The Protestant Road to Bureaucracy

72 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2021 Last revised: 26 May 2023

See all articles by Valentin Figueroa

Valentin Figueroa

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile - Institute of Political Science

Date Written: November 24, 2021


After the seventeenth century, rulers across Europe attempted reforms to replace amateur administrators with professional bureaucrats. The success of administrative reforms hinged on whether rulers could compensate entrenched officeholders and recruit salaried employees. I show that the degree to which these conditions were met at the time of reforms depended on whether states had experienced a Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. By 1789, the only major territorial states that were bureaucratic were Protestant. I argue that the Reformation, which involved the expropriation of the Catholic Church's assets, set in motion two processes. First, to finance their wars, Protestant rulers used revenue from confiscated assets instead of selling proprietary offices, leading to smaller numbers of venal officeholders who resisted administrative reforms. Second, expropriations made churches poorer and reduced the number of plum jobs in the clergy, and this incentivized a reallocation of educational investments from religious to "secular" skills that were more useful for state administration. This distinctive Protestant developmental path hastened the demise of the patrimonial state.

Keywords: Protestant Reformation, state building

JEL Classification: N43,H1

Suggested Citation

Figueroa, Valentin, The Protestant Road to Bureaucracy (November 24, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Valentin Figueroa (Contact Author)

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile - Institute of Political Science ( email )



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