2 minute read

Bureaucracy

Criticism Of And Advancements In The Idea Of Bureaucracy

Critics primarily attack the practice of bureaucracy, but a few notable scholars attack or enhance the very idea of a bureaucracy and/or a bureaucratic state. Oddly, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) was a reformer of the idea of bureaucracy without being an outright critic of the form. The Hegelian notion of the neutral universalizing civil service devoted to the common good contradicts Weber's notion of the bureaucracy that unquestioningly serves the rational-legal authority of the state. Hegel expands the role of bureaucracy beyond simply the implementation of rules to a universalizing and constitutive, productive artifact of modern society. This notion of the constitutive and productive bureaucracy is picked up by later political scientists such as Brian J. Cook. Despite the positive contribution that Hegelian philosophy has upon the idea of bureaucracy, followers of Hegel, such as Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt, have damned the practice of bureaucracy as a dominating instrument of rationalized capitalist will. However, they have not notably expanded upon the idea of bureaucracy but have rather simply recast the rules already understood to be elemental to the idea and defined them as ills of modernity.

One avenue of expansion upon the idea comes from the criticism that postcolonial and postmodern theorists have directed toward bureaucracy. Weber initially argued for bureaucracy to be a tool for internal organization of offices that served to legitimate the power of the organization's authority through rationalization and rules. What postcolonial and postmodern theorists have charged is that bureaucracy is also designed for domination of the organization by those external to it. Weber's idea was, according to later critics, formed within a social vacuum and neglected the role of environment and context upon bureaucratic behavior. However, Weber likely did not intend to explicate a form of social organization void of social context; rather, he espoused one that could potentially work within a multitude of situations with or without being extensively tailored to individual societies. As such, Weber's original idea is decidedly impersonal and lacks space for exceptionalism. Consequently the organizational form is also ideal for discipline and domination; as an organizational tool within the public, bureaucracy has, as Hegel suspected, a tendency toward projection of a universal standard (of rationality, in this case). As Robert K. Merton suggests, the "formalism, even ritualism [of bureaucracy], ensues with an unchallenged insistence upon punctilious adherence to formalized procedures" (p. 106). The bureaucratic insistence upon rule-based formality codifies conformance, the primary tool of bureaucratic dominance.

Bureaucracies, particularly in modern democratic societies, have significant roles to play as channels of representation. Theorists of representative bureaucracy have expanded upon the idea itself to suggest that the practice be a conduit of effective and well-rounded governance. Similarly, as suggested by Michael Lipsky, lower-level bureaucrats can serve as advocates for citizen needs within their official capacities. Theorists of representative or advocative bureaucracy clearly reject the Weberian characteristic of neutral servants of authority and by doing so expand the idea of bureaucracy from a micro-level instrument of social organization to a macro-level system of social responsibility.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Boolean algebra to Calcium PropionateBureaucracy - The Practical Form Of Social Organization Later Known As Bureaucracy, Max Weber And The Idea Of Bureaucracy