Amitai Etzioni (born Werner Falk, 4 January 1929) is an Israeli-American sociologist, best known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. He leads the Communitarian Network, a non-profit, non-partisan organization which is dedicated to support the moral, social and political foundations of society. 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 to have a carefully crafted balance between rights and responsibilities and between autonomy and order. 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. Etzioni is currently the Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University.
Early life and education
Amitai Etzioni was born Werner Falk in Cologne, Germany in 1929 to a Jewish family. Early in his childhood, the Nazis rose to power in Germany, forcing his family to flee the country. They ventured in 1935 to Italy and Greece before finally moving to Mandatory Palestine in 1936 and settling in Kfar Shmaryahu. It was at this time that he first began to use the Hebrew first name Amitai instead of Werner. He dropped out of high school in 1946 to join the Palmach, the elite commando force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Jewish community of Palestine, and was sent to Tel Yosef for military training. During this time young Amitai chose fully distance himself from his past as Werner Falk and adopted the surname Etzioni.
During Etzioni's time in the Palmach, underground Jewish groups, mainly the Irgun and Lehi militias, and to a lesser extent the Palmach, were carrying out a violent campaign against the British authorities to compel them to allow more Jewish immigration to Palestine and leave the country to enable a Jewish state to be established. Etzioni participated in a Palmach operation to blow up a British radar station near Haifa being used to track ships carrying illegal Jewish immigrants attempting to enter Palestine. Etzioni's team managed to breach the fence protecting the radar station and plant and detonate a bomb, and escaped after the British shot their team leader through the head. After the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Etzioni's Palmach unit participated in the defense of Jerusalem, which was under siege by the Arab Legion. They snuck through Arab lines and for the next few months, fought to defend Jerusalem and to open a corridor to Tel Aviv, participating in the Battles of Latrun and the establishment of the Burma Road.
Following the war, Etzioni spent a year studying at an institute established by Martin Buber. In 1951 he enrolled in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he completed both BA (1954) and MA (1956) degrees for his studies in classical and contemporary works in sociology. In 1957 he went to the United States to study at the University of California, Berkeley, and was a research assistant to Seymour Martin Lipset. He received his PhD in sociology in 1958, completing the degree in the record time of 18 months. Etzioni then remained in the United States to pursue an academic career.
- 1958-1978: Professor, Columbia University
- 1978: Guest Scholar, Brookings Institution
- 1979-1980: Senior Advisor to the White House
- 1980–Present: University Professor, Professor of International Affairs, and Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, The George Washington University
- 1987-1990: Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation Professor, Harvard Business School
- 1989: Founder and President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-economics
- 1995: President, American Sociological Association
Etzioni is the author of 24 books. 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. 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 the 1970s his interests turned towards bioethics and re-industrialization. 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. 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 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. Foreign Policy: Eight Hot Spots, was published in 2012. The New Normal: Finding a Balance between Individual Rights and the Common Good was published in 2014.
Etzioni's main communitarian thesis is that individual rights and aspirations should be protected but 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 that division. In his book Radical Middle, author Mark Satin identifies Etzioni as a radical centrist communitarian.
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. 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.
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 organizations. 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 organizational theory. According to Prideaux, Etzioni has taken the methodological influence of structural-functionalism beyond the realms of its organizational 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 are restricted to the strengths and weaknesses he witnesses in the American society in which he has lived since the 1950s. This bias 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.
For arguments that Etzioni's concept of community is too vague to be useful, see Elizabeth Frazer's The Problems of Communitarian Politics: Unity and Conflict. For a critical overview of The Active Society, see Warren Breed's The Self-Guiding Society. For an evaluation of Etzioni's functionalism, see David Sciulli's Etzioni's Critical Functionalism: Communitarian Origins and Principles.
- 1960-61: Fellowship at the Social Science Research Council
- 1965-66: Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
- 1968-69: Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1978–Present: Appointment as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- 1987: The Lester F. Ward Distinguished Contributions Award in Applied Sociology
- 1991: the Ninth Annual Jeffrey Pressman Award (Policy Studies Association)
- 2001: John P. McGovern Award in Behavioral Sciences
- 2001: Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- Recipient of the Seventh James Wilbur Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Appreciation and Advancement of Human Values by the Conference on Value Inquiry
- Recipient of the Sociological Practice Association’s Outstanding Contribution Award
- My Brother's Keeper: pgs. 28-31
- My Brother's Keeper
- 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. doi:10.1177/009430610403300642. JSTOR 3593865.
- Satin, Mark (2004). Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now. Westview Press and Basic Books, p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8133-4190-3.
- Etzioni, Amitai (24 August 1986). "The Fast-Food Factories: McJobs are Bad for Kids" (PDF). The Washington post.
- 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.
- Frazer, Elizabeth (1999). The Problems of Communitarian Politics: Unity and Conflict. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-829563-1.
- Breed, Warren (1971). The Self-Guiding Society. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-904650-0.
- Sciulli, David (2011). Etzioni's Critical Functionalism: Communitarian Origins and Principles. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-19043-6.
- 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
- Official website
- The Communitarian Network
- A Nation of Minorities? published in The Abolitionist Examiner
- Asabiyya: Re-Interpreting Value Change in Globalized Societies (on the relevance of Etzioni's contribution to understanding economic growth)
- The Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies
- Faculty page on the Elliot School of International Affairs website
- A film clip "A Golden Mean . . . Between the Individual and the Community (1991)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- A Community-Based Guaranteed Income Oxford Foundation for Law, Justice and Society policy brief
- The Global Importance of Illiberal Moderates George Washington University Documents
- The Fast-Food Factories: McJobs are Bad for Kids George Washington University Documents