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A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration of any organization of any size, although the term usually connotes someone within an institution of government. Some usages restrict the term so that it only embraces lower-ranked staff members in an agency, excluding higher-ranked managers, or so that it only signifies officials who perform certain functions, such as those who work "desk jobs" (the French word for "desk" being bureau, though bureau can also be translated as "office").


The term bureaucrat was first used in print during the French Revolution, by the journalist Fouilloux in the Père Duchesne in 1791, writing that the object most deserving of his disgust was the bureaucrat, harbinger of a "new mode of servitude".[this quote needs a citation] The job of a bureaucrat has been around for many generations, from Ancient China, the Roman Empire, the church, the Ottoman Empire to the kingdoms of Europe. Bureaucrats in the United States originated when the 13 colonies became a country and got tired of the tyrannical British executive power. The 13 colonies became united and had systemic changes in long-established political and institutional arrangements which first had to be negotiated in order to begin to accommodate national administrative capacities to the American people.[1] At the first continental congress of 1775, the base of American bureaucrats, their purpose, started to develop. Their goal at the time was to break away from British administrative power and to have their own administration institutions. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson and many others dealt with most of the administrative problems that presidents and department heads face today.[1] The efforts of public officials and organized political groups to enhance popular control of government inadvertently planted the seeds of modern bureaucratic powers.[1] Early American bureaucrats had to follow the president's ideals of administrative duties and authorities to the country. Presidents like Adams and Jefferson assigned bureaucratic spots for the people who had their same political belief system. Then during the Andrew Jackson era he established the patronage system for bureaucrats in getting hired. Bureaucrats would have the job based on their alliance with Jackson as opposed to their skills as bureaucrats. This led to popular resentment of the emerging administrative independence, specifically of the social privilege associated with agency staffing and the corruption that were by-products of this independence.[1] President James Garfield did not agree with the patronage system because bureaucrats weren't getting assigned for their skills or experience. Garfield's ideals led to his assassination by Charles Guiteau for not receiving a position as a bureaucrat which resulted in the Pendleton Act that replaced the patronage system in assigning bureaucrats. The industrial revolution and the expansion of the country to the west caused more need of bureaucrats on the job. The biggest shift for bureaucrats was during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency when Congress enacted the New Deal that brought more bureaucratic jobs in the United States because of bigger government. Then when the United States entered World War II, high demands of the war led to more agencies and bureaucrats. After the war, the number of bureaucrats decreased but still remained at a higher level than when it first initiated in the United States. The number of bureaucrats working has not increased after the war and remains around the same number today in the 21st century but the influence of bureaucrats has increased much higher after Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and are recognized as an important part of American government.

Importance in society

Bureaucrats play a vital role in modern society, holding administrative and managerial positions throughout governments worldwide.[2][3][citation needed] Bureaucrats today hold a variety of administrative and functional positions in government, and are largely tasked with the day-to-day implementation of enacted policies. They form the core of most central government agencies, as well as postal services, education and healthcare administration, and various regulatory bodies. [4]

Different types of Bureaucrat

Bureaucrats can be split into different categories based on the system, nationality, and time they come from.

1. Classical Bureaucrat-Someone who starts at a low level of some kind of public work for the government, and has no opinion of their own, purely following guidelines and very slowly gaining increasing ranks within the system. This person is not interested in anything other than getting along his or her life. There is no party affiliation or personal opinion about the work that is done. Tax collectors, Government accountants, Police officers, Fire Fighters, and Military personnel are all considered bureaucrats. This type of civil or business servant is very important when it first becomes necessary.

2. Chinese Bureaucrat- Also called “Mandarin” which was given to them by the Portuguese in a letter written from a Portuguese prisoner in China in 1525. Mandarins were used for about 1,300 years from 605 to 1905. Most high-ranking officials were given to nobility and family members. The Zhou Dynasty is the earliest recording of Chinese bureaucrats. There was a 9 rank system, each rank having more power than the lower rank. This type of bureaucrat went on until the Qing Dynasty. These mandarins worked for the various emperors’ government. After 1905 the Mandarins were replaced by modern civil servants. In 1921 the communist party took over China and in theory all people are bureaucrats and work for the government, but Mao Zedong (In office 1945-1976) ruled with unofficial of a standing army.

3. American Bureaucrats are different from other types of bureaucrats because they operate within a republican form of government, and the political culture traditionally seeks to limit the power of government functionaries. On the one hand, that means agencies must work within the red tape imposed by elected officials to restrict their power and discretion. On the other hand, one of the major political parties may view an agency's mission as central to their political image, in which case their elected leaders may fight to defend the agency's budget and the prerogatives of the bureaucrats who staff it. Due to the USA’s enormous impact on the global economy after the Industrial Revolution, decisions made by American bureaucrats sometimes have important ramifications all over the world. Traditionally, the Democratic Party in the United States supports maintaining a large federal bureaucracy, and the most-aggressive expansions and reorganizations of the U.S. bureaucracy have occurred during Democratic presidencies. Notable presidents who made vast advancements in bureaucracy, and therefore created a higher demand for bureaucrats, are Woodrow Wilson (President from 1913-1921), an expert in public administration before his rise to power; and Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) who raised the regulation of business to unprecedented levels after the Great Depression. Other significant expansions in the size of government took place under Democrats Lyndon B. Johnson, who undertook a War on Poverty in his effort to bring about the Great Society, and Barack Obama (who took office in January 2009), whose Affordable Health Care for America Act vastly expanded government regulation of healthcare and health insurance. A major opponent of this style of government was President Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), elected from the Republican Party; he believed in government deregulation and shrinking the federal bureaucracy.

4. European Bureaucrat- Originally referred to as “Mandarins” stemming from the Chinese word for government employee. Bureaucracy didn’t catch on in Europe very much due to the many different governments in the region, and constant change and advancement, and relative freedom of the upper class.With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe.[5] Voltaire and François Quesnay wrote favourably of the idea, with Voltaire claiming that the Chinese had "perfected moral science" and Quesnay advocating an economic and political system modeled after that of the Chinese.[5]The implementation of Her Majesty's Civil Service as a systematic, meritocratic civil service bureaucracy, followed the Northcote-Trevelyan Report of 1854 which was influenced by of the ancient Chinese Imperial Examination.[6]This system was modeled on the imperial examinations system and bureaucracy of China based on the suggestion of Northcote-Trevelyan Report.[7] Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic.[7] In 1958, though, after the formation of the European Union the job of the Bureaucrat became extremely important to help organize and govern such a large and diverse community. In 1961 the term Eurocrat was coined by Richard Mayne, a journalist at the time. A Eurocrat is a bureaucrat of the European Union.

5. Modern Bureaucrat-Bureaucrats gained increasingly negative reputations throughout the second half of the 20th century. As populations grow it becomes harder for bureaucratic systems to work because it often involves a lot of paperwork, which increases processing times, which eventually will be nearly impossible to manage. The digital age and the Internet has revolutionized Bureaucrats and the modern Bureaucrat has a different skill set than before. Also, the internet lowers the corruption levels of some Bureaucratic entities such as the Police Force due to social media and pro-am journalism.

Notable Bureaucrats and Bureaucratic philosophers

German sociologist Max Weber defined a bureaucratic official as the following:[8]

  • He is personally free and appointed to his position on the basis of conduct.
  • He exercises the authority delegated to him in accordance with impersonal rules, and his loyalty is enlisted on behalf of the faithful execution of his official duties.
  • His appointment and job placement are dependent upon his technical qualifications.
  • His administrative work is a full-time occupation.
  • His work is rewarded by a regular salary and prospects of advancement in a lifetime career.
  • He must exercise his judgment and his skills, but his duty is to place these at the service of a higher authority. Ultimately he is responsible only for the impartial execution of assigned tasks and must sacrifice his personal judgment if it runs counter to his official duties.
  • Bureaucratic control is the use of rules, regulations, and formal authority to guide performance. It includes such things as budgets, statistical reports, and performance appraisals to regulate behavior and results.

As an academic, Woodrow Wilson(US President) professed:[9]

Franz Kafka (Philosopher/Author)

Franklin D. Roosevelt (US President)

Hugh S. Johnson (Director of the NRA)

Harry Hopkins (Head of Works Progress Administration)

Lloyd K. Garrison (First Chair of the National Labor Relations Board)

Thurman Arnold (Assistant Attorney General)

The arts related to Bureaucrat

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Nelson, M. (1982). A Short, Ironic History of American National Bureaucracy. Journal Of Politics, 44(3), 747.
  2. Al-Hegelan, Abdelrahman. "Bureaucracy and Development in Saudi Arabia". jstor. The Middle East Journal. Retrieved 13 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lankov, Andrei (6 October 2014). "The North Korean bureaucracy is here to stay". NKNews.org. Retrieved 13 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Who Are the Bureaucrats?". US History American Government. Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. Retrieved 13 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Schwarz, Bill. (1996). The expansion of England: race, ethnicity and cultural history. Psychology Pres; ISBN 0-415-06025-7.
  6. Walker, David (2003-07-09). "Fair game". London, UK: The Guardian. Retrieved 2003-07-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bodde, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Max Weber. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. pp. 650–78.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Woodrow Wilson (June 1887). "The Study of Administration". 2 (2). Political Science Quarterly. pp. 197–222. Retrieved 2008-03-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Haass, Richard N. (1999). The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur: How to Be Effective in Any Unruly Organization. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. ISBN 0815733534.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goodsell, Charles T. (2004). The Case for Bureaucracy: a Public Administration Polemic (4th ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press. ISBN 1568029071.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hummel, Ralph P. (2008). The Bureaucratic Experience: the Post-Modern Challenge (5th ed.). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 9780765610102.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • John Kilcullen, Mq.edu.au, Lecture—Max Weber: On Bureaucracy
  • Ludwig von Mises, Mises.org, Bureaucracy