The French Ministerial Bureaucracy 1770-1850

Revolution and Red Tape by Clive H. Church

Colin Jones | Published in

English historians often cast envious eyes at the plentiful administrative documentation which the French state amassed from the Middle Ages onwards, and which supplies splendid raw materials for their French counterparts. Surely these mountains of red tape constitute a monument to the precocious bureaucratisation of French government? Not so, argues Clive Church in this pioneering study: we must differentiate between bureaucracy and administration. The latter long predates 1789; the former was only really brought into being during the Revolutionary decade. The Revolutionary Government in 1793 and 1794 considerably expanded the size of the administration – at the height of the Terror more than 250,000 individuals held government posts. Then that much-maligned regime, the Directory, critically altered the nature of red tape, introducing a set of administrative procedures and organisational structures which were to usher France into the modern age. The new system was sufficiently close to Max Weber's 'ideal-type' bureaucracy, Dr Church maintains – 'a formal establishment of professional administrators organised on rational lines to carry out the wishes of a superior political will' – to merit the title bureaucracy.

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