School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Max Weber -
Bureaucracy

 


The Person The Years of Mastery 
Introduction An Exemplary Moralist
The Early Academic Career  
   
The Work  
Introduction The Function of Ideas
Natural Science, Social Science, and Value Relevance Class, Status and Power
The Ideal Type Bureaucracy
Causality and Probability Rationalization and Disenchantment
Types of Authority  

Weber's interest in the nature of power and authority, as well as his pervasive preoccupation with modern trends of rationalization, led him to concern himself with the operation of modern large-scale enterprises in the political, administrative, and economic realm. Bureaucratic coordination of activities, he argued, is the distinctive mark of the modern era. Bureaucracies are organized according to rational principles. Offices are ranked in a hierarchical order and their operations are characterized by impersonal rules. Incumbents are governed by methodical allocation of areas of jurisdiction and delimited spheres of duty. Appointments are made according to specialized qualifications rather than ascriptive criteria. This bureaucratic coordination of the actions of large numbers of people has become the dominant structural feature of modern forms of organization. Only through this organizational device has large- scale planning, both for the modern state and the modern economy, become possible. Only through it could heads of state mobilize and centralize resources of political power, which in feudal times, for example, had been dispersed in a variety of centers. Only with its aid could economic resources be mobilized, which lay fallow in pre-modern times. Bureaucratic organization is to Weber the privileged instrumentality that has shaped the modern polity, the modern economy, the modern technology. Bureaucratic types of organization are technically superior to all other forms of administration, much as machine production is superior to handicraft methods.

Yet Weber also noted the dysfunctions of bureaucracy. Its major advantage, the calculability of results, also makes it unwieldy and even stultifying in dealing with individual cases. Thus modern rationalized and bureaucratized systems of law have become incapable of dealing with individual particularities, to which earlier types of justice were well suited. The "modern judge," Weber stated in writing on the legal system of Continental Europe, " is a vending machine into which the pleadings are inserted together with the fee and which then disgorges the judgment together with the reasons mechanically derived from the Code."

Weber argued that the bureaucratization of the modern world has led to its depersonalization.

[The calculability of decision-making] and with it its appropriateness for capitalism . . [is] the more fully realized the more bureaucracy "depersonalizes" itself, i.e., the more completely it succeeds in achieving the exclusion of love, hatred, and every purely personal, especially irrational and incalculable, feeling from the execution of official tasks. In the place of the old-type ruler who is moved by sympathy, favor, grace, and gratitude, modern culture requires for its sustaining external apparatus the emotionally detached, and hence rigorously "professional" expert.
Further bureaucratization and rationalization seemed to Weber an almost inescapable fate.

Imagine the consequences of that comprehensive bureaucratization and rationalization which already today we see approaching. Already now . . . in all economic enterprises run on modern lines, rational calculation is manifest at every stage. By it, the performance of each individual worker is mathematically measured, each man becomes a little cog in the machine and, aware of this, his one preoccupation is whether he can become a bigger cog. . . . It is apparent today we are proceeding towards an evolution which resembles [the ancient kingdom of Egypt] in every detail, except that it is built on other foundations, on technically more perfect, more rationalized, and therefore much more mechanized foundations. The problem which besets us now in not: how can this evolution be changed?--for that is impossible, but: what will come of it?
Weber's views about the inescapable rationalization and bureaucratization of the world have obvious similarities to Marx's notion of alienation. Both men agree that modern methods of organization have tremendously increased the effectiveness and efficiency of production and organization and have allowed an unprecedented domination of man over the world of nature. They also agree that the new world of rationalized efficiency has turned into a monster that threatens to dehumanize its creators. But Weber disagrees with Marx when the latter sees alienation as only a transitional stage on the road to man's true emancipation. Weber does not believe in the future leap from the realm of necessity into the world of freedom. Even though he would permit himself upon occasion the hope that some charismatic leader might arise to deliver mankind from the curse of its own creation, he thought it more probable that the future would be an "iron cage" rather than a Garden of Eden.

There is yet another respect in which Weber differed from, or rather enlarged upon, Marx. In accord with his focus on the sphere of economic production, Marx had documented in great detail how the capitalist industrial organization led tot eh expropriation of the worker form the means of production; how the modern industrial worker, in contrast to the artisan of the handicraft era, did not own his own tools and was hence forced to sell his labor to those who controlled him. Agreeing with most of this analysis, Weber countered with the observation that such expropriation from the means of work was an inescapable result of any system of rationalized and centrally coordinated production, rather than being a consequence of capitalism as such. Such expropriation would characterize a socialist system of production just as much as it would the capitalist form. Moreover, Weber argued, Marx's nearly exclusive concern with the productive sphere led him to overlook the possibility that the expropriation of the workers from the means of production was only a special case of a more general phenomenon in modern society where scientists are expropriated from the means of research, administrators from the means of administration, and warriors from the means of violence. He further contended that in all relevant spheres of modern society men could no longer engage in socially significant action unless they joined a large-scale organization in which they were allocated specific tasks and to which they were admitted only upon condition they they sacrificed their personal desires and predilections to the impersonal goals and procedures that governed the whole.

From Coser, 1977:230-233.

  

Websites On Weber Work By Weber
Max Weber Class Notes (External Link) Bureaucracy
  Fundamental Concepts in Sociology (External Link)
  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
   



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010