Commentary

 

As part of our commitment to informed policy analysis through moral dialogue, the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies will feature here some of the feedback received on its articles, as well as other writings on communitarianism. Please note that the comments featured here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute. (Comments in other languages can be found here.)

March 28th, 2014:

NPR reporter, Alan Greenblatt, wrote:

“Anything that’s collective, they find imposing,” says Amitai Etzioni, director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University.

“Twenty-eight percent of Americans support both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street,” he says. “They’re very angry, and for very good reason.”

Read the full story here.

March 27th, 2014:

George Washington Today reporter, Brittney Dunkins, wrote:

The rising wealth gap between the “1 percent” and middle and lower income Americans has been studied in depth by academics and covered in detail by major news outlets, but for Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the unprecedented disparity boils down to one question: Are high levels of income inequality affecting equal opportunity and upward mobility?

In a conversation led by University Professor and Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies Amitai Etzioni, Mr. Bernstein argued that yes, since the 1970s growing income inequality has negatively affected the economy and lowered standards of living for middle and lower income Americans.

“The picture that comes to mind to explain this issue is the disconnect between productivity growth and compensation growth for the typical worker,” Mr. Bernstein said. “If you’re contributing to the growth of the economic pie, there’s no reason your slice should be getting smaller, in fact, it should be getting larger as it did for years.”

Read the full piece here.

March 2014:

In The American Scholar, Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak writes:

I smiled as I read “My Kingdom for a Wave.” In it, Amiati Etzioni complains that he is forgotten. But he himself has forgotten that articulated ideologies repel as much as they attract.

When Etzioni was becoming a household name—well, at least among the Columbia University humanities crowd—our group of graduate students was deeply involved in studying the Russian intelligentsia’s ongoing quest for freedom and justice. We thought that if only the USSR were able to tolerate such thinkers as Etzioni—intellectuals willing and able to make themselves understood—the Soviet Union would be able to change.

For all his frustration, Etzioni’s communitarian ideas, precisely because they did not form an ideology or a movement, seeped into American political culture. That is the beauty of the U.S. system—an ability to reach a major goal through seemingly minor adjustments. Our major demonstrations, even if bloody, eventually lead to some practical results.

In Russia, which Etzioni does not mention in this short piece, there still is no justice. An even weaker Russian intelligentsia than its predecessors is lost vainly looking for freedom and justice. In contrast, in neighboring Ukraine, where the local intelligentsia has not developed the necessary intellectual rigor to formulate a clear-cut attractive ideology, tens of thousands brave the cold to manifest their belief in freedom, justice, and even small business—the type of communitarianism Etzioni seeks to corral into an ideology.

So, Professor Etzioni, remember your high school Latin: Nemo propheta in patria sua. Just look beyond the borders.

MARTHA BOHACHEVSKY-CHOMIAK, Washington, D.C.

Read the full response here.

March 17, 2014:

In Ethics and International Affairs, Nick Gvosdev discusses the ethical concerns of avoiding war with China. Read the full article here.

Given that the United States is not prepared to depart the Asia-Pacific region and that China is not going to voluntarily halt its rise as a great power, is there a policy prescription that can avoid turning predictions of a Sino-American clash into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Amitai Etzioni believes so. Drawing upon his earlier body of work developed at the height of the cold war—most notablyThe Hard Way to Peace (1962) and Winning Without War (1964)—Etzioni proposes what he terms a strategy of “mutually-assured restraint” (MAR) wherein “both sides limit their military build-up and coercive diplomacy as long as the other side limits itself in the same way—and the self-restraints are mutually vetted.”

June 18,2013:

In Communitarian Influence? Amitai Etzioni and the Making of New Labour, scholar Sarah Hale analyzes the purported Communitarian influence in 1990s British politics.  Read the article here.

From the mid 1990s there was much speculation, both popular and academic, about the role of communitarianism and, in particular, American communitarian Amitai Etzioni in the transformation of the Labour Party into ‘New’ Labour. A consensus emerged that even if Etzioni had not directly influenced the party, its policies and rhetoric were nonetheless
fully consistent with his position. This article challenges that view, analysing Etzioni’s work alongside the policies and other utterances of New Labour, and concluding that there are very few similarities and vast differences of emphasis and of substance. In many instances Etzioni is critical, both implicitly and explicitly, of New Labour’s supposedly communitarian politics.

June 16, 2013:

The blog, A Striped Armchair recently wrote a review of, The New Golden Rule.

 

Read it in its entirety here.

The New Golden Rule by Amitai Etzioni was a truly fascinating read: the mix of political science, sociology, and philosophy drew me in and kept me interested throughout. Written in the midst of the 1990s, when the world was rearranging itself after the end of the Cold War and neoliberal capitalism’s triumph, and a Republican congress was rearranging US domestic policy, the book sets out Etzioni’s ‘communitarian’ philosophy. Essentially, he argues that both rapid socialism and rabid individualism are unhealthy, detrimental to both a society and the humans who live in it. Instead, communitarianism advocates a middle route, a balance of rights and responsibilities, with a deeper sense of community values fostered through healthy discussions and interactions.

April 7, 2013:

The blog, DownWithTyranny shared insight into our recent article for Salon, “How Conservatives Still Run America, Despite Losing Elections.” Read the post in its entirety here.

I was a sociology student in college. The most revered contemporary writer at the time was Amitai Etzioni, an Israeli who had escaped from fascist Germany as a child and who I assumed was Italian because if his name. His first book,Modern Organizations made such an impression on me that years later I used it to run my record company. I feel there are a lot of people who had great influence on how I’ve turned out, my grandfather for example, but Etzioni sure fits into that category. I’d like to share a short essay he wrote for Salon this week, How conservatives still run America, despite losing elections. If you’re a regular DWT reader I think you’ll recognize his premises. The Conservative Consensus really is what this blog has always been all about.

April 1, 2013:

MyJihad Inc. shared with us their official response to our recent Huffington Post op-ed. The full text of their response can be read here.

Simply because extremists claim to interpret Islam as violent, does not mean their interpretation is valid. Certainly, we do not say the KKK’s understanding of Christianity is valid or in accordance with Jesus’ intention. The tag line on the MyJihad.org website specifically states: “taking back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.” We consider both extremes as seeing eye-to-eye and insisting on creating a violent narrative that is simply not part of Qur’anic teachings and completely in contrast to the teachings of the Islamic faith.

It must be acknowledged that the #MyJihad campaign has always made clear that jihad can take the form of a physical struggle, as in cases of self-defense or oppression. There is a moral code of conduct that strictly governs the behavior in such cases. Once the struggle becomes transgressive or oppressive, it is no longer classified as jihad. Reaching beyond these boundaries is un-Islamic. The minority, extremist viewpoints are sung from the rooftops while admittedly, the majority, moderate voices have allowed it- until now. The #MyJihad campaign is highlighting the greater and lesser known / lesser talked about jihad of personal struggle.

September 12, 2012:

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic comments on the forgotten opposition to the Apollo program.

Etzioni attacked the manned space program by pointing out that many scientists opposed both the mission and the “cash-and-crash approach to science” it represented… piling up the evidence that scientists opposed or at best, tepidly supported, the space program. A Science poll of 113 scientists not associated with NASA found that all but 3 of them “believed that the present lunar program is rushing the manned stage. Etzioni’s final assessment — “most scientists agree that from the viewpoint of science there is no reason to rush a man to the moon” — seems accurate.

But that’s just the beginning of the book. He has many other arguments against the Apollo program: It sucked up not just available dollars, but our best and brightest. Robots could do our exploration better than humans, anyway. We would fall behind in other sciences because of our dedication to putting men on the moon.

He laid out an alternative plan with long-term, science-based goals for research funding, a rational peace with the Soviets, and the creation of palatable social programs to develop rural America and help out the poor. But his voice was lost, and in his last few pages, he may have even predicted why. ”In an age that worships technology, when man is lost among the instruments he has created, the space race erects new pyramids of gadgetry; in an age of materialism, it piles on more investments in things when what is needed is investment in people.”

February 24, 2012:

The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard discusses Amitai Etzioni’s article “China: Making an Adversary,” published in International Politics:

Professor Etzioni’s view is that the US and the West have plenty of time to pursue the “Beijing hedge”: to work from the assumption that the rise of China is largely benign and make all efforts to draw China into the global system as a full stakeholder. Only if that fails should the West then go back to the drawing board.

By treating China as an enemy, the hawks risk bringing it about. Such a policy reinforces the hardliners in the Chinese power struggle. It is self-fulfilling.

I have in the past invoked the mishandling of Wilhelmine Germany before World War One as warning of what can go wrong if the status quo powers (then Britain) play their hand badly. The containment policy fed the Kaiser’s encirclement paranoia.

January 16, 2012:

The European Magazine interviews Amitai Etzioni about “The Construction of Europe.”:

The European: You are German by birth, American by choice. Looking back across the Atlantic now, what is your impression of the European state of affairs?
Etzioni: I am looking at Europe not as an American but as a sociologist who has studied the European Union from the very beginning. Today we can observe a tragic mistake: The introduction of more European centralism without the construction of a sense of community. It is impossible to impose constraints on nation-states from the outside unless those nations are bound to the larger entities by a sense of loyalty and commitment.

October 5, 2011:

Benjamin H. Friedman responds to Amitai Etzioni’s article “The Great Drone Debate.”

The trouble with Etzioni’s commentary is that it ignores critics of drone strikes that see the alterative as doing nothing, or at least doing something nonlethal. In that case, the question is whether the humanitarian toll and blowback is worth the benefit of the killing, not whether there is a better way to kill. I say we in the public lack the ability to make that judgment and should oppose the strikes until we have better information.

March 25, 2011:

Simone Chambers, Douglas J. Den Uyl, and Daniel Philpott offer responses in The Review of Politics (Winter 2011) to Amitai Etzioni’s article “On Communitarian and Global Sources of Legitimacy.”

Simone Chambers writes:

“Amitai Etzioni has written a stimulating and provocative defense of a communitarian conception of legitimacy [...] Etzioni thinks that the public justification or deliberative conception of legitimacy is problematic both at the empirical level and at the normative level. His core argument is that people are just not like that. Individuals do not deliberate about what is legitimate and not legitimate and then come to reasoned conclusions. But I want to argue that there is so much distance between his normative conception of legitimacy (core universal values) and his empirical conception of legitimacy (embedded moral dialogues) that only a conception of deliberation can bridge this gap.”

Douglas J. Den Uyl writes:

“…as we have read Etzioni, the basic thrust of his paper is not to criticize consent theories and liberalism. Instead his purpose is to move us beyond consent to more substantive principles, like moral norms, upon which to ground legitimacy. However, the desire to move toward grounding legitimacy in a substantive moral principle may not take one as far as one thinks it does. Contrary to the assumption of Etzioni, Nussbaum, Sen, and others, to have such a moral principle is not yet to have a political one.”

Daniel Philpott writes:

“That the truth is a good worth knowing is self-evident. But establishing this self-evidence requires an argument, the sort of “deliberations” that Etzioni abjures. Observations of widespread perceptions are not enough.”

February 10, 2011:

Wolfgang Streeck of the Max Planck Institute writes:

“Why have so many of us who are doing institutional analyses of the economy-in-society been so reluctant, quite unlike Amitai Etzioni, to elaborate a noneconomistic micro foundation for our sort of social science? [...]

Actually what often passes as liberal rejection of moral manipulation may be no more than fear of the flak one can expect when publicly raising issues of moral duty- a flak Amitai Etzioni knows well and clearly fears not [...]

Etzioni’s socio-economics are probably best understood as a ‘third way’: an attempt to use the available social science knowledge to reinforce moral argument; or, in the language of one of hismost important books, A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations, to replace utilitarian and coercive with normative social control [...]

Socioeconomics faces a choice. It might seek to be a discipline competing for jobs and research money with other providers of social control technology. Alternatively, it could be a set of ideas contributing to a better-informed public understanding of the relationship between economy and society, and of the role of moral values and material interests in both.”

January 4, 2011:

At Biopolitical Times, Gina Maranto writes:

Anyone who has been broadly dissatisfied by the bioethical response to human biotechnologies will want to check out sociologist Amitai Etzioni’s penetrating critique [PDF] of the field’s failure to deal adequately with the the essential tension these technologies raise. Etzioni, who is University Professor at The George Washington University, argues in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics that by focusing almost exclusively on the individual patient’s autonomy, bioethics marginalizes the inescapable second element that must be addressed in contemporary medicine—the wider interests of society. Etzioni calls for bioethics to expand its framework and advances the case for a “responsive communitarian” approach that has as its goal balancing autonomy against the collective good without privileging either a priori.

December 20, 2010:

At InDepth, T.M. Moore writes about community and communitarians:

The new communitarians promise a reconstructed society of mutual support, encouragement, freedom, and prosperity. Their vision of revived communities includes everything that was best from their growing-up memories, together with all the newest innovations their fertile minds can concoct. They have the ears of politicians and community activists.

The new communitarians have only one fear: A revival of Puritanism. Is Puritanism, as the new communitarians think, a threat to community? [...]  Amitai Etzioni insists, “We hold that a moral revival in these United States is possible without Puritanism; that is, without busybodies meddling into our personal affairs, without thought police controlling our intellectual life. We can attain a recommitment to moral values – without puritannical excesses.”

 Posted by at 12:29 pm