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For other uses, see Bureaucracy (disambiguation).
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A bureaucracy is "a body of nonelective government officials" and/or "an administrative policy-making group."[1] Historically, bureaucracy referred to government administration managed by departments staffed with nonelected officials.[2] In modern parlance, bureaucracy refers to the administrative system governing any large institution.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Since being coined, the word "bureaucracy" has developed negative connotations for some.[9] Bureaucracies are criticized for their complexity, their inefficiency, and their inflexibility.[10] The dehumanizing effects of excessive bureaucracy were a major theme in the work of Franz Kafka, and were central to his masterpiece The Trial.[11] The elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy is a key concept in modern managerial theory,[12] and has been a central issue in numerous political campaigns.[13]

Others have defended the existence of bureaucracies. The German sociologist Max Weber argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which human activity can be organized, and that systematic processes and organized hierarchies were necessary to maintain order, maximize efficiency and eliminate favoritism.[14] But even Weber saw bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, in which the increasing bureaucratization of human life traps individuals in an "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control.[15][16]


1 Etymology and usage
2 History
2.1 Modern bureaucracy
3 Theories of bureaucracy
3.1 Karl Marx
3.2 John Stuart Mill
3.3 Max Weber
3.4 Woodrow Wilson
3.5 Ludwig von Mises
3.6 Robert K. Merton
4 See also
5 References
6 Further reading

Etymology and usage

The term "bureaucracy" is French in origin, and combines the French word bureau – desk or office – with the Greek word κράτος kratos – rule or political power.[17] It was coined sometime in the mid-1700s by the French economist Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay,[citation needed] and was a satirical pejorative from the outset.[original research?] Gournay never wrote the term down, but was later quoted at length in a letter from a contemporary:

The late M. de Gournay...sometimes used to say: "We have an illness in France which bids fair to play havoc with us; this illness is called bureaumania." Sometimes he used to invent a fourth or fifth form of government under the heading of "bureaucracy."

— Baron von Grimm[9]

The first known English-language use was in 1818.[17] The 19th-century definition referred to a system of governance in which offices were held by unelected career officials, and in this sense "bureaucracy" was seen as a distinct form of government, often subservient to a monarchy.[18] In the 1920s, the definition was expanded by the German sociologist Max Weber to include any system of administration conducted by trained professionals according to fixed rules.[18] Weber saw the bureaucracy as a relatively positive development; however by 1944, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises noted that the term bureaucracy was "always applied with an opprobrious connotation,"[19] and by 1957 the American sociologist Robert Merton noted that the term "bureaucrat" had become an epithet.[20] History

Students competed in imperial examinations to receive a position in the bureaucracy of ancient China.

Although the term "bureaucracy" was not coined until the mid-1700s, the idea of rule-bound administrative systems is much older. The development of writing (ca. 3500 BCE) and the use of documents was critical to the administration of this system, and the first definitive emergence of bureaucracy is in ancient Sumer, where an emergent class of scribes administered the harvest and allocated its spoils. Ancient Egypt also had a hereditary class of scribes that administered the civil service bureaucracy. Much of what is known today of these cultures comes from the writing of the scribes.

Ancient Rome was administered by a hierarchy of regional proconsuls and their deputies. The reforms of Diocletian doubled the number of administrative districts and led to a large-scale expansion in Roman bureaucracy.[21] In one of the earliest-recorded criticisms of bureaucracy, the early Christian author Lactantius claimed that Diocletian's actions had led to widespread economic stagnation, and that there were now more men using tax money than paying it.[22] After the Empire split, the Byzantine Empire became notorious for its inscrutable bureaucracy, and the term "byzantine" came to r...

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