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Max Weber Essay, Research Paper

Max Weber

German Sociologist and First Analyst of Bureaucracy

Max Weber was the first to observe and write on bureaucracies which developed in Germany during the 19th century. He considered them to be efficient, rational and honest, a big improvement over the haphazard administration that they replaced. The German government was better developed than that in the United States and Britain and was nearly equal to that of France.

Weber saw that modern officialdom functioned according to six principles: (1) Fixed and official jurisdictional areas which are ordered by rules, that is laws and administrative regulations. (2) Hierarchy and levels of graded authority where the lower offices are supervised by the higher ones. (3) Management is based on official documents (the files). (4) The officials have thorough and expert training. (5) It requires the full time work of the official. (6) Management follows rules. While these principles seem obvious today, German government agencies were pioneering modern administration to replace practices dating back to the Middle Ages owing loyalty to the king, dukes and the church.

From the perspective of the official, Weber observed that office holding is a “vocation,” that is it is a calling requiring a prescribed course of training for a long period of time and having examinations which are a prerequisite for employment. He is to be loyal to the office he holds, not to a patron. By virtue of his position, the official enjoys high social esteem. (Weber notes that this is especially weak in the United States.) The official is appointed by a superior official; he is not elected. Normally he works for the agency for life; he does not fear being fired for failing to please a patron. He receives a salary and an pension when he retires. The official pursues a career within the bureaucracy, moving up to more responsible positions according to his experience and ability.

Weber is also known for his theory of charismatic leadership. Charisma is the gift from above where a leader knows from inside himself what to do. An example is St. Paul. This contrasts with traditional leadership of a king or modern rational leadership of an administrative or elected leader.

When Weber wrote on bureaucracy or charismatic leadership, he was describing an “ideal type,” not necessarily the form that actually occurred. He did this to clarify his explanation, not to pontificate. On the other hand, he was not totally dispassionate; he preferred the rational administration of the bureaucratic method. Weber studied and wrote extensively on religion. His concept of charisma derived from theology. His best known book is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Max Weber holds a leading position. He was the first to use the term “bureaucracy” as well as the first to analyze it comprehensively. Indeed analysts today speak of a “Weberian bureaucracy,” meaning one that fits his ideal type closely. On the other hand, many have found negative features about bureaucracy. It can overconform to its rules and procedures, treating an individual like a number and generating red tape. It can ignore the wishes of elected leaders. It can displace goals, perhaps advancing the interests of the employees rather than the people it is supposed to serve.

Born in 1864, Weber held a series of academic appointments. For many years he suffered from mental illness, but recovered fully. At the end of World War I when the German Empire collapsed totally, Weber was living in Munich. In the absence of any government, the people established their own which the called the Soviet of Munich, imitating those of the Russian Revolution the year before. Weber was elected to the Soviet where he met Kurt Eisner, its leader. Eisner was a creative and innovative man who seemed to know what to do when no one else did. Weber considered him an archetype of the charismatic leader. Weber died in 1920.

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