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For the specific role of bureaucrats in Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Bureaucrats.

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 derives from "bureaucracy", which in turn derives from the French "bureaucratie" first known from the 18th century.[1] Bureaucratic work had already been performed for many centuries.

Role in society[edit]

Bureaucrats play various roles in modern society, by virtue of holding administrative, functional, and managerial positions in government.[2][3][citation needed] They carryout the day-to-day implementation of enacted policies for central government agencies, such as postal services, education and healthcare administration, and various regulatory bodies.[4]

Types of bureaucrats[edit]

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

  1. Classical – someone who starts at a low level of public work and has no opinion of their own. They follow policy guidelines and gain increasing ranks within the system. Tax collectors, government accountants, police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel are examples of classical bureaucrats.
  2. Chinese bureaucrats, also called “Mandarin bureaucrats” – Mandarins were important from 605 to 1905 CE. 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. After 1905 the Mandarins were replaced by modern civil servants. In 1921 the Communist Party took over China and by their theory all people were bureaucrats who worked for the government.
  3. American bureaucrats – thes are different from other types because they operate within a republican form of government, and the political culture traditionally seeks to limit their power.
  4. European – 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.

Attributes of bureaucrats[edit]

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]

But to fear the creation of a domineering, illiberal officialism as a result of the studies I am here proposing is to miss altogether the principle upon which I wish most to insist. That principle is, that administration in the United States must be at all points sensitive to public opinion. A body of thoroughly trained officials serving during good behavior we must have in any case: that is a plain business necessity. But the apprehension that such a body will be anything un-American clears away the moment it is asked. What is to constitute good behavior? For that question obviously carries its own answer on its face. Steady, hearty allegiance to the policy of the government they serve will constitute good behavior. That policy will have no taint of officialism about it. It will not be the creation of permanent officials, but of statesmen whose responsibility to public opinion will be direct and inevitable. Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, its chiefs as well as its rank and file. Its motives, its objects, its policy, its standards, must be bureaucratic. It would be difficult to point out any examples of impudent exclusiveness and arbitrariness on the part of officials doing service under a chief of department who really served the people, as all our chiefs of departments must be made to do. It would be easy, on the other hand, to adduce other instances like that of the influence of Stein in Prussia, where the leadership of one statesman imbued with true public spirit transformed arrogant and perfunctory bureaux into public-spirited instruments of just government.

Bureaucrats in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "bureaucrat - definition of bureaucrat in English | Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2016-10-23. 
  2. ^ Al-Hegelan, Abdelrahman. "Bureaucracy and Development in Saudi Arabia". jstor. The Middle East Journal. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Lankov, Andrei (6 October 2014). "The North Korean bureaucracy is here to stay". NKNews.org. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "Who Are the Bureaucrats?". US History American Government. Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  5. ^ a b 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. 
  7. ^ a b Bodde, Derke. "China: A Teaching Workbook". Columbia University. 
  8. ^ Max Weber. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. pp. 650–78. 
  9. ^ Woodrow Wilson (June 1887). "The Study of Administration". 2 (2). Political Science Quarterly. pp. 197–222. Retrieved 2008-03-25. 

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