Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni is an Israeli-American sociologist, best known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. He is the director of The George Washington University's Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies and the head of the Communitarian Network, a non-profit, non-partisan group devoted to promoting the ethical, social, and political pillars of society.

How has his career path developed? Learn more about Etzioni and his life in the following article.

I. Amitai Etzioni sociologist biography

Amitai Etzioni served as the 86th President of the American Sociological Association. The American Sociological Review published his Presidential Address, "The Responsive Community: A Communitarian Perspective," which he gave at the Association's Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in February 1996. Etzioni has been a professor at Washington, DC's George Washington University since 1980. 

Who is Amitai Etzioni?

1. Who is Amitai Etzioni?

Amitai Etzioni was just four years old in 1933 when the Nazis took over Germany. After being split up from his family, he eventually got them back in 1947. Etzioni spent a year in Athens during that time, traveled to Palestine, resided on a cooperative farm, and attended boarding school. He had dropped out of the tenth grade three years earlier to join Palmach, and was enrolled in a special academic institute founded by Martin Buber in 1950. He enrolled in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1951 and earned both a BA and an MA there while studying both classic and modern sociological works. 

He earned his doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1958, finishing his studies in a record-breaking 18 months. After that, he spent twenty years as a professor of sociology at Columbia University, where he also spent some time as the department's chair. 

2. Amitai Etzioni early career

Amitai Etzioni received military training and joined the Haganah, a special division of the ancient Jewish army in Palestine. Jewish militias battled the British government while he was a soldier in order to gain more Jewish access to Palestine. 

His involvement in an armed operation where his unit detonated a bomb on an English radio transmitting antenna with the intention of locating and intercepting Jewish immigration ships ranks among his most notable military deeds.

Amitai Etzioni enrolled in a school run by academic Martin Buber, who received 10 nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature and 7 for the Nobel Peace Prize, after Israel's independence and the end of the war against Palestine and the Arab countries. 

He moved to the United States in 1957, where he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, with a focus on classical and modern sociology. During his time in college, he assisted Seymour Martin Lipset, a renowned American sociologist known for his research on social structure and public opinion. 

Amitai Etzioni continued his professional career in the United States after graduating. He divorced his wife at that time because she wanted to go back to Israel.

Amitai Etzioni early career

3. Amitai Etzioni Contribution

a. Fight against nuclear weapons 

Etzioni has distinguished itself in the struggle against nuclear weapons. He opposed the Vietnam War and worked to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

In his lifetime, Etzioni published 24 books, three of which were devoted to the promotion of peace and the fight against nuclear war. 

b. Community involvement 

He began to approach his career differently in the 1970s and started to deal with ethical dilemmas. Etzioni first mentioned the social cause when he first began studying this area of sociology. 

In his books on this subject, he describes the social issues that modern democracies face as well as the harm that excessive individualism causes to societies. 

c. Founder of socio economics 

Socioeconomics, an alternative to neoclassical economics, was founded by Amitai Etzioni. He established the World Society of Socioeconomics in 1988 and served as its president. 

d. Communitarianism 

Since the late 1970s, Etzioni has devoted the majority of his career to the cause of the community. The promotion of a communal existence that places a greater emphasis on societal advantages serves as an argument for Etzioni's communitarianism. 

The sociologist claims that people prioritize their own interests above all else and disregard what is going on in the world. According to Etzioni, in order to instill good values in a society, communitarianism must affect all of its constituent parts, such as the family and the school. 

Additionally, it aims to foster the growth of every person within a community in order to ensure the more efficient development of society as a whole.

II. Amitai Etzioni Major Works 

1. Communitarianism 

The most well-known works by Etzioni focus heavily on communitarianism. Amitai Etzioni asserts that the communal definition of good is the core of communitarianism. Thus, it emphasizes the importance of community in social and political institutions and life. It emerged in opposition to libertarianism, which emphasizes liberty and individual rights, and some contemporary liberal ideologies. In contrast to some East Asian public intellectuals who extolled social obligations and gave much less weight to liberty and individual rights, Etzioni contrasts his brand of what he calls "liberal communitarianism" with that of those individuals. 

Etzioni's liberal communitarianism established standards for crafting public policies that help societies resolve conflicts between the public good and individual rights. These include the following: 

  1. No significant change in governing public policies and norms is justified unless society faces serious challenges; 
  2. Rights restrictions can only be considered if there are appreciable benefits to the general welfare; 
  3. Unfavorable side effects from policy changes must be addressed by enacting robust measures of accountability and oversight. In his books The Limits of Privacy (1999) and The New Normal, Etzioni developed this idea (2015).Etzioni emphasizes that preferences are largely socially constructed and, as a result, reflect the values of the communities in which people live. As a result, in dogmatic liberal societies, preferences shouldn't be treated as pure expressions of individual freedom. Instead, they should be improved by public education when they become asocial or, more likely, when they become anti-social. 

Amitai Etzioni Major Works

His best-known communitarian works include How Patriotic is the Patriot Act? (2018), Law and Society in a Populist Age (2018), The New Golden Rule (1996), and The New Normal (2015). (2005). The Limits of Privacy (1999) and Privacy in a Cyber Age both detail his communitarian approach to privacy (2015).

2. Socioeconomics

The Moral Dimension (1988) and Happiness is the Wrong Metric are two books that contain Etzioni's contributions to socioeconomics. His main claim is that neoclassical economics, which currently governs the field, makes poor predictions, has a flawed theory of human nature, and has unfavorable normative ramifications. According to him, one should assume that people are conflicted between (1) their commitments to moral principles and the common good and (2) their self-interest rather than making the assumption that they are trying to maximize their own utility. He described people as "moral wrestlers" as a result. He demonstrated that rather than acting independently, people typically act as members of social groups. The main problem is typically not that the government meddles excessively in the market, but rather that the government and social life are adversely affected by concentrations of economic power in the private sector. 

The Active Society is seen as Etzioni's most significant piece of writing. In 1968, the book was released. It begins by delving into philosophical issues such as how much free will people have and how much of our destiny is predetermined and out of our comprehension. It delves into theories about steering mechanisms that give humans control over inanimate systems, such as factory machines, before establishing that democratic processes are necessary for extending this kind of theory to societies and influencing history. Democracy is essential because people must be involved in producing the signals that will trigger their responses. 

Later in the book, the four fundamental components of a social steering system decision-making tactics, consensus-building techniques, knowledge, and power are discussed. The book's final section examines human needs and tries to ascertain whether they can be changed or if they stay the same. If the latter is true that human needs are constant Etzioni seeks to ensure that society is restructured to meet these unchanging needs rather than being forced into a plan that only addresses the needs that society is willing and able to address, regardless of whether those are the needs that actually need to be met.

III.  Amitai Etzioni Legacy & Awards

Too many accolades and awards have been bestowed upon Amitai over the years to list them all, but a few notable ones will have to do: 

  • Fellowships at the Social Science Research Council and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences ; 
  • A Guggenheim Fellowship ; election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science ; 
  • The Lester F. Ward Distinguished Contributions Award in Applied Sociology ; 
  • He was given the opportunity to fill the Ray Bauer and George Homans-held visiting chair funded by the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation at Harvard Business School from 1987 to 1989. Here, he introduced socioeconomics as a brand-new field of study and taught ethics. 

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with sociological literature is aware of how prolific Amitai's scholarly output has been (14 books to date; 232 articles and book chapters). His research has made a significant contribution to the growth of several subfields within the discipline. His early contributions to organizational theory were instrumental in developing the discipline as it is known today. Few people are aware that prior to the publication of his books, "organizational sociology" was a term that was rarely used and had a limited understanding; "industrial" sociology was the term that was used. From 1969 to 1977, A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations was one of the ten books that received the most citations.

IV. Amitai Etzioni Books

Etzioni has written more than 30 books. About half are academic, with The Active Society being the most significant, and the other half are written for the general public, particularly The Spirit of Community. His early academic work, which concentrated on organizational theory, led to the 1961 publication of the frequently cited A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations. 

Amitai Etzioni Books

In academic circles, the book received favorable reviews. According to Peter Fricke's book review in Political Science Quarterly, it is "a principal text for students of organizations." The publication of a revised edition of the same title in 1975 established Etzioni's academic credentials and inspired numerous studies, which Etzioni reviewed and included. In a much shorter book called Modern Organizations, which was published in numerous languages, he presented the same fundamental ideas. 

1. The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society

Amitai Etzioni, one of the most prominent sociologists in the world and one of the most frequently quoted intellectuals in America today, has been the focus of numerous profiles in all the major media and has collaborated on social issues and legislation with both Republican senators and members of the Clinton Administration. He now invites us to consider how a good society should function and what values we must bring to our social interactions in order to forge stronger and longer-lasting community ties in this significant new book. 

The issue that society today is facing is that while half of the population is wary of order and morality, the other half is wary of liberty, which is associated with permissiveness, as Etzioni has discovered over the years of research and study on the topic. The author lays out how we can, indeed must, have both order and autonomy if we are to create a society in which communities and individuals can thrive in an in-depth analysis that expertly cuts this Gordian knot.

2. New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions, and Communities

A heated debate in political theory about the justice, viability, and future of liberalism and liberal societies is centered on communitarian thought. Amitai Etzioni has assembled an excellent group of contributors who apply communitarian thinking to such current and divisive topics as abortion, homosexuality, free speech, and individual autonomy. These essays connect the ivory tower to the outside world and cut across academic boundaries.


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