Bureaucracies of what came before it and

Bureaucracies are pervasive in our society. In this lesson, you will learn about the historical and philosophical development of the modern bureaucracy, including some of its key concepts.

You will also be given an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz.

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Max Weber – Father of the Modern Bureaucracy

Max Weber (1864-1920) is one of the most important theorists in modern organizational theory and is considered the father of the modern bureaucratic model. He was a German sociologist and political economist. Weber viewed bureaucracy in a positive light, believing it to be more rational and efficient than its historical predecessors.

Development of the Modern Bureaucracy

In order to understand the development of bureaucracy, you must have an understanding of what came before it and what competes with it. Weber believed that legitimate authority rested upon one of three bases.

According to Weber, traditional authority is authority based upon the sanctity of immemorial tradition and loyalty to the leader. A great example of traditional authority is the idea of the divine right of kings supporting a hereditary royal line of leaders. The second basis of authority is charismatic authority, which is based upon the extraordinary personal traits of the leader such as heroism, sacredness, or unique character. An example of a charismatic leader is Gandhi.

The third type of authority is legal-rational authority. Legal-rational authority finds its support in a system of laws or rules and the right of leadership derived from those rules. An individual elected to the U.S. Senate is an example of a person elevated to leadership through legal-rational authority.Each basis of authority has its corresponding type of administration, which implements the policies and decisions of the leader. Charismatic administration is typically unstable and usually is composed of the leader’s ‘disciples.

‘ These administrators do not have a set of express duties to follow based upon a set of rules. Traditional administration, on the other hand, is typically structured under a patriarchal, patrimonial or feudal system. A great example is from the feudal period: nobles would govern fiefs given to them by the king. Like charismatic leadership, there are not formal rules for the administrators to follow or for the protection of the subjects. They served at the pleasure of the leader. Weber championed the third type of administration that corresponded to legal-rational authority, which he called bureaucratic administration. A bureaucratic administration is subject to a system of laws and rules.

In fact, the administrator’s position, its relations with the leader and the followers are all governed by the system of laws and rules.Weber developed a concept called an ideal-type bureaucracy. Weber identified six characteristics of an ideal-type bureaucracy:

  1. Fixed official duties.

    Administrative duties are divided into fixed offices with specific responsibilities and duties.

  2. Hierarchy of authority. Administrative positions are arranged in a strict hierarchy of authority where a lower-level office is answerable to the office above it.

  3. System of rules. An administrator is subject to two types of rules. Behavioral rules define the scope of an administrator’s authority and constrain certain personal behavior. For example, regulations define the scope of an environmental regulator’s work and prohibit the regulator from receiving compensation from a company that’s regulated.

    Technical rules define how the work is to be done and decisions are made.

  4. Technical expertise. Administrators are selected and promoted based upon their technical expertise and ability to perform specific tasks. An engineer is hired because he is an engineer not because he is of noble birth or a disciple of the leader.
  5. Career service. Administrators are individuals that have decided to make administration or management their career.

    The position is not considered a property right as it might be under a feudal system, in which a person of noble blood receives a title and office by right of social rank.

  6. Written documentation. Records are maintained regarding all rules, decisions and administrative actions taken by the official office.


Let’s say you work for as a bureaucrat at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You were hired because you hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam. You plan to work at the IRS for the duration of your career.

You work as an auditor and have the authority to audit individual tax returns. You do not have the authority to audit corporate returns because that is outside the authority of your position. You must follow a strict set of procedures and guidelines in auditing individual returns from which you may not deviate. You must keep accurate records of each audit. You answer to your unit supervisor, who answers to a department head.

Lesson Summary

Modern bureaucracy has its roots in the work of Max Weber and attempts to describe a structure of administration based on ration-legal authority.

Weber’s bureaucracy is more stable than other forms of administration, such as traditional and charismatic administration. An ideal-type bureaucracy consists of six components: fixed official duties, hierarchy of authority, system of rules, technical expertise, career service, and written documentation.

Learning Outcomes

While studying the lesson diligently, set several goals that include:

  • Remember Max Weber’s contributions
  • Enumerate the three types of authority and their corresponding administrations
  • List the six characteristics of an ideal-type bureaucracy
  • Cite an example of modern bureaucracy

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