The purpose of this paper is to show that the master narrative of bureaucracy of Max Weber had deep roots in the development of public administration in Germany.
One nearly forgotten predecessor of Weber's was Johann Gottlob von Justi, an eighteenth century Cameralist. This paper compares his work with Weber in order to shed new light on the evolution of the theory and practice of bureaucracy.
By taking von Justi as representative of Cameralism in general, the paper finds that there is in his work about half of the criteria of Weber's concept of bureaucracy as the rule‐bound application of rules. Although Cameralism focused on economic regulation, it was political science rather than economics (where it is usually dismissed as an inferior version of mercantilism), for it constantly stressed political control of the economy and the use of administration and management to achieve that control. It was political science in a second sense, too, in that it supposed that there was an underlying analytic order to the world to be discovered by scientific investigation and study. The unique historical circumstance of the dispersion of German‐speaking Middle Europe both provided the stimulus for Cameralism and ensured its failure.
Of course, there is more to Cameralism that just one writer, and that limitation needs to be recalled. It would be timely to investigate further the development of administration in early modern Europe.
The scant research literature on Cameralism means that the comparison with Weber is seldom, if ever, made.
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