UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


The neo-Weberian state: From ideal type model to reality?

This paper describes the systemic shift from a Weberian to a neo-Weberian state (ideal type, NWS) model and assesses to what extent NWS is not just an ideal type model, but also becoming a reality.

The neo-Weberian state

27 June 2022

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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) Working Paper Series: IIPP WP 2022/10

This is an early version of an essay that will appear in a special issue of Max Weber Studies, on “Max Weber and the Neo-Weberian State”, edited by Wolfgang Drechsler and Sam Whimster. This working paper was presented at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose seminar on NWS on 14 January 2022.


  • Geert Bouckaert | Honorary Professor, UCL Institute for Innovation for Public Purpose (IIPP)


Bouckaert, G. (2022). The neo-Weberian state: From ideal type model to reality? UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Working Paper Series (IIPP WP 2022-10). https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/public-purpose/wp2022-10.


Public sector reforms have been a feature of past decades. Many of these reforms reacted against hierarchy and bureaucracy to shift to markets and networks. Nevertheless, next to New Public Management (NPM) and New Public Governance (NPG), the neo-Weberian state (NWS) also remained a crucial ideal type, certainly for the Western European practice which is embedded in Weberian public administration (PA). A theoretical and empirical question is whether NWS is sustainable and resilient in re-inventing and re-appraising ‘bureaucracy’ in the 21st century. This contribution claims that initially there was an empirical observation, certainly in continental Europe, of neo-Weberian public administration derived from the dynamics of public sector reforms in the second half of the 20th century. It was then ‘upgraded’ as an NWS ideal type model for theoretical reasons. NWS is a hierarchy-driven system within a hierarchy-market-network space. This NWS (based and driven by hierarchy) then moved to one of the normative reform models.
In this contribution it is also claimed and assumed that NWS, contrary to NPM (market-driven) and NPG (network-driven), will ensure the three core functions of a ‘whole of government’ strategy within a ‘whole of society’ context: inclusive and equitable service delivery, resilient crises governance, and effective innovation for government and society.


The author would like to thank the panelists – Wolfgang Drechsler, Camilla Stivers, Nadia Monira Mohamed Taib and Sam Whimster – for their comments and their discussion.