Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni (b. Werner Falk, 4 January 1929, Cologne, Germany) is a German-Israeli-American sociologist, known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. He was a 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 autonomy and order.


Having fled to Palestine from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Etzioni studied with Martin Buber at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 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 was 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 on domestic affairs from 1979-1980. In 1980 he was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University, where he currently serves as the director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. He leads the Communitarian Network, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.


Etzioni is the author of 24 books, many of which have been translated into numerous languages. 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 has been a critic of the erosion of privacy through modern surveillance technologies and threats to identity in The Limits of Privacy (1999). His most recent book, Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy, was published in 2007.

Etzioni has also contributed significantly to the sociology of organizations in Modern Organizations (1964) and A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations (1961). Other influential books include The Moral Dimension (1988), The New Golden Rule (1996), 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.

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 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.

Security First

The book is divided into six parts:

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

This book argues that the US should abandon the notion that it can democratize the Middle East, or, other nations. Instead, it argues the leitmotif 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 U.S. and its allies should accept that democratic regimes which evolve gradually in traditionally non-democratic lands will look different from our version of democracy; and the U.S. 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 only supporters of liberal democracy qualify as American allies, the US will find less support. Alternatively, if the US recognizes that most people prefer peace and social order to violence, it shall find most people of all civilizations are on America's side. Among those, the US 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; the US 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:

  • that 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.
  • The book spells out the role moderate religions have 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

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part I: The Emerging Global Normative Synthesis
  • Part II: A New Safety Architecture
  • Part III: Beyond Global Safety

Overall, this 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.

How Patriotic is the Patriot Act?

This book argues the 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. This book also argues the question is not what measures are introduced, but how closely they are monitored.

The book is divided into six chapters:

  • How Liberty is Lost
  • An Overview of Security Measures
  • Privacy and Security in Electronic Communications
  • Public Health and the Threat of Bioterrorism
  • A Case for National ID Cards?
  • The Limits of Nation Building

The Monochrome Society

The book is divided into thirteen chapters:

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

The Limits of Privacy

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.

  • 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 health care purposes.

The book is divided into six chapters:

  • HIV Testing of Infants: Should Public Health Override Privacy?
  • Sex Offenders' Privacy Versus Children's Safety: Megan's Law and the Alternatives
  • Deciphering Encrypted Messages: A Prolonged Deadlock and an Unholy War
  • Big Brother or Big Benefits? ID Cards and Biometric Identifiers
  • Medical Records: Big Brother Versus Big Bucks
  • A Contemporary Conception of Privacy

The New Golden Rule

This book 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.

The book is divided into eight chapters:

  • The Elements of a Good Society
  • Order and Autonomy?
  • The Fall and Rise of America
  • Sharing Core Values
  • The Moral Voice
  • The Implications of Human Nature
  • Pluralism Within Unity
  • The Final Arbiters of Community's Values

The Moral Dimension

This book 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 decisionmaker 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.
  • 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).

The Spirit of Community

This book calls for a reinvention and reinvigoration of social and political institutions and restoration of the balance between rights and responsibilities.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Shoring Up Morality
  • Too Many Rights, Too Few Responsibilities
  • The Public Interest

The Active Society

The book is divided into five parts:

  • Foundations for a Theory of Macroscopic Action
  • Cybernetic Factors
  • Implementing Factors
  • Societal Consensus and Responsiveness
  • Beyond Tribalism

Bibliography (partial)

  • A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations. Glencoe, Ill: Free Press, 1961
  • Modern Organizations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964
  • Winning Without War. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964
  • The Moon-Doggle: Domestic and International Implications of the Space Race. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
  • Political Unification: A Comparative Study of Leaders and Forces. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965).
  • The Active Society: A Theory of Societal and Political Processes. New York: Free Press, 1968 ISBN 0029095905
  • Genetic Fix: the Next Technological Revolution. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973 ISBN 0060904283
  • An Immodest Agenda: Rebuilding America Before the 21st Century. New York: McGraw-Hill Co., 1983 ISBN 0070197237
  • Capital Corruption: the New Attack on American Democracy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984 ISBN 0151154694
  • The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics. New York: The Free Press, 1988 ISBN 0029099005
  • The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities and the Communitarian Agenda. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1993 ISBN 0517592770
  • The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society. New York: Basic Books, 1997 ISBN 0465052975
  • The Limits of Privacy. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999 ISBN 046504090X
  • The Monochrome Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001 ISBN 0691070903
  • Political Unification Revisited: On Building Supernational Communities. Lexington Books, 2001 ISBN 0739102729
  • Next: The Road to the Good Society. New York: Basic Books, 2001 ISBN 0465020909
  • My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir and a Message. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003 ISBN 0742521583
  • How Patriotic is the Patriot Act? New York: Routledge, 2004 ISBN 0415950473
  • From Empire to Community. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 ISBN 0300108575
  • Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007 ISBN 9780300108576

See also


External links

Search another word or see Amitai_Etzionion Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature