Weber and the Bureaucracies

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber, a german scholar, sociologist, political economist is regarded among the most important theorists on the development of modern Western society. His ideas, to date are the foundational courses to the so called Bureaucracy. His profound theory on legitimacy and Bureaucracy is vividly studied. He defined the administration as dominance or exercise of authority. He classified authority into 3 types.

Traditional authority

The legitimacy in this type of authority is inherited from the past and it continues to the future as well. The commands carry because of customs and also from personal decisions. According to the weber, the administration becomes irrational as the development of rational regulation is impeded as there would be no staff with formed and technical training. So the decision is at the sole discretion of the person who carried such legitimacy. It is most primitive from its patriarchal domination which is based on the uncontestable authority.

Charismatic authority

The charisma of any person or office that carries legitimacy is the charismatic authority. Weber defines charisma as the quality of the individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural superhuman or at least some exceptional powers or qualities. Charismatic authority can reside in a person who came to a position of leadership because of traditional or rational-legal authority. It is arbitrary and irrational.

Legal authority

If traditional authority derives from custom and tradition, rational-legal authority derives from law and is based on a belief in the legitimacy of a society’s laws and rules and in the right of leaders to act under these rules to make decisions and set policy. This form of authority is a hallmark of modern democracies, where power is given to people elected by voters, and the rules for wielding that power are usually set forth in a constitution, a charter, or another written document. 

Upon this classification of authorities weber classified the bureaucracy in two types namely legal rational bureaucracy and the patrimonial bureaucracy. Interestingly weber never defined the term bureaucracy clearly. According to britannica bureaucracy is defined as specific form of organization defined by complexity, division of labour, permanence, professional management, hierarchical coordination and control, strict chain of command, and legal authority. From weber’s classification patrimonial bureaucracy derives from charismatic/traditional authority and legal rational bureaucracy from legal rational authority. weber feels that all the power requires a belief in it’s legitimacy if it is to become stabilized.

legal rational bureaucracy: It is also known as Weberian bureaucracy.It is well laid of staff, rules,impersonal order, hierarchy etc. It can be democratically controlled and are more rational. It may be annoying, slow moving, complex but does not inspire fear because it can not make total claims of moral sort. It is necessarily a limited structure, circumscribed in power subject, to combat from other power centres in pluralistic universe. Weber gave an examples of modern state and capitalism as developed for staffs for legal rational order. According to him it is technically superior to all other administrative systems. The characteristics include :

  • Conduct of official business continuously
  • Hierarchy of authority
  • Accountability for the use of official resources.
  • Impersonal order, responsibility
  • Offices are neither private property nor inherited.
  • Conduct of administration on basis of formal written documents.

Charismatic bureaucracy(patrimonial) : Although weber coined the term e failed to define it adequately in theoretical perspective. Weber presumed that from historical analysis charismatic bureaucracy eventually be transformed legal rational due to irreversible trend in rationalisation. However, studies fro same historical trends show that it failed to do so and remained totalitarian structure deviating from ideal type of bureaucracy. Weber assumed that historical life exhibits a growing rationality the famous disenchantment of the world.

The routinization of institutionalisation to charisma may either proceed in two directions. First, in hereditary line in which charisma transfers itself from one person to other person. second, charisma may itself attach to office and not the person (eg. catholic church). The historical trends weber gives is from the ruled states of china, egypt, rome and catholic. According to weber the these charismatic states should have transformed to legal rational but never happened. Infact, to date catholic church remains more charismatic.

Weber views the development of a private property as inimical to development of advanced bureaucracy but the historical evidence suggest the direction of causality is rather reverse i.e. the large scale bureaucracy is inimical to development of private property. It seems that weber conception of bureaucracy contained element requiring an ambivalent attitude. His political position was in fact many sided. He saw the world as being increasingly routinized and made predictable and unfree by the growth of bureaucracy. According to him parliamentary democracies we wanted not as means to achieve self government but as counterpoise to bureaucracy.

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