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The Bureaucratic Theory of Max Weber

Categories   Liberal Arts Personal Thoughts
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The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world. (Weber)

How does an organization work? The hierarchy of an organization or a company should have clear rules positions and powers. Instead of hiring employee by having the inside track, the ability of a person is more important. He is the founder of Bureaucratic School of Classical Organization Theory. Weber’s management theory is beneficial to the large organization such as the government because he made a clear rules of an organization and explained how they should behavior in detailed.

Max Weber. Wikipedia.

First of all, Max Weber indicated the connection between Protestantism and Capitalism. Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was born in 1864. His parents are all Protestants. He joined “Verein für Sozialpolitik” in 1888 and proposed the concept of “Wertfreiheit” which said that conducting researches should be subjective, not objective, especially in sociology studies.

In 1905, he published “Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus” In his book, he stated that there is a connection between Protestants and Capitalism to some extents. It is the doctrine of the Capitalism that empower the development of Capitalism. For example, he quoted what Benjamin Franklin once said:

Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.

He also argued that according to Protestants religious, an individual was religiously compelled to follow a secular vocation (German: Beruf, English: “calling”) with as much zeal as possible. A person living was more likely to accumulate money. That is, Weber combined economic sociology and the sociology of religion, emphasizing the importance of cultural influences embedded in religion as a means for understanding the genesis of capitalism.

Second, he started to conduct new researches and developed his theory of bureaucracy, also known as rational model.

He indicated that the bureaucracy is “based on the general principle of precisely defined and organized across-the-board competencies of the various offices” which are “underpinned by rules, laws, or administrative regulations.”

This also includes two actors, the public sector and private sector. He wrote the three essences of the private sector:

  1. A rigid division of labor is established that clearly identifies regular tasks and duties of the particular bureaucratic system.

  2. Regulations describe firmly established chains of command and the duties and capacity to coerce others to comply.

  3. Hiring people with particular, certified qualifications supports regular and continuous execution of the assigned duties.

Also there are nine principles of bureaucracy:

  1. Specialized roles

  2. Recruitment based on merits

  3. Uniform principles of placement, promotion, and transfer in an administrative system

  4. Careerism with systematic salary structure

  5. Hierarchy, responsibility and accountability

  6. Subjection of official conduct to strict rules of discipline and control

  7. Supremacy of abstract rules

  8. Impersonal authority

  9. Political neutrality

By following these rules, an organization or a company is able to achieve the maximum profit. With the implementation of bureaucracy, higher efficiency and effectiveness is around the corner. He figured out that the bureaucracy is indispensable in large organizations because a large numbers of employees can perform their works.

In addition to these basic principles, the three distinct types of powers(or authorities) in an organization are worth to be noticed. First of them is the traditional power.

The power is legitimated by the custom, a ruler typically has no real force to carry out his will or maintain his position, he only mainly depends on group’s respect, such as Pope.

Second, the Charismatic powers, the authority is concentrated in one leader, people admire his or her own great abilities and make unusual sacrifices, such as Jesus. In Weber’s view point this kind of people “are just as likely to be tyrannical as they are heroic.”

And finally, the rational-legal authority, “the power made legitimate by laws, written rules, and regulations is termed rational-legal authority.” There is a always a handbook which set up the standard of employees.

In the delivery of Weber’s speech in 1919, he pointed out that the world was in a disenchantment state for the scientific understanding is more high valued than belief. Therefore people or a country tends to adhere the power of rational-legal authority. The orientation is forwarding to rational goals in compare of traditional society. In conclusion, people would pursue a organization which leaded by rational-legal leaders.

Finally, for the application of Weber’s theory, the USA government is a good example. Politicians are elected by people, whatever the Civil Services are servants, the operational arms of political leaders. Civil Services mainly focus on executing and implementing the duties in the organization.

First of all, everyone do their own jobs, which is the essence of Weber’s bureaucracy theory. Second, Civil Services are always permanent fixtures which provides stability and continuity. However, there are still power transitions. All of these are written in the staff handbooks, so that these meet Weber’s nine principles of bureaucracy. The Civil Services has an organized hierarchy, with a career structure. What’s more, without favoritism, Civil Services must execute functions consistently and dispassionately.

The government hierarchy is strict but also well-division of works, so that everyone could do their best and contribute to the large organizations and keep the big machine working well. In short, bureaucracy is truly necessary for modern government, and it did follow what Weber proposed.

In conclusion, Max Weber embellished the scientific management theory with his bureaucratic management theory which focus on clear rules and strict organization hierarchy. First, from Protestantism, he figured out the boost origin of the Capitalism. Second, he purposed two factors, nine principles of bureaucracy and two types of powers to describe his theory well. Third, the USA Civil Services is a successful implementation of Bureaucratic model. Weber’s theory had a great impact on Western management study, what he provided are the formal ways to achieve the maximum profits of an organization. That is, people will know the importance of bureaucracy and know how to apply it on real life.


What are the main functions of bureaucracy according to Max Weber? — Quora

Reading: Types of Authority | Introductory Sociology

Bureaucratic Theory by Max Weber — toolshero

Max Weber — Wikipedia


韋伯的慧眼能否看穿時局迷霧?──韋伯百年祭 — 思想坦克

组织管理之父 — — 马克斯·韦伯 — 知乎专栏

(Weber)-理想型官僚及科層體制 — 隨意窩

除魅或復魅- 王崇堯


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