers “for carrying through the principle of specialising administrative functions according to purely objective considerations.” There is room for steady improvement of functioning through training and constant practice. The objective discharge of business means, as Weber explained, the discharge of business according to calculable rules and without regard or persons.

While discussing the permanent character of the bureaucratic machine and its socio-economic consequences, Weber made some incisive comments on how the bureaucracy tends to operate in practice. A fully developed bureaucracy, he argues, is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy. As an instrument of ‘societalising’ relations of power, bureaucracy is practically unshatterable. The individual bureaucrat is reduced to “a single log in an ever-moving mechanism which prescribes to him as essentially fixed rout of march.”
On the part of the ruled, the bureaucratic apparatus of authority, once it comes into existence, becomes almost fixed and unalterable. More and more the material fate of the masses depends upon the steady and correct functioning of the increasingly bureaucratic organisations of private capitalism.

Weber had foreseen the far-reaching socio-economic consequences of bureaucratisation. But he thought that the distribution of economic and social power in a specific country and the particular spheres of activities placed under bureaucratic control would go to determine the actual results of bureaucratisation. He was very emphatic on the idea that the consequence of bureaucracy would ultimately depend upon the direction which the power using the apparatus give to it.
In Weber’s view, despite the fact that “the modern state is undergoing bureaucratization”, whether the power of bureaucracy as such has been increasing cannot be decided a priori. As he argued, “The drawing in of economic interest groups or other non-official experts, or the drawing in of non-expert lay representatives, the establishment of local, inter-local, or central parliamentary or other representative bodies, or of occupational associations these seem to run directly against the bureaucratic tendency.”
There are hints in these remarks of possible de-bureaucratisation in a polity that would be able to develop institution and associational groups.

Weber had, however, admitted that normally, the power position of a fully developed bureaucracy, was everywhere overtowering. The political master is no match for the expert bureaucrat. Another feature of bureaucracy as he pointed out, is to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. The concept of the ‘official secret’ is an invention of bureaucracy, as it tries to hide its knowledge and action from criticism. It does not want to divulge information even to the representative parliament. As Weber puts it, “Bureaucracy naturally at lest in so far as ignorance somehow aggress with the bureaucracy’s interests.

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