Weber’s Bureaucracy: Appraisal and Criticism

Max Weber’s work on bureaucracy, translated into English in 1946, was one of the major contributions that has influenced the literature of public administration. He was the first administrative thinker to have given considerable thought on Bureaucracy. Weber essentially believed in inevitability of Bureaucracy in a modern state. He threw light not on ‘ideal Bureaucracy’ but also highlighted on, ‘ideal type of Bureaucracy’. An efficient Bureaucracy is a precondition of economic development. He knew that state alone possesses power, authority & legitimacy. To him, Bureaucracy has power & authority. Bureaucrats are power elites. It consists of superiors, technical experts having knowledge & experience. Max Weber viewed Bureaucracy from organisational point of view.However he also described the qualities necessary for Bureaucrats. His advocacy for, ‘impersonal approach’ has relevance even today. In a corporate world of today, weber’s ideas are still considered valid.


Features of Weber’s Bureaucracy

  • Authority of hierarchy: Bureaucratic organisation is based upon a well-defined hierarchy. Hierarchy, based on authority, has downward trends. Authority flows from upward to downward. An organisation based upon hierarchy of authority.
  • Division of Work: Bureaucratic organisation is divided between vertical & horizontal lines for division of work & functional specialisation. Every employee in the organisation has a well defined power & authority, based upon employee’s specialisation & expertise.
  • Formal Rules & Regulation: This Bureaucratic organisation functions within a framework of fixed rules & regulations. An employee, i.e. a Bureaucrat, has to function within this framework of rules & regulations. Such a Bureaucratic organisation specifies the duties & responsibilities of Bureaucrats. Authority implies responsibility. Every Bureaucratic organisation functions with a specific procedure, laid down by the organisation. This procedure is laid down for performing their functions.An employee in the organisation, obeys the authority. The rules, regulations are practiced & obeyed by Bureaucrats. The procedure of work is followed by employees.
  • Formal Selection: The Bureaucrats should be properly & scientifically selected. This enables efficiency of Bureaucracy. The Bureaucrats should be given periodic promotion on the basis of their technical
  • Impersonality: One of the unique features, suggested by Weber, is the impersonal approach of an employee, in the organisation. The interrelationship amongst the employees should be based upon impersonal approach. Every employee should function with impersonal approach, while performing duties.

Criticism of Weber’s Bureaucracy

Though noteworthy, Weber’s idea of Bureaucracy has been criticised on certain grounds. The first point of criticism is that Weber laid too much importance on Bureaucracy. In fact, Weber himself had not given a proper definition of Bureaucracy. It was, later on, regarded as a part of social science. Weber gave more importance to organisational aspect of Bureaucracy. He did not consider the political social contexts, in which Bureaucracy operates. Bureaucracy cannot function independently without having consideration for social & political forces. Weber associated power, authority & legitimacy with state / Bureaucracy. However, in a Democratic state, Bureaucracy comes under the direct control of Executive. Weber underestimated the role of legislatures, elected representatives, in exercising control over Bureaucracy. In the era of privatisation, Liberalisation & globalisation, Government Bureaucracy, as advocated by weber, has less significance, rather than the times, when weber wrote on Bureaucracy.


Max Weber’s theory of  bureaucracy is advocated  the system which is  based on the standardised procedures and a clear chain of command. This mean bureaucracy  is the most  efficient  form of organisation and well-defined line of  authority with crystal clear rules and regulation which are strictly followed.

The entire theory of Weber’s bureaucracy is rationally designed  to achieve functional  performance at all levels and every part of the bureaucracy should contribute to the whole institution. However, the bureaucracy limits individual freedom and makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals to understand their activities in relation to the organisation as a whole. Therefore, bureaucracy applies to an organisation which is rigid and formally structure with lot characteristics needed in order to run successfully.


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