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Max weber

By : brainykey   December 31, 2017


The evolution of the Bureaucratic Theory in the discipline of Public Administration is the most important stage in evolution of Public Administration as a discipline. Bureaucracy is of the subject on which maximum research papers exist in the field of Public Administration. The origin of the term can be traced back to Vincent de Gourney who coined the term in 1745. The term “Bureaucracy” later on came to be used to describe a system where the Government is run by officials, directly or indirectly. Bureaucracy is defined as a “System of Organisation in which roles, tasks, and relationships among people and positions are clearly defined, carefully prescribed and controlled in accordance with formal authority and any deviations from rules and regulations is views very seriously.

Peter Blau studied the rise and development of bureaucracy very closely and has identified four conditions that promoted the historical evolution of bureaucracy. These are —

  1. The coming into existence of money economy aided the development of bureaucracy since bureaucratic system of administration requires a stable system of taxation which in turn requires a money economy. An equitable system of taxation is not possible in an economic system based on barter trade. Hence according to Weber, a developed money economy is necessary before a Bureaucratic Administration can come into existence.
  2. The emergence of capitalist system i.e. the system of free enterprise fostered bureaucracy, as it created certain essential needs such as rationality, rule orientation, objectivity, calculability etc., which only a Bureaucratic System of Organisation could satisfy. Capitalism also> requires a strong orderly government and a peaceful business atmosphere and hence it encourages bureaucracy in its own interests. The capitalist enterprises too began to follow bureaucratic principles of organisation because of the requirement of rationality and calculability in their functioning.
  3. The development of Western ethics led to the growth of rationalism which calls for rational investment of time and efforts to maximise their profits and achievements. The bureaucratic system was hence devised to achieve the maximum possible efficiency in a large business organisation.
  4. The increasing size of Organisations led to complex administration and hence complex administrative problems. The complexity of these tasks required expertise and effectiveness in organisation and bureaucracy to tackle them. Today bureaucracy is found to be existing in most forms of human co-operation that develop beyond the face-to-face leadership of a small handful of individuals.

Max Weber On Bureaucracy. The systematic study of bureaucracy began with the German Sociologist. Max Weber was born in 1860 and unlike Taylor and Fayol, he was not a management practitioner but he was a Professor of Social Science. Weber’s most extensive and systematic discussion of administration occurs within his sociology of domination in his book — “Economy and Society”. “Parliament and Government in the Newly Organised Germany” is another vital source of knowing his views on this subject.

The concept of Bureaucracy emerged accidentally while he was analysing as to where does power lie in the society i.e. his basic concern was to find answer to the question — “Why individuals obeyed commands and why people do as they are told.” In order to analyse this problem, Weber first distinguished between Power and Authority. Power is the ability to force people to obey regardless of their resistance while Authority is that where orders are voluntarily obeyed by those receiving them i.e. Authority is a form of power which has been legitimised and people recognise its legitimacy. Hence Weber classified the authority in various societies based on legitimacy, the type of obedience and the kind of administrative staff suitable to that kind of society. The classification is three-fold

  • Traditional Authority. Traditional authority, according to Weber, rests on an established belief in the sanctity of age-old traditions and in the legitimacy of the status of those exercising authority under them. The leader hence derives his authority by virtue of the status that he has inherited, and the extent of his authority is fixed by precedents and customs of the society. He is obeyed because the traditions so demand. The administrative staff under such an authority system is of either patrimonial or of feudal origin i.e. the official are either the personal servants of the ruler and they are traditional loyalty to him (patrimonial form), or the officials have much more autonomy with their own source of income but they are a traditional loyalty towards the leader. Examples of such an authority in today’s world are — Pope, Caliphs, Shahi Imams etc. The administrative staff is selected based on ascriptive features and the staff do not possess clearly defined spheres of competence. There is no scope for regular promotions and recruitment in the administrative posts in this traditional system and it, to a great extent, depends on personal contacts and loyalties.
  • Charismatic Authority. Charismatic Authority, according to Weber rests on devotion to the specific and exceptional entity, heroism and. exemplary character of an individual. It stems purely out of the personality of the leader and among the holders of the Charisma are prophets, political leaders etc. In Weber’s analysis Charisma lies in the eyes of the Beholder. Those subject themselves to – charismatic authority are the followers and they are not the subjects of the leader and their job is to mediate between the leader and the masses. There is no separate administrative staff and in its place there is only a group of followers and disciples who are given positions in administration on the basis of their charismatic qualities. There are no legal rules to govern and the authority is not bound by precedents. Organisations under this system are, however, unstable and often the question of succession arises leading to its downfall.
  • Rational Legal Authority. In this system, legitimacy and control neither stem from the personal qualities of the leader nor from the commitment to traditional wisdom and authority which represents its traditional status. Obedience, under this system, is owed to a legally established impersonal order. This system is called ‘Rational’ because in it the ‘means’ are expressly designed to achieve certain specific ‘Ends’. It is ‘Legal’ because authority is exercised by means of a system of written rules and procedures. Like other forms of authority, legal-rational authority system too has a particular kind of administrative structure, called as ‘Bureaucracy’. Weber defined Bureaucracy as, “A hierarchical organisation, designed rationally to co-ordinate the work of many individuals in pursuit of large-scale administrative tasks and organisational goals.”

        Weber constructed an ideal type model of the rational-legal bureaucratic organisations, which according to him, is necessary to be followed in any large organisation, private or public, in order to bring efficiency in operations. Any deviations from the ideal constructs of the bureaucratic model bring inefficiency. Since the model suggested by Weber is of ideal-type, the model is also called as a Normatic-Model’ of organisations. The Structural aspects were inherent in the Weber’s approach as he emphasised on a particular process of work which follows a clearly defined hierarchical channels very closely.

Ideal Constructs of Bureaucracy as suggested by Weber

Weber’s Ideals type Bureaucracy contains the following elements:

  • Division of work is done in the organisation and the roles of various officials, based on this division are clearly defined. This leads to the clear definition of the job-content of an individual and his position in the organisational set up which in turn leads to the clarity of-the goals/ objectives of the organisation and helps in designing the hierarchical structure of the organisation.
  • A well designed hierarchical structure is another ideal construct of such a system. The officers are organised in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices which leads to a pyramidal structure of the organisation. The well defined hierarchical structure should form the basis of a well defined communication system and organisational communication should be through proper hierarchical channels.
  • Co-ordination of the work in a large organisation where the division of work and the specialisation exists is very necessary to avoid duplication of efforts and wastage of resources. The co-ordination in such an organisation is to be attempted through organisational hierarchy and well defined rules and regulations. Each office in this respect has clearly defined sphere of competence in the legal sense.
  • The organisation is marked by strict rule orientation. Various officials derive their power and authority from the clearly outlined rules and regulations operating in the organisation. It is because of this rule-orientation that the decisions of the higher level management are obeyed by the lower level management.
  • Rationality in decision-making is another characteristic of bureaucratic organisation. The decisions are made strictly according to rules and all the cases that are similar are dealt with in a similar manner.
  • The decisions are made based on objective evaluation of the situation. The criteria for making these decisions should be fair and open to all the people in the organisation. Subjective factors such as hunch, individual preferences, pressure of friends, relatives etc., should be avoided while taking decisions.
  • Impersonality should be observed by all officials in decision-making and in overall organisational life. The officials are not supposed to be wing their official position for extracting personal gains i.e. the officials work entirely separated from ownership of the means of administration and without appropriation of his position. In principle, they should not use even the office stationery and equipment for personal Work.
  • Anonymity and Neutrality in decision-making and their implementation are the cardinal principles of bureaucratic way of functioning. The bureaucrats only make all the facts available to the political masters and it is they who actually take decisions, while the bureaucrat remains silently\_ in the background. He, however, after getting the political sanction from the political masters, implements the policies in the neutral manner i.e. he implements them in such a way that it does not favour a particular section of the population or his kins.
  • Merit based selection and placement is another feature of ideal type bureaucracy. The selection, in principle, is open to all and the candidates are selected based on their technical competence which is ascertained through their certificates, degrees, entrance examination or through oral examination in the form of a job interview. The most important thing to note is that they are appointed not elected.
  • A fixed tenure posting i.e. permanency in holding the job is another distinguishing feature of bureaucracy. A fixed tenure ensures a fair play on part of bureaucrats since a short term would lead to a situation where he would try to serve his personal interests. For their services, they are given remuneration in the form of fixed salaries which is often adequate. The salary scale is primarily graded according to the ranks in the hierarchy. But, at times, the requirements of the incumbents social status may also be taken into account. The permanency of tenure, however, is subject to strict and systematic disciplinary control in the conduct of the office. It is important to notice at this point of time that ideal constructs stated

under points (i), (ii) and (iii) are applicable to, all the organisations whereas the characteristics stated under points (iv) to (x) are applicable solely to large public organisations. Another important fact to be noticed at this stage is that this ideal type model of bureaucracy was designed by Weber to serve a comparatively stable organisation and, bureaucracy was perceived to be an instrument which can counter political instability which was prevalent in the western democracies of that time He was of the view that bureaucracy can bring stability to the system because of its status-quoist nature and the characteristics of permanence, rationality, objectivity, neutrality, impersonality and rule-orientation. So far it has been found to be very useful in the parliamentary system of governance. The emphasis in this model seems to be an avoidance of value-orientation which according to it is necessary for any complex society to make it long-lasting.

Criticism of Bureaucratic Model

Bureaucracy being the instrument of Public Administration, is the most important topic in Public Administration theory and practice. Max Weber gave the above model which is normative in nature and could be followed by any large and complex organisation. However, the actual practices of bureaucracies often fall short of these ideals. This is the sole reason for the existence of large research material in this area, each one either acclaiming the model or pointing out its defects. Bureaucracy is a necessary evil in large and organisationally complex organisations of today, and the following demerits have been pointed out in the bureaucratic model by various scholars.

Robert K. Merton has criticised bureaucracy for its excessive dependence on rules, as too much reliance on rules tends to kill initiative. At the same time in a bureaucratic organisation, since the promotion is time-bound in some countries, the bureaucrats find indirect encouragement to put forth only average performance i.e. there is no need for them to put in extra amount of hard work, as the system tends to promote them up in the organisational hierarchy, irrespective of their performance or non-performance. Merton also points out that the characteristics of Impersonality, Anonymity, Neutrality to values etc. are contradictory to the very basic nature of a public service organisation where close co-operation between the citizens and the bureaucracy is desirable. In addition Merton also pointed towards certain dysfunctionalities of bureaucracy which will be discussed separately at a later stage in this section.

Phillip Selznick has criticised the system of bureaucracy on the grounds of the problems of delegation that crop up in operative stages. The bureaucratic staff tends to concentrate power at higher positions and very little of delegation of authority and responsibilities down the rung is seen. In the absence of delegation, organisational decisions are unnecessarily delayed. Similarly, excessive adherence to rules and regulations leads to the problem of ‘Goal Displacement’, where the rules and regulations that are meant to facilitate the functioning of the organisation are adhered irrespective of the fact whether it leads to goal achievement or not In other words, though it may not be possible to achieve the goals of the organisation due to blind application of the rules and regulations of the organisation according to the precedents, they are applied without bothering about the goal achievement by the bureaucrats, who want to save their skin fearing that responsibility would be fixed on them at a later date for not following the rules. Thus a situation occurs where instrumental values become terminal values and the goal of the bureaucracy shifts from the achievement of the organisational goals to the application of rules and – regulations.

Gouldner, Peter Blau and Talcott Parson have pointed out a number of dysfunctionalities associated with the application of the ideal type constructs of the bureaucracy in, practice. For example, though the aim of applying the model is to bring efficiency in the organisation, some of the ideal constructs when applied fully lead, to inefficiency or decrease in efficiency. For example, rule-orientation at times leads to unnecessary delays and in a bureaucratic organisation, in the absence of flexibility provided for in the rules themselves, the rules are to be adhered to at all costs. Similarly, whenever rationality and impersonality increases beyond a point, it also leads to unnecessary delay and client dissatisfaction. Weber, however, did not point out about the extent to which these ideal constructs should be applied.

Sociologists have pointed out that there is a great deal of mismatch between authority and responsibility in the bureaucratic model. The bureaucracy is only internally accountable and the principle of anonymity forbids the external accountability of the bureaucracy. It means that the bureaucracy has a lot of authority with it but it has very little responsibility on it. The situation is even worse in a parliamentary democracy, where the concept of ‘ministerial responsibility before the Parliament’ exists. At the same time, bureaucracy assumes all the powers in the periods of political transitions and political instability, and hence it accumulates power in the absence of formal authority/ structure enforcing accountability on it Sociologists have accused the bureaucratic model of causing alienation among the public due to the impersonality, value-neutrality and anonymity. This is highly undesirable in a public service organisation where client satisfaction is of utmost importance.

Herbert Simon warns against the excessive zeal of administrators who want to bring complete rationality in their decisions. According to Simon, since the human beings are emotional, complete rationality in organisational decisions is not possible and Value-orientation of individuals cannot be totally avoided. Further, he pointed out several limitations to rational decision-making while propounding the bounded-rationality model of decision making which have been discussed in detail under the topic — “Administrative Behaviour”. Simon also added the concept of acceptability of decision and pointed out that there are two kinds of objectivities, namely, individual objectivity and organisational objectivity. In an organisation, individual objectivity may, differ from organisational objectivity.

In a particular instance which one of them should be given precedence over the other may not be clear. Weberian theory does not take into account these facts.

Fred W. Riggs, while criticising the Weberian model, points out that Weberian model is not conducive to development. Instead, what exists in developing countries as bureaucracy is totally different from the ideal type model of Max Weber. The bureaucratic model in these countries is named by him as `SALA’ Model. The chief characteristics of a ‘SALA’ model bureaucracy are Heterogeneity in their way of functioning; excessive gap between theory (i.e. rules) and practice which he termed as formulism; overlapping of various institutions in their functions and duties despite the fact that they are physically separate entities; predominance of nepotism and corruption in every walk of life including selection to the civil services where ascriptive features of the applicant decide his selection or rejection from the civil services in place of professional qualification etc. The bureaucracy, hence in these countries is structurally Weberian but behaviourally it follows SALA model. The emphasis of such a bureaucracy always is onstatus-quo since the members of it have vested interests _ in its continuance and hence the goals of social change are very rarely achieved.

Joseph La Palambora, a political scientist, criticised Weberian model severely for having only a very limited empirical base behind_ the model. According to him Weber gave his model based on his study of the bureaucracies existing in the Western European countries, especially France and Germany. The model hence does not take into account the plus points and minus points of other contemporary bureaucracies. For example, the party-state bureaucratic system of the contemporary USSR, where no concept of value-neutrality and anonymity of civil-servants existed, was not considered at all. Similarly the different models of bureaucracy existing in Japan, China, United States of America. etc. are significantly different, from Weberian model. Yet they are equally efficient. Hence, the model seems to be ethnocentric.

The bureaucratic model of Weber has also been criticised for its closed nature and dealing with only the structural aspects of the organisation. It neglects an important tact that creating the same structure everywhere without considering the environmental factors i.e. factors external to the administrative system, is not always very successful, since the environmental factors shape the behaviour of the personnel in the structure and hence the same structure may function in a totally different manner in different cultural settings: This is perhaps the reason that although the bureaucracies in the developing world are structurally Weberian, they are miles apart from the Weberian model behaviourally. (This criticism has come from scholars belonging to Systems School of Thought).

Defence of Max Weber

  • Max Weber was conscious of the fact that there exist a number of limitations in the way of achieving complete rationality in administration. Hence he gave only the ideal type model of bureaucracy recognising the fact implicitly that the things may be different in actual practice. It hence implies that the administrators should readjust the model giving the allowance for deviations from ideal conditions but the ideal model of bureaucracy should always serve as a sign-post and guide to desirable practical models.
  • Criticising Weber for the fact that a number of models of bureaucracies across the world are structurally Weberian but not behaviourally is not proper. In fact this criticism itself highlights the fact that the actual problem is not with the model but with the people who actually operate it and hence there exist changes in the ways of its functioning.
  • Weber himself was conscious of the fact that there might be some dysfunctionalities when the model is actually put to practice. He predicted it indirectly when he stated that “any deviation from this ideal model in a large and complex organisation would bring inefficiency in the organisation. Most of the dysfuncti9nalities seem today are mostly either due to the deviation from the ideal model in a large and complex organisation would bring inefficiency in the organisation. Most of the dysfunctionalities seem today are mostly either due to the deviation from the ideal constructs as outlined in the ‘SALA’ model or due to over-­insistence on same of the principles of hierarchy, rule-orientation etc. Hence despite the warning of Weber, if somebody goes wrong, then it is not the fault of the model.
  • Weber anticipated the propensity of the bureaucracy to accumulate power when he said that “once created, Bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy”. The concepts of impersonality, ministerial responsibility etc., tend to further strengthen it and hence it may become despotic. Therefore, he advocated strict political control over bureaucracy through legislature. Hence, if in a particular cultural setting, bureaucracy become despotic, then it is the fault of the political system and not of the Weberian Model.
  • Criticising Weberian model for its non-suitability for development is improper since the concept of Development Administration had not taken roots at that time At the same time this does not mean and outright of the model but it is only its readjustment according to the needs of the day, most of the structural traits of the model are worth retaining.
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