January 4, 1929
|Alma mater||Hebrew University of Jerusalem|
University of California, Berkeley
|Doctoral advisor||Seymour Martin Lipset|
|Institutions||George Washington University|
Harvard Business School
|Notable ideas||Socioeconomics, communitarianism|
Amitai Etzioni (; born Werner Falk, January 4, 1929) is a German-born American sociologist, best known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. He leads the Communitarian Network, a non-profit, non-partisan organization 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.
Amitai Etzioni was born Werner Falk in Cologne, Germany in 1929 to a Jewish family. Etzioni's earliest memory is being thrown out of a car in Cologne, Germany in January 1933. Etzioni was only four years old when the car he was riding in made a sharp turn and in response, he grabbed a handle that opened the door. Etzioni was pulled back into the car at the last moment by his father, but as noted in his memoir, this memory foreshadowed the upcoming doom that would overtake his homeland during the Nazi rule. Later in 1933, Etzioni and his grandparents were walking through the forest next to Frankfurt when they came upon a forest fire. Suddenly, Hitler Youth ventured into the forest riding in two trucks. Etzioni's grandparents reacted by grabbing Etzioni and hiding behind nearby trees. The grandparents then took Etzioni and rushed down the hill without explaining to him what happened during their close encounter with the Nazi regime. When Etzioni had turned five, both of his parents had escaped to London to avoid the Nazi regime, which left Etzioni in the care of his grandparents. Etzioni was smuggled out of Germany soon afterwards to a train station in Italy by a non-Jewish relative who soon reunited Etzioni with his parents. Etzioni was stuck with his parents in Athens, Greece unable to enter Palestine since his family was awarded a bachelor permit instead of a family permit. The family was stuck midway between Germany and Haifa for a whole year. During this year, Etzioni attended a Greek school learning the language. When the paperwork was finally resolved, Etzioni found himself in Haifa, Mandatory Palestine in the winter of 1937 where he had to learn another language, Hebrew.
It was at this time he began to go by his first name Amitai instead of Werner, since the principal of Etzioni's new school strongly encouraged that Etzioni introduce himself by his Hebrew name. Etzioni's Hebrew name was printed in the front of the family Bible, which was left in Germany, so he was given the name Amitai which means truth (emet) and was the name of Jonah's father in the Old Testament. Etzioni moved once again with his family to a small village, Herzliya Gimmel, which served as a base for a new emerging community called Kfar Shmaryahu. When Etzioni was eight, his family moved to the new village, Kfar Shmaryahu, where his family was assigned to a small, boxlike new house that was used as a lot for farming. In the spring of 1941, Etzioni's father left home once again to join the Jewish Brigade, which was a Jewish unit formed within the British army. Etzioni, at the age of thirteen, was struggling at school, which then caused his mother to send him to a boarding school in Ben Shemen.
The Ben Shemen teachers, upon Etzioni's graduation, recommended that he enroll in a good liberal arts high school, however, Etzioni enrolled in a vocational school near his home in Kfar Shmaryahu. Etzioni's intent was to become an electrician. In the spring of 1946, at the age of sixteen, Etzioni dropped out of high school 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 to 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 sneaked 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.
Etzioni met Hava while studying sociology in Israel, whom he married in 1953. Etzioni and Hava relocated to the United States in 1957. They had two sons together, Ethan born in 1958 and Oren born in 1962. In 1964, Hava and Etzioni divorced when Hava wanted to move back to Israel in order to be near her mother whereas Etzioni wanted to remain in the United States. In his autobiography, Etzioni writes that the divorce was one of his "gravest personal failures. We should have found a way."
In 1966, Etzioni married Mexican scholar Minerva Morales. They had three sons: Michael, David, and Benjamin. Morales was raised Catholic, but converted to Judaism, Etzioni's religion. On December 20, 1985, Morales was killed in a car accident. Etzioni has written of his considerable grief over the death of Morales and his son Michael.
Etzioni provided a personal account of his work and life in a memoir called "My Brother's Keeper". He has augmented this account with an essay about losing his voice in an essay called "My Kingdom for a Wave". And finally revealed the source of his feelings on war and aggression were based on his early childhood experiences.
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).
In recent years Etzioni has focused on international relations. In his book Security First, he argued that democracies can thrive only if first basic security is provided. In From Empire to Community, he applied communitarian theory to international relations, which is also discussed by Nikolas Gvosdev's book Communitarian Foreign Policy: Amitai Etzioni's Vision. He warned about the danger of drifting toward a war with China in Avoiding War With China.
Another line of work he has focused on in recent years is extending the communitarian idea of balancing individual rights and social responsibilities, including his book The Common Good, in a new book on privacy, Privacy in a Cyber Age, and in The New Normal, and in, Law and Society in a Populist Age. He is particularly proud of his book Happiness is the Wrong Metric. Professor Etzioni's next book, In Defense of Patriotism, will be published by University of Virginia Press in September 2019.
The following works also summarize Etzioni's work: Communitarian Foreign Policy: Amitai Etzioni's Vision by Nikolas K. Gvosdev; The Active Society Revisited Edited by Wilson Carey McWillaims; Amitai Etzioni zur Einführung Written By Walter Reese-Schafer; Etzioni's Critical Functionalism Communitarian Origins and Principles by David Sciulli. See also a documentary by Kevin Hudson, "The Making of a Peacenik".
Etzioni's main communitarian thesis is that individual aspirations should be protected and cultivated into community efforts. Etzioni thus coined the movement Communitarianism to reflect the importance of the role the individual has within the community. He argues that communitarian thinking developed in reaction to the "me-first" attitude of the 1980s, which stressed the importance of individual wellbeing over the community. Etzioni, witnessing the deterioration of the community in response to the rise of capitalist mindsets, advocated for the agenda of communitarianism. The agenda of communitarianism is to create stronger communities that are more reflective and responsive to the needs of society, as once individuals are collectivized into their communities, the citizens are more apt to act in responsible ways. Etzioni also 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 the early to mid 1980s, communitarianism was restricted to the disciplines of Philosophy and Political Science, where the information presented concerning this new idealism was only available to those well-acquainted with sociological theory. Communitarianism took shape in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc where laissez faire economics gained popularity. Amitai Etzioni and William Galston, noticing an emphasis on individualism, started holding meetings to begin applying their communitarian ideals to broader social problems. Together, in 1991 the group published the quarterly journal "The Responsive Community" and formed the "Communitarian Network" in 1993. Etzioni founded the Communitarian Network, which is a nonprofit think tank based in Washington D.C. that serves as the biggest intellectual organization for the communitarian agenda.
In Etzioni's view, the communitarian movement works to strengthen the ability of all aspects of the community including 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 written 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 a 1986 article for the Washington Post in which he criticizes the low skilled fast food jobs as being detrimental to youth.
In Simon Prideaux's "From Organisational Theory to the New Communitarium of Amitai Etzioni", he argues that Etzioni's communitarian methods are archaic, and based upon earlier functionalist definitions of organizations. This is because his methodology fails to address any possible contradictions within the socioeconomic foundations of society. Prideaux states that Etzioni's vision of a communitarian society is "heavily predicated upon what he sees as having gone wrong with present-day social relations"(Prideaux 70). 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 "neglects and denies the importance of differences within communities and among communities in different countries." Thus, Etzioni makes the assumption 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.
Elizabeth Frazer, in her book The Problems of Communitarian Politics: Unity and Conflict, argues that Etzioni's concept of the "nature of community" is too vague and elusive, in regards to the idea that the community is involved with every stage of government policies. She also mentions Etzioni's thought that the community has a moral standing equal to that of the individual, when she firmly believes it is just the opposite(Frazer 36). Warren Breed's The Self-Guiding Society provides a critical overview of The Active Society. David Sciulli's Etzioni's Critical Functionalism: Communitarian Origins and Principles evaluates Etzioni's functionalism.
Etzioni was criticized in 2016 for publishing an article titled "Should Israel Flatten Beirut to Destroy Hezbollah's Missiles?" Lebanese journalist and human rights researcher Kareen Chehayeb called it "ludicrous" that a prominent American professor "can just calmly say the solution is to flatten this entire city of 1 million people."