noun \by-ˈrä-krə-sē, byə-, byər-ˈä-\

: a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected

: a system of government or business that has many complicated rules and ways of doing things

plural bu·reau·cra·cies

Full Definition of BUREAUCRACY

a :  a body of nonelective government officials
b :  an administrative policy-making group
:  government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority
:  a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation


  1. She was fed up with all the red tape and bureaucracy.
  2. Both candidates pledge to simplify the state's bloated bureaucracy.
  3. As Europe slipped deeper into the war, the uranium panel twiddled its thumbs. It was so mired in bureaucracy that by the spring of 1940, it had managed to approve only the $6,000 in research funds earmarked for Fermi and Szilard, so they could purchase uranium and graphite for their fission experiments. —Jennet Conant, Tuxedo Park, 2002


French bureaucratie, from bureau + -cratie -cracy
First Known Use: 1818

Other Government and Politics Terms

agent provocateur, agitprop, autarky, cabal, egalitarianism, federalism, hegemony, plenipotentiary, popular sovereignty, socialism


noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Professional corps of officials organized in a pyramidal hierarchy and functioning under impersonal, uniform rules and procedures. Its characteristics were first formulated systematically by Max Weber, who saw in the bureaucratic organization a highly developed division of labour, authority based on administrative rules rather than personal allegiance or social custom, and a “rational” and impersonal institution whose members function more as “offices” than as individuals. For Weber, bureaucracy was a form of legalistic “domination” inevitable under capitalism. Later writers saw in bureaucracy a tendency to concentrate power at the top and become dictatorial, as occurred in the Soviet Union. Robert K. Merton emphasized its red tape and inefficiency due to blind conformity to procedures. More recent theories have stressed the role of managerial cliques, occupational interest groups, or individual power-seekers in creating politicized organizations characterized by internal conflict.


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