Weber’s theory of bureaucracy and modern society


Some Thoughts on Weber’s Schema of Legal-Rational Domination



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Some Thoughts on Weber’s Schema of Legal-Rational Domination
Weber says, “In a modern state the actual ruler is necessarily and unavoidably the bureaucracy…”6 The bureaucracy distinguishes itself from the other forms of domination described by Weber, in that authority is vested in rules, not individuals.
Weber believes that the Middle Ages tradition of office holding being a source of exploitation has changed, and in compensation for the nature of their employment, he says,
“Legally and actually, office holding is not considered a source to be exploited for rents or emoluments, as was normally the case during the Middle Ages and frequently up to the threshold of recent times.”7 Entrance into an office, including one in the private economy, is considered an acceptance of a specific obligation of faithful management in return for a secure existence. It is decisive for the specific nature of modern loyalty to an office that, in the pure type, it does not establish a relationship to a person. … Modern loyalty is devoted to impersonal and functional purposes.8
Weber had argued that bureaucracy afforded advantages in the way it could procure a monopoly over the means of information, being the “Supreme power instrument [in] the transformation of official information into classified material1, but is nevertheless is critical of the exercise of this ability, citing the then activities of the German civil service, claiming intrusion of the bureaucracy into the political spheres as an abuse of power.2 This however, unwittingly for Weber, appears to present a dichotomy in his theory of legitimate domination, as Weber’s conception of legal domination exhibits an unduly positivist view of law, as evidenced by Cotterrell’s claim that “… the highly complex ideological elements of law must be analysed in ways that cannot utilise the ideal type method, if conditions of legitimacy are to be understood in relation to social change”.3
Parkin considers why bureaucracy should qualify as a form of domination saying, “If bureaucracy does attempt to exercise domination it usurps the authority of a nominally superior body, or in other words it uses its power illegitimately. Thus, in the light of Weber’s own account, bureaucracy can hardly be an example of ‘legitimate domination’, for if the bureaucracy does attempt to exercise domination, it usurps the authority of its superior body, and thus uses its power illegitimately. This, for Parkin, means that under Weber’s theory of legitimate domination, if a bureaucracy acts legitimately it is not dominant, whilst if it exercises domination is ceases to be legitimate.4
Giddens believes Weber’s position has been misunderstood, claiming Weber was not unaware of the importance in the substantive operation of bureaucratic organisations or the existence of informal contacts and patterns of relationship overlapping the formal designation of authority and responsibilities.5 Giddens says that according to Weber, prior forms of administrative organisations may be superior in dealing with a particular case, which can be illustrated in the instance of just judicial decisions.6
The importance Weber attached to the existence of the bureaucracy can be seen in his statement that, “It would be an illusion to think for a moment that continuous administrative work can be carried out in any field except by means of officials working in offices. The whole pattern of every day life is cut to fit this framework. If bureaucratic administration is, ceteris paribus, always the most rational type from a formal, technical point of view, the needs of mass administration make it today completely indispensable.7



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