Bureaucracy is a word in constant everyday use. Over the last generation or so, its use has become far more common among historians, as well as social scientists, political commentators, journalists, politicians, and the public at large. Perhaps inevitably, its meanings have multiplied to the point where clarity and agreed definitions often seem to have been lost, and more heat than light is generated. For the purpose of historical discussion, there are three principal meanings of the word which need to be distinguished before proceeding any further.
(1) Bureaucracy as administration, either public or private, by full-time salaried officials, who are professionals, graded and organised hierarchically, with regular procedures and formalised record-keeping, and recruited for the tasks in hand. This is essentially the definition established by the great German sociologist of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, Max Weber; the word has most often been used in this sense by historians and social scientists since then.
(2) Bureaucracy as a political system or other institution where power resides in the hands of such officials. Logically this meaning is impossible without (i), but it is often used independently without strict adherence to (I). The Oxford English Dictionary and political theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in particular have used this meaning, where the word is an amalgam of classical Greek and modern French – an addition to terms like aristocracy and democracy.
(3) Bureaucracy as a pejorative description of (I), and/or (2), signifying: ‘form-filling’; ‘red-tape’; procrastination and frustration; a waste of time, money and resources; the stifling of enterprise and initiative; the rule of ‘jacks in office’. In recent years, this heavily political or 'ideological' meaning has come to be shared by the neo-laissez-faire, individualist Right and by some sections of the revolutionary Marxist as well as anarchist Left; but it is frequently used by people of all political persuasions or none in particular, to describe something they instinctively dislike and cannot otherwise define.