The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: This 2200 word entry discusses bureaucracy's etymology, theories of Hegel, Marx and Weber, and recurrent problems caused by bureaucracy, but does not provide a definition of the term.
By the early nineteenth century, the concept of bureaucracy became the most significant addition to the classification of political systems since those of the ancient Greeks. The term's first recorded use was in 1764 by a french physiocrat, de Gournay, who believed the public interest was becoming subordinate to a growing government by bureacracy. By the nineteenth century, bureaucracy was associated with the centralized European state.
Hegel wrote about bureaucracy in the early nineteenth century. His empirical observations led him to place civil servants as one of the three great classes of society (the other two are agricultural and industrial). According to Hegel, civil servants worked only for the universal interest, and this work satisfied their private interests. Marx critiqued Hegel's rational view of bureaucracy as misplaced--turning formalism into an end in itself and invoking an imaginary general interest.
Weber is the starting point for modern theories of bureaucracy. Like Hegel, Weber gives rationality a privileged place. Weber believed that rationality would guarantee reliability, predictability and maximum efficiency in government. In fact, he asserted that bureacracy would flourish in both capitalist and socialist political systems.
Because bureacracy is regarded as the core of the modern state, it is the target of much criticism. The entry concludes by discussing some recurrent bureaucratic problems in socialist and other western govenrments.