Amitai Etzioni

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Amitai Etzioni (born Werner Falk, 4 January 1929) is an Israeli-American sociologist.


Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1929, Amitai Etzioni was only four years old when the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933. He was separated from his family but reunited with them by the year 1947. In that time, Etzioni lived a year in Athens, went to Palestine in 1936, lived on a cooperative farm and went to boarding school. In 1950, he was enrolled in a special academic institute established by Martin Buber after having dropped out of tenth grade three years earlier to join Palmach (an elite commando unit of the Haganah). In 1951, he attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he studied classical and contemporary works in sociology, completing both BA and MA degrees.[1]

In 1958 he received his PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his degree in the record time of 18 months. He then became a professor of sociology at Columbia University for twenty years, serving as chair of the department for part of his time there. He joined the Brookings Institution as a guest scholar in 1978 and then went on to serve as Senior Advisor to the White House from 1979-1980. In 1980 he was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University,[2] where he currently serves as the director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. In 1989 he founded the Society for the Advancement of Socio-economics (SASE), an international, interdisciplinary organization, and served as its first President. He leads the Communitarian Network, a non-profit, non-partisan organization which is dedicated to support the moral, social and political foundations of society. It is based in Washington, D.C. He also held a faculty position at Harvard Business School from 1987 to 1990 serving as the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation Professor. He served as the president of the American Sociological Association in 1995. Etzioni is known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. In 2001, Etzioni was named among the top 100 American intellectuals as measured by academic citations in Richard Posner's book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.[3] He was the founder of the communitarian movement in the early 1990s and established the Communitarian Network to disseminate the movement’s ideas. His writings emphasize the importance for all societies of a carefully crafted balance between rights and responsibilities and between autonomy and order.


Etzioni's concern for public issues surfaced during his boarding school days. In the 1960s, he was concerned with the Cuban Missile crisis, the nuclear arms race, the Vietnam war and the criticisms of Project Apollo's cost. By the 1970s his interests peaked in bioethics and re-industrialization. His early works include his published work on complex organizations called Modern Organizations in 1964. He also published The Active Society in 1968 on social organization. In his later works, he dealt with the ideas of the Communitarian movement in The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society in 1996.[1] His other influential books include The Moral Dimension (1988), How Patriotic is the Patriot Act: Freedom Versus Security in the Age of Terrorism (2004) and From Empire to Community: A New Approach to International Relations (2004).

Etzioni frequently appears as a commentator in the media. He has championed the cause of peace in a nuclear age in The Hard Way to Peace (1962), Winning Without War (1964), and War and its Prevention (Etzioni and Wenglinsky, 1970). His recent work has addressed the social problems of modern democracies and he has advocated communitarian solutions to excessive individualism in The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society (1993) and New Communitarian Thinking (1996). Etzioni has been concerned to facilitate social movements that can sustain a liberal democracy in The Active Society: A Theory of Societal and Political Processes (1968) and A Responsive Society (1991). He criticized civil libertarians' approach on privacy, claiming it had to be balanced against public order and that ID cards or biometrics technologies could prevent ID theft, and thus enhance, rather than deteriorate, privacy (The Limits of Privacy, 1999). Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy, was published in 2007. His upcoming book, Foreign Policy: Eight Hot Spots, will be published in October 2012. In all, Etzioni is the author of 24 books, many of which have been translated into numerous languages. Etzioni has received many awards for his contributions to Sociology and was elected to serve as president of the American Sociological Association in 1995.

Etzioni's main idea is that individual rights and aspirations should be protected but that they should be inserted into a sense of the community (hence the name of the movement he created—Communitarianism). He argues that communitarian thinking developed in reaction to the "me-first" attitude of the 1980s. He has urged the movement to attempt to establish common ground between liberals and conservatives, thus bridging the continual division. In his book Radical Middle, author Mark Satin identifies Etzioni as a radical centrist communitarian.[4]

In Etzioni's view, the communitarian movement works to strengthen the ability of all aspects of the community including the families and schools in order to introduce more positive values. In addition, it aims to get people involved in positive ways in all levels of the community and ensure that society progresses in an orderly fashion. These works which have occurred between 1990 and the present have given Etzioni his greatest successes and satisfactions in the public realm.[1] He also articulated an early reason-based critique of the space race (in the book The Moon-Doggle) in which he points out that unmanned space exploration yields a vastly higher scientific result-per-expenditure than a manned space program. Amitai Etzioni also coined the word McJob in an article for the Washington Post in 1986.[5]

Critical response to Etzioni[edit]

In Simon Prideaux's "From Organisational Theory to the New Communitarium of Amitai Etzioni", he argues that Etzioni's communitarian methods are based upon earlier functionalist definitions of organisations. This is because his methodology fails to address any possible contradictions within the socioeconomic foundations of society. Also Etzioni's communitarian analysis uses a methodology which existed before the development of an organisational theory. According to Prideaux, Etzioni has taken the methodological influence of structural-functionalism beyond the realms of its organisational branch and fabricated it into a solution to solve the problems of modern society. Etzioni's arguments on the creation of a new communitarian society is restricted to the strengths and weaknesses he witnesses in the American society in which he has lived since the 1950s. This makes his "new Communitarian thinking" a narrow-mindedly American one. It "neglects and denies the importance of differences within communities and among communities in different countries". Thus, Etzioni makes the mistake in suggesting that only single identities or homogeneous communities exist. Prideaux calls Etzioni guilty of imposing his Americanized version of community on the rest of the western world.[6]

For arguments that Etzioni's concept of community is too vague to be used, see Elizabeth Frazer's The Problems of Communitarian Politics: Unity and Conflict.[7] For a critical overview of The Active Society, see Warren Breed's The Self-Guiding Society.[8] For an evaluation of Etzioni's functionalism, see David Sciulli's Etzioni's Critical Functionalism: Communitarian Origins and Principles.[9]

Published works[edit]

  1. Part I: Security First: For Us, Them, and the World
  2. Part II: The Limits of Social Engineering
  3. Part III: The True Fault Line: Warriors vs. Preachers
  4. Part IV: The Importance of Moral Culture
  5. Part V: Grounds for Intervention
  6. Part VI: Security Requires a New Global Architecture

The book argues that the United States should abandon the notion that it can democratize the Middle East, or, other nations. Instead, it argues the leitmotiv that should be the new guiding light for U.S. foreign policy is the Primacy of Life principle. Etzioni contends the Primacy of Life serves as a moral rationale for a Security First foreign policy that is both principled and realistic. Etzioni argues the core of this foreign policy agenda is the recognition that the most basic right of all people is to be free from deadly violence, maiming, and torture.

The book spells out the implications of a Security First foreign policy for conflicts with rogue states (especially North Korea and Iran), for dealing with failing states (especially Russia), for the "reconstruction" of newly liberated states (such as Iraq and Afghanistan), and for assessing under what conditions armed humanitarian interventions are called for.

Instead of assuming that democratization will provide a political outlet for resolving conflicts of competing values and interests and thus for putting an end to major forms of destabilizing violence, Etzioni argues, a Security First foreign policy is centered on precisely the opposite assumption: democratization requires security first. Moreover, Etzioni argues, rather than assuming that democratizing rogue states will exorcise their aggressive inclinations, the United States and its allies should accept that democratic regimes that evolve gradually in traditionally non-democratic lands will look different from our version of democracy; and the United States should let regime change come, if it comes at all, from forces internal to these nations—provided these states cease to develop or amass nuclear arms, stop supporting terrorism, and do not commit genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The book contends that most people, including most Muslims, are illiberal Moderates. Etzioni describes these people as abhorring violence but not necessarily accepting liberal democracy or the American preferred list of individual rights. The book argues that insisting that if only supporters of liberal democracy qualify as American allies, the United States will find less support. Alternatively, if the United States recognizes that most people prefer peace and social order to violence, it should find most people of all civilizations are on America's side.[10] Among those, the United States would be wise to welcome religious believers of all stripes who renounce violence and extremism, rather than try to apply the separation of church and state overseas.

Finally, the book argues that not all security concerns can be attended to so the United States needs to set priorities. Etzioni contends that the priority now receiving the least attention must get the most: nuclear terrorism; shifting towards this stance requires a whole new form of global policing.

A major part of this book is dedicated to the role of religion in U.S. foreign policy (Especially Parts III and IV). A detailed examination of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam shows the main fault line does not run between belief systems but through each of them. It divides those texts and interpretations of texts that extol violence ("an eye for eye", "I bring not peace but a sword") from those that extol peace and seek to rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Islam, the book shows, is not different on this account from other major religions. Drawing on public opinion polls and other evidence the book finds that a majority of Muslims favors moderate, nonviolent interpretations of Islam. However, many of these moderates are devout and do not embrace Western liberal democracy or many of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The author calls them "Illiberal Moderates". The book argues that if the West continues to reject these Illiberal Moderates on the ground that only supporters of democracy are safe allies, the West will be isolated. In contrast, if the West should form an alliance of all moderates, liberal and illiberal, it will effectively curb international and domestic violence, preparing the ground for advancing democracy and human rights by non-lethal means. Moderate religions have a role in providing a new moral culture for newly liberated nations, and the kind of educational systems most suited for this goal.

  • From empire to community: a new approach to international relations. Macmillan. 2004. ISBN 978-1-4039-6535-6. 
  1. Part I: The Emerging Global Normative Synthesis
  2. Part II: A New Safety Architecture
  3. Part III: Beyond Global Safety

Overall, the book is an effort to assemble a communitarian theory of international relations and a communitarian approach to foreign policy. Etzioni argues that the new global architecture must be based not only on Western principles of rights and liberty, but also on Eastern notions of community and authority. Etzioni further argues that rising transnational problems can no longer be handled by nations and require a new layer of global institution, including the budding global civil society as well as global political institutions.[11]

  • How patriotic is the Patriot Act?: freedom versus security in the age of terrorism. Psychology Press. 2004. ISBN 978-0-415-95047-3. 

The book argues that Americans should neither embrace nor reject the Patriot Act altogether. Instead Americans should realize they face two demands: protecting rights and the homeland. The challenge is to find the right mix of policies that benefits these sometimes contentious goals. The book examines various elements of the Patriot Act to show that some provisions are reasonable while others are not. The book also argues the question is not what measures are introduced, but how closely they are monitored.[12]

The book is divided into six chapters:

  1. How Liberty is Lost
  2. An Overview of Security Measures
  3. Privacy and Security in Electronic Communications
  4. Public Health and the Threat of Bioterrorism
  5. A Case for National ID Cards?
  6. The Limits of Nation Building

The book is divided into thirteen chapters:

  1. The Monochrome Society
  2. Is Shaming Shameful
  3. The Post-Affluent Society
  4. Can Virtual Communities Be Real? (with Oren Etzioni)
  5. Suffer the Children
  6. Holidays: The Neglected Seedbeds of Virtue
  7. Salem without Witches
  8. Social Norms: the Rubicon of Social Science
  9. Why the Civil Society Is not Good Enough
  10. Virtue and the State: A dialogue between a Communitarian and a Social Conservative (with Robert P. George)
  11. Restoring the Moral Voice
  12. Cross-Cultural Moral Judgments
  13. Stakeholders versus Shareholders

This book explores the right to privacy and the potentially negative impact it can have on public health and safety. Etzioni suggests criteria when privacy ought to yield and when it needs to be further extended. Cases studies include sex offenders; HIV testing; medical records; ID cards; and encrypted communications.[13]

Regarding the HIV testing of infants, Etzioni writes "Testing and counseling are much less costly than the treatment of infants infected with HIV" (p. 42). Regarding the identities of sex offenders, Etzioni writes convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences should be transferred "to a guarded village or town where they are allowed to lead normal lives aside from the requirement that they stay put" (p. 73). Etzioni further argues "sending high-risk sex offenders to live in such places is preferable to condemning them to life in prison...or letting them loose among children" (p. 74). Regarding the deciphering of encrypted messages, Etzioni writes "the dangers to public safety and national security of allowing criminals and terrorists free access to uncrackable encryption are particularly high" (p. 102). Regarding national ID cards, Etzioni argues in favor, writing that "people are secure in their identity, thereby allowing others to trust that they are who they claim to be" (p. 125). Regarding access to medical records, Etzioni argues that this information should be revealed only for healthcare purposes.[14]

The book is divided into six chapters:

  1. HIV Testing of Infants: Should Public Health Override Privacy?
  2. Sex Offenders' Privacy Versus Children's Safety: Megan's Law and the Alternatives
  3. Deciphering Encrypted Messages: A Prolonged Deadlock and an Unholy War
  4. Big Brother or Big Benefits? ID Cards and Biometric Identifiers
  5. Medical Records: Big Brother Versus Big Bucks
  6. A Contemporary Conception of Privacy
  • The new golden rule: community and morality in a democratic society. Basic Books. 10 April 1998. ISBN 978-0-465-04999-8. 

The New Golden Rule argues for the need to balance freedom with morality, and autonomy with community. Etzioni proposes a new golden rule: "Respect and uphold society's moral order as you would have society respect and uphold your autonomy."[15]

The book is divided into eight chapters:

  1. The Elements of a Good Society
  2. Order and Autonomy?
  3. The Fall and Rise of America
  4. Sharing Core Values
  5. The Moral Voice
  6. The Implications of Human Nature
  7. Pluralism Within Unity
  8. The Final Arbiters of Community's Values

The Moral Dimension offers an examination of the role of ethics, moral values, and community in economics. Overall this book argues for the replacing of the neoclassical paradigm with the "I & We" paradigm. Etzioni's argument is divided into three parts.

Part one argues that rather than assuming people seek to maximize one utility, people are better theorized as pursuing two utilities: pleasure and morality. This analysis seeks to capture the difference between inner commitment and extrinsic motivation, "The behavior of a person who feels he/she ought to work hard is different from that of one who feels it pays to work hard" (p. 46). Etzioni bases this claim on studies of altruism, saving behavior, voting, and support for public television.

Part two critiques the rational decision-making model of neoclassical thought. Etzioni offers a cognitive-limits critique. In place of rational choice, Etzioni argues people are impacted by normative and affective factors. These decisions are made within three zones: In zone one the decision maker does what's right as values and emotions fully determine the choice. In zone two, choices are infused with normative/affective considerations, thus these choices are heavily weighted. In zone three, choices made on rational grounds for normative/affective reasons.

Part three argues that the unit for economic analysis should be the collectivity, not the individual, as, "collectivities are more consequential in forming the choices of individuals than the individuals themselves" (p. 181).[16]

  • The spirit of community: the reinvention of American society. Simon and Schuster. 24 May 1994. ISBN 978-0-671-88524-3. 

The book calls for a reinvention and re-invigoration of social and political institutions and restoration of the balance between rights and responsibilities.

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Shoring Up Morality
  2. Too Many Rights, Too Few Responsibilities
  3. The Public Interest
  • The active society: a theory of societal and political processes. Collier-Macmillan. March 1968. 

The Active Society serves as a starting point for comments on theories and methods in the social sciences which may contribute to the understanding of how societies become "masters of themselves". Etzioni first identifies that the problem is limited to structural features which are unique to welfare service states. These combine a political commitment to provide personal help with assigned responsibility for daily work of doing so to public employees who identify with the values and attitudes of specialized occupations.[17] The book is divided into five parts:

  1. Foundations for a Theory of Macroscopic Action
  2. Cybernetic Factors
  3. Implementing Factors
  4. Societal Consensus and Responsiveness
  5. Beyond Tribalism
  • His article, “Mixed-Scanning: A ‘Third’ Approach to Decision-Making”, which appeared in Public Administration Review (PAR) in 1967, has been selected as one of the 75 most influential articles appearing in the journal since its inception in 1940.

Additional works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Stockdale, Jerry (November 2004). "Reviewed work(s): My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir and a Message by Amitai Etzioni". Contemporary Sociology (American Sociological Association) 33 (6): 702–703. JSTOR 3593865. 
  2. ^ personal website
  3. ^ Posner, Richard (2001). Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00633-1. 
  4. ^ Satin, Mark (2004). Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now. Westview Press and Basic Books, p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8133-4190-3.
  5. ^ Etzioni, Amitai (24 August 1986). "The Fast-Food Factories: McJobs are Bad for Kids". The Washington post. 
  6. ^ Prideaux, Simon (2002). "From Organisational Theory to the New Communitarium of Amitai Etzioni". Canadian Journal of Sociology 27 (1): 69.  SocINDEX with full text. EBSCO. web. 13 October 2009.
  7. ^ Frazer, Elizabeth (1999). The Problems of Communitarian Politics: Unity and Conflict. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-829563-1. 
  8. ^ Breed, Warren (1971). The Self-Guiding Society. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-904650-0. 
  9. ^ Sciulli, David (2011). Etzioni's Critical Functionalism: Communitarian Origins and Principles. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-19043-6. 
  10. ^ Etzioni, Amitai (September 2006). "The Global Importance of Illiberal Moderates". Cambridge Review of International Affairs 19. 
  11. ^ Ikenberry, G. John (September–October 2004). "Recent Books on International Relations". Foreign Affairs 83: 164. 
  12. ^ Schehr, Robert Carl (November 2005). "The Marginalizing Rhetoric of Nationalism". Contemporary Sociology 34: 602.  For more information: ISBN 978-0-415-95047-3 Published 2004 by Routledge
  13. ^ Cassell, Eric J. (13 January 2000). "The Limits of Privacy". The New England Journal of Medicine 342: 140. doi:10.1056/NEJM200001133420219. 
  14. ^ Mestrovic, Stjepan G. (January 2001). "The Limits of Privacy". Contemporary Sociology 30: 67. 
  15. ^ "NY Times Book Review of the New Golden Rule", The New York Times 
  16. ^ Abolafia, Mitchel Y. (September 1989). "The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics". Administrative Science Quarterly 34 (3): 496–498. 
  17. ^ Ramsøy, Natalie Rogoff (1986). "The Active Society Revisited". Acta Sociologica (Taylor & Francis Ltd) 29 (4): 337–348.  SocINDEX with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 13 October 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boykoff, Jules "How Patriotic is the Patriot Act?: Freedom Versus Security in the Age of Terrorism-Amitai Etzioni." Journal of Politics 68.2 (2006): 470-471 Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. web.14 oct 2009
  • Marks, Jonathan. "Moral Dialogue in the thought of Amitai Etzioni." Good Society Journal, 2005, Vol. 14 Issue 1/2, p. 15-18, 4p; (M1834886).
  • Jennings, Lane. "Who's Afraid of a Moral Society?" Futurist 35,60. (2001):52. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 14 Oct 2009.
  • Etzioni, Amitai. "The Spirit of Community: rights, responsibilities, and the communitarian agenda". New York: Crown Publishers, 1993. ISBN 0-517-59277-0

External links[edit]