Bureaucracy, officials, and the state in the Austrian Monarchy: stages of change since the eighteenth century

Citation metadata

Author: Waltraud Heindl
Date: Annual 2006
From: Austrian History Yearbook(Vol. 37)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 13,618 words
Lexile Measure: 1520L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

FIVE YEARS AGO, AN ODD DISCUSSION was underway on the HABSBURG listserv, triggered by the following question: "Was Habsburg bureaucracy sloppy?" The debate that followed was characterized by a remarkable intensity and an equally notable superficiality, leading to the conclusion that too little research on this topic has been done so far. For this reason, I am very obliged to the Austrian History Yearbook for this opportunity to clarify several important duties and functions of bureaucracy in genera] and the unique attributes of Habsburg bureaucracy in particular.

The following analysis will examine the relationships among the triangle of state/politics--bureaucracy--citizens. Unfortunately, a balanced view on bureaucracy's special role in this triangle has often been prevented by past and present discussions that, fueled by--mostly justified--civic discontent, blame bureaucracy and officials for their grievances instead of the actual originators, namely, governments and politicians. In both past and present, governments and politicians have, of course, been delighted with officials' function as scapegoats.

During the relatively long period between approximately 1750 and 1918 in which bureaucracy in the modern sense was developed in the Habsburg monarchy, there were several important turning points and developments. There were high points, when public events were largely determined by bureaucracy, and low points, when bureaucracy was incapable of action and thus in need of reform. It is the task of this essay to point out the stages of change.

An Attempt at Definition

The term bureaucracy has two meanings. It means, on the one hand, the institution, the administrative branch. Bureaucracy, on the other hand, is also the group of individual administrative officials. These two definitions cannot be separated and influence each other in a constantly unfolding process. In this essay, both the institution and the individuals will be discussed. The focus will be on the higher bureaucracy, as it was this part of the bureaucracy that had the strongest impact on not only the institution itself, but also on the state and society.

In 1921, German sociologist Max Weber described the connections between authority and bureaucracy in state and society in a pivotal essay. Bureaucracy is, as Weber wrote enthusiastically, "the root of the modern Western state" (1) and, in the course of history, a "late product of historical development. The further back we trace our steps, the more typical is the absence of bureaucracy and of officialdom in general for the forms of dominion." (2) As Weber defines it, "Bureaucracy has a rational character with rules, means-end calculus, and matter-of-factness predominating, its rise and expansion has everywhere had 'revolutionary results,' in a special sense still be to discussed, as had the advance of rationalism in general." (3) Therefore, Weber defined bureaucracy as "the purest type of exercise of legal authority" (4) and the "highest stage of development." "The whole pattern of everyday life," he writes, "is cut to fit this framework." (5)

The term rationalization in Weber's modern interpretation has often been confounded with modernization, thereby causing considerable confusion among European and North American scholars (6)--a point...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A165193337