Bureaucracy Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

In its broadest sense, bureaucracy means domination through the expertise of the official. A bureaucracy is an organization formally established to fulfill its ends through the determination of the means to guarantee the highest administrative efficiency. Its legitimacy rests on the technical knowledge and the observation of the rules legally set forth that guide its action. It is a machine based on accuracy, calculation, continuity, discipline, rigor, and confidence, which guarantee a stable and certain social order.

The origin of the concept can be traced in the texts of Vincent Gournay and G. W. F. Hegel, which referred to the power of civil servants to service the monarchy. Later, social thinkers like Karl Marx, Ferdinand Tönnies, Emile Durkheim, and Robert Michels analyzed through different approaches the impact of the bureaucratic organization on economic activity and the power structure of modern society. However, Max Weber offers a complete theoretical formulation because, in his intention to understand and characterize the progressive transformation of Western civilization, he noted the technical superiority of bureaucracy and its consequences.


Weber described bureaucracy as the most rational way to exercise domination, because it has certain attributes that are not appreciated in social communities organized around charisma or tradition. The bureaucratic organization is based on the distribution of work and responsibilities, so that the competencies of the officials are precisely defined and are articulated through a hierarchical order in which relations of authority are clearly defined. Each officer complies with the administrative tasks assigned by laws and regulations, and does it with discipline, loyalty, and obedience.

In addition, each position is linked to specific technical qualities, so it can be occupied by anyone who meets the requirements. Bureaucratic work is a remunerated and continuous full-time occupation that enables the realization of a career based on promotion considering expertise and merit. The development of the monetary economy facilitated payment in money to the modern official and the establishment of a tax system allowing the collection of funds to sustain the costs of bureaucratic activities of the state. Accordingly, this model assumes the separation of public service and private life, and distinguishes public property of the heritage of the individuals.

Finally, bureaucracy is associated with modern management techniques based on the documentation and written record of each action, giving rise to the collection, classification, and storage of files. In addition, because bureaucracy operates according to clearly defined general rules, it treats each case avoiding arbitrariness and favoritism.

However, the current operation of bureaucracy does not correspond to the ideal attributes. Robert K. Merton pointed out the relevance of analyzing the tensions produced between the formal structure and the real behavior of officials, which gives rise to phenomena such as trained incapacity, occupational psychosis, and professional deformation of officials. The examination of the dysfunctions inherent to the rational model of bureaucracy shows the ritualism produced by the excessive adherence to formalized procedures; the distortion of information produced by hierarchy, centralization, and specialization; the inhibition of initiative and creativity because of the rigid respect of rules; and the hostility and indifference produced by impersonal treatment based on the record.

Under these approaches, some scholars conducted several empirical studies to demonstrate the displacement of initial commitments of bureaucracy and their unintended consequences, the forces that originate the process of formalization and the latent functions of bureaucracy, the processes of change and innovation in widely formalized organizations, and the disruptive effects of hidden relations of power on the bureaucratic system.

From Bureaucratization To Globalization

Weber considered also the consequences of the generalization of bureaucracy, a process that transformed modern society into an iron cage in which citizens were caught by formal procedures that widely restrict their freedom. The inevitable bureaucratization of the world was appreciated by Bruno Rizzi in the Soviet Union, a centralized state with a huge bureaucratic apparatus that controls economic surplus and any aspect of social life. Capitalist societies were also criticized. James Burnham relied upon the thesis of Rizzi to characterize the process of bureaucratization in the United States, a society increasingly directed by a managerial class that controls the access to the means of production and takes advantage of its position to serve to its own particular interests. These and other experiences have motivated extensive discussions on the effects of bureaucratic power over the freedom of citizens and representative democracy.

Bureaucratization was facilitated by the generalization of division and standardization of work, which led to increased productivity and reduction of costs, encouraging mass consumption. Scientific management, driven by Frederick W. Taylor, and the introduction of the modern assembly line in the Ford Motor Company exemplify this process. These transformations favored the professionalization of management of capitalist companies that were increasingly integrated into conglomerates controlled by professional managers appointed by the board of stakeholders.

In addition, the state created large public enterprises in strategic sectors such as communications, transport, and energy to support private investment and macroeconomic stability. It also create a large bureaucratic system to offer public services demanded by cities and towns, and addressed the needs of education, health, and social security of the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. Finally, in the arena of politics, political parties were impelled to adopt bureaucratic structures to attract the masses and get better conditions for electoral competition. Overall, these trends implied the constant expansion of bureaucracy and the integration of an enormous army of bureaucrats with technical skills acquired by specialized professional training.

The huge size of the state apparatus related with bureaucratization was harshly criticized in liberal thinking, which opposed the growing economic and social action of the state. Ludwig von Mises, Frederick A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and others argued that Keynesian policies attack individual liberties, disrupting the natural functioning of the economy. From the 1970s, when the failure of the welfare state was evident, liberalism promoted the free market, labor flexibility, and democracy as the antidotes for bureaucratization and state interventionism. Globalization arises then as a stage of reorganization of economic activities of the world under the principles of individual freedom, economic competition, and flexible organization.

The new liberal times have redefined the role of the state, establishing clear limits to government action, and introduced new forms of management and organization based on entrepreneurialism. Managers, consultants, and researchers have spoken increasingly about post-bureaucratic organization and the advantages to adopting flexible and flat structures to promote participatory working groups and the incorporation of dynamic networks of exchange and cooperation. These new organizational forms encourage high value added work, based on knowledge that drives the formation of a new economy of intangibles.

This transformation has been possible thanks to the dizzying development of new information technologies and to the integration of a complex global information network that facilitates transactions in real time and at a distance. As a result, bureaucracy has faced a process of decentralization and delocalization, giving way to more flexible virtual structures, articulated by computer networks and mobile devices for storing, transmitting, and communicating. Thus, the key question nowadays is whether these changes imply the removal of bureaucracy or its transformation into a “cybercracy” as an emerging organizational design that sustains the exercise of domination through the network.


  1. Stewart R. Clegg, David Courpasson, and Nelson Phillips, Power and Organizations (Sage, 2006);
  2. Paul Du Gay, ed., The Values of Bureaucracy (Oxford University Press, 2005);
  3. Marshall W. Meyer, Change in Public Bureaucracies (Cambridge University Press, 2008);
  4. Alexander Styhre, The Innovative Bureaucracy: Bureaucracy in an Age of Fluidity: The Innovative Bureaucracy (Routledge, 2007).

This example Bureaucracy Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. EssayEmpire.com offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!