Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Bureaucracy: Weber's or Hammurabi's? Ideal or Ancient?

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Bureaucracy: Weber's or Hammurabi's? Ideal or Ancient?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article examines the administrative practices of the Babylonian Empire during the Hammurabi era between 1792 and 1750 B.C. The main thesis is that public administration in the First Babylonian Dynasty had many of the characteristics that Max Weber (1946/1987) identifies for the "ideal type" of modern bureaucracy. The article uses transcripts, some going back to 3800 years ago from the Hammurabi administration and legal documents of that era to demonstrate that Weber's type is more ancient than ideal. The article also draws some attention to similarities between Weber's accountability and that of Hammurabi.

[M]en (sic) in the rest of the world were still communicating by grunt and groan, still seeking food with clubs and finding shelter in caves. But in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, the invention of irrigation canals had been only the beginning. Men (sic) there spoke a complex and logically constructed language. They had devised cuneiform writing, a simple and practical system for putting down facts and ideas in picture form. They invented the wagon wheel, the plow, and the sailboat. They used calendars, levers, pulleys, measuring instruments, surveying tools, and even the potter's wheel. They designed their ziggurats and other buildings according to sound architectural principles ... They had a science of medicine and manufactured drugs.

Johnson and Kamiller (1970:151-2)

INTRODUCTION

The conceptual foundations of public administration are often associated with the thought of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and early Greek philosophers including Socrates and Aristotle. Public administration writings often ignore the administration experiences of ancient civilizations (Farazmand, 1996). The history of Sumeria, Babylon, and Persia reveals thousands of years of administrative experience and perfection (Kramer, 1959). It is important to bring these experiences closer to the literature on administration. Such is the intent of this article.

In the early part of the past century, Max Weber (1946/1987) defined an ideal type of bureaucratic organization which is often criticized for either excessive idealism of excessive rationalism. Despite these criticisms, the ideal type remains as a foundation for bureaucratic organization. Weber's ideal type ignores the experiences of some ancient civilizations that shared many characteristics with his ideal type. One could blame Weber's failure to incorporate eastern civilization's experiences on a western bias or one could argue that much of what we know about ancient eastern civilization is a result of excavations that occurred decades after Weber's theory. Neither of these two arguments is intended in this article which rather aims at making a minor modification to the history of administration by bringing the experiences of one ancient eastern civilization closer to Weber's theory-closer to modern organization theory.

This article examines the administrative policies of the Babylonian Empire during the Hammurabi era between 1792 and 1740 B.C. The main thesis is that public administration in the First Babylonian Dynasty under the rule of Hammurabi had many of the characteristics of Weber's ideal type bureaucracy. In other words, the Hammurabi administration achieved 3800 years ago what Weber describes as a modern bureaucratic phenomenon.

First, the article provides a background of the geographic and time contexts of Mesopotamia and the First Babylonian Dynasty. second, it introduces Hammurabi and the socioeconomic, political, and judicial circumstances of his era. Then the article reviews administrative practices during Hammurabi's rule in the framework of Weber's ideal type. Finally, this study conducts a comparison between Weber's "ideal type" and Hammurabi administrative practices.

This study is based on four primary sources of information. The first one includes many of the writings on Hammurabi and his achievements. …

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