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Weber’s Idea of Bureaucracy

A system that helps control a state’s operations and aids its citizens is a necessity for modern-day states. The majority of contemporary developed countries have bureaucratic procedures that are strictly regulated by laws. However, several philosophers voiced their ideas on the proper set up of these systems during industrialization, and one of them was Weber. This paper will examine Weber’s thoughts on bureaucracy and evaluate whether his ideas are applicable to modern society.

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Bureaucracy is a necessity that allows modern society to function following the laws and policies applicable to all. Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.) defines bureaucracy as “a system for controlling or managing a country, company, or organization that is operated by a large number of officials employed to follow the rules carefully” (para. 1). Hence, the three elements of this system are the control over an organized group of people, officials who work within this system, and a set of regulations. Although this is a modern definition of bureaucracy, it has many similarities to Weber’s views.

The rational approach to managing a state is the basis of Weber’s views. In the philosopher’s view, bureaucracy and its development were linked to rationalization (“6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy,” 2021). Hence, for example, the career advancement of a public official would depend on their qualifications and achievements, assessed by an organization and not on a decision made by an individual. Consequently, an official would not be promoted based on their interpersonal qualities, connections, or family status. Here, rational reasoning contrasts with systems where decision-making depends on one or several individuals and is based on emotions.

Rationalization is an essential contributor to bureaucracy, in Weber’s view. This approach suggests that other motivators for human behavior are not considered when developing state systems. The same policy applies to traditions and values that can motivate a person to behave a certain way. In Weber’s opinion, rational reasoning and calculations are the only valid factors in bureaucratic decision-making (“6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy,” 2021). This meant that industrialized societies transitioned from traditional forms of interactions, such as kinship, to using strict rules. According to Weber, “for bureaucratic administration is, other things being equal, always, from a formal point of view, the most rational type” (as cited in Cochrane, 2018, p. 1). Therefore, rationalization and bureaucracy were interchangeably linked, according to Weber.

The rational approach requires a set of rules that would regulate the behaviors and work of government officials to avoid them acting based on their values or morals. In Weber’s view, bureaucracy could be functional if its authority is derived from legal order (“6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy,” 2021). Most modern states use this approach, where governmental organizations work following laws and policies, including the United States. In contrast to this, there are countries where the authority of a governmental institution comes from an individual, for example, monarchies or dictatorships, such as North Korea. Therefore, rational-legal authority is a building block of a bureaucratic system.

Weber discussed the issue of bureaucracy due to the changes that affected the way people and the state interact. For example, the development of technology and communication methods or the increasing number of people were important factors (“6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy,” 2021). These contribute to the growing complexity of the tasks that government officials have to complete, and there is a demand for a regulated system. Notably, Weber referred to the increasing number of rules and policies as an “iron cage” to describe the state in which people subjected to bureaucracy were (“6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy,” 2021, para. 15). Despite this, the development of society and the need to adjust the government’s systems seems inevitable, which is why rational bureaucracy is needed.

Most contemporary societies function following Weber’s ideas on bureaucracy. Cochrane (2018) argues that Werber’s ideas on bureaucracy were adopted by most industrialized states, and Weber established the modern way of thinking about bureaucracies. In part, this may be true because he developed his ideas while industrialization unfolded. For example, the United States has a clear set of government bodies, a large number of officials, and clear rules that govern the state’s operations. For instance, the education system has a set of policies that require children to enroll in a program at a certain age and pass specific examinations. Both federal laws and internal policies govern the education institutions, and government agencies control these facilities’ operations. A similar strategy is applied to other state systems, such as healthcare or tax collection.

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The growing population in developed states requires a system capable of serving the needs of all citizens. Weber’s rational approach arose from a need to have a “mass administration” system that is capable of serving the needs of the growing population (as cited in Cochrane, 2018, p. 1). Considering that in modern-day society, the population is continuously growing, there are no valid alternatives to the rational one. Weber himself argued that the choice is either rationalism or dilettantes (as cited in Cochrane, 2018, p. 1). Hence, Weber’s ideas can be applied to the majority of modern industrialized states.

In summary, Weber approaches bureaucracy as a rational matter linked to the laws and policies of a country. Weber also cited the factors that contribute to bureaucracies’ development, such as technology, communication, and increasing population growth. In his view, the rational approach that excludes decision-making based on emotions or traditions was the best. Most of Weber’s ideas apply to the modern-day industrial states as well.


Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Bureaucracy. Cambridge Dictionary. Web.

Cochrane, G. (2018). Max Weber’s vision for bureaucracy: A casualty of World War I. Palgrave Macmillan.

6.4B: Weber’s model for bureaucracy. (2021). Web.

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