BUREAUCRACY A Strict Administrative System

BUREAUCRACY A Strict Administrative System

All the states in modern world shoot for running the affairs of the country in an efficient manner to serve the people best.


The affairs related to public services are administered through an organized administrative setup; and bureaucracy is the backbone of such an arrangement. Through a rigid structure, and rules and regulations, bureaucracy strives to achieve the objective of public service. Notwithstanding this, in practice, bureaucracy hasn’t always been efficient, and there have always been many controversies regarding its structure and the way it functions. As famous American activist, Mary McCarthy, says, “Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism.”

Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it.

(Joseph A. Schumpeter)

Bureaucracy is a concept in sociology and political science referring to the way that the administrative execution and enforcement of legal rules are organized. Four structural concepts are central to any formation of bureaucracy: (1) a well-defined division of administrative labour among persons and offices; (2) a personnel system with consistent patterns of recruitment and stable linear careers; (3) a hierarchy among offices, such that the authority and status are differentially distributed among actors; and (4) formal and informal networks that connect organizational actors to one another through flow of information and patterns of cooperation.

Renowned German sociologist Max Weber argues 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 favouritism.

Historically, bureaucracy referred to a government administration managed by non-elected officials. The word ‘bureaucracy’ stems from the word ‘bureau’ used from the early 18th century in Western Europe not just to refer to a writing desk, but to an office too. The original French meaning of the word bureau was the baize used to cover desks. The term bureaucracy came into use shortly before the French Revolution of 1789 and from there rapidly spread to other countries.
Perhaps the early example of a bureaucrat is the scribe, who first arose as a professional on the early cities of Sumer. The Sumerian script was so complicated that it required specialists who had trained for their entire lives to manipulate it. These scribes could wield significant power, as they had a total monopoly on the keeping of records and creation of inscriptions on monuments of kings.

Later, in larger empires like Achaemenid in Persia, bureaucracies quickly expanded and increased its functions. In the Persian Empire, the central government was divided into administrative provinces led by satraps who were appointed by the Shah to control the provinces. In addition, a general and a royal secretary were stationed in each province to supervise troop recruitment and keep records, respectively.

The most modern of all ancient bureaucracies, however, was the Chinese bureaucracy. During the chaos of the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States, Confucius recognized the need for a stable system of administrators to lend good governance even when the leaders were inept. Chinese bureaucracy, first implemented during the Qin dynasty but under more Confucian lines under the Han, calls for the appointment of bureaucratic positions based on merit via a system of examinations. Although the power of the Chinese bureaucrats waxed and waned throughout China’s history, the imperial examination system lasted as late as 1905, and modern China still employs a formidable bureaucracy in its daily workings.

Modern bureaucracies arose as the government of states grew larger during the modern period and especially following the Industrial Revolution. As the authors David Osborne and Ted Gaebler point out:

“It’s hard to imagine today, but a hundred years ago, bureaucracy meant something positive. It connoted a rational, efficient method of organization – something to take the place of the arbitrary exercise of power by authoritarian regimes. Bureaucracy brought the same logic to government work that the assembly line brought to the factory. With the hierarchal authority and functional specialization, they made possible the efficient undertaking of large complex tasks.”

Though bureaucracy has been playing a dominant role in today’s administrative setups, there are some intellectuals who have critically examined it. Among them Crozier’s analysis is very important. He examined bureaucracy as a form of organization that evokes “the slowness, the ponderousness, the routine, the complication of procedures, and the maladapted responses of the bureaucratic organization to the needs which they should satisfy.” He also believes that “a bureaucratic organization is an organization that cannot correct its behaviour by learning from its errors… not only a system that does not correct its behaviour in view of its errors; it is also too rigid to adjust, without crises, to the transformations that the accelerated evolution of the industrial society makes more and more imperative.”

It is really important to analyze Crozier’s view and the functioning of different organizations in different states; especially those functioning in Third World countries, and within the countries where the systems are dominantly centralized and rigid. One can see many common people being the victims of bureaucracy’s dysfunction in Pakistan. People keep on waiting for the solutions to their problems within the government departments, but all their efforts hardly bear any fruit.
Pakistan direly needs to improve the bureaucratic setup and make it flexible and functional. A great help and support can be taken from the modern concepts of management and the proper care can be taken to facilitate the public as much as possible.

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