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Bureaucracy

The Practical Form Of Social Organization Later Known As Bureaucracy

Prior to the coinage of the term bureaucracy in the nineteenth century, organizations that functioned essentially as bureaucracies had long existed throughout the world. As early as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.), Chinese bureaucracy was taking on the form of a merit-based, centralized administrative apparatus of the state. Other early civilizations, including the Egyptians and the Greeks, included active administrative arms, but unlike the Chinese, were not selected primarily on criteria of merit. The early practice of bureaucracy was nominally a system of individuals employed (often permanently) in court advisership, tax collection, and the implementation of imperial/monarchical policy. This form of bureaucratic social organization dates back to the early Chinese dynasties as well as the early Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and other ancient societies, all of whom employed a designated body of loyal officials to implement the various policies of the ruling classes. Throughout the early common era, bureaucracy remained an arm of the ruling powers and the aristocracy; imperial, monarchical, and feudal systems employed bureaucratic-type organizations primarily to implement taxation and land-use policies.

The Middle Ages saw the expansion of another form of public bureaucracy. The ecclesiastic bureaucracy was designed to implement policies and maintain the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The church was certainly not alone in its use of formal hierarchical structures for the purpose of efficient implementation of policy: early Protestant faiths and the Islamic faith also employed bureaucratized structures for the coordination of their ever-growing populations of clerics and faithful. The bureaucratization of modern life is intimately tied to religion, in Weber's case, Protestantism. The alliance between ecclesiastic and secular bureaucracies would dominate the greater part of the millennium. For example, the Crusades to the Holy Land were in many ways marvels of imperialist-expansionist uses of both bureaucratic structures. The use of the two bureaucratic forms in the foreign occupation and domination of foreign lands would be an important idea in the late-twentieth-century rejection of colonialism. As Rodney argues, the church was also a colonizing force, "[meant] primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism …" (p. 253), and had to be dealt with as a colonizing bureaucratic power.

The key elements of the early practical bureaucracies (from the early Han Dynasty bureaucracy to the nascent Prussian state administration) included significant loyalty to the court, (very) limited policy discretion, frequent abuses of government power for organizational and individual gain, and the erection and maintenance of significant barriers to entry into the public service. The earliest practicing bureaucrats were rightfully accused of coveting and vehemently defending their titles as well as unduly influencing court decisions in favor of maintenance of the bureaucratic structure. This tendency of bureaucratic officials would be a perennial argument against the use of bureaucracy, particularly for the organization of government business. Later, within the early modern era (particularly the time of the prerevolutionary French administration) bureaucracy was used primarily as an aristocratic tool of domination of the many by the few. However, the inefficiencies and graft of rational-legal and formalistic bureaucratic systems are unlikely to be noted as particularly heinous compared to earlier, traditional forms of imperial and aristocratic abuses.

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