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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, March 6, 2015

An Etzioni resource

Last week’s sad funeral at least gave me the chance to retrieve a package which had been waiting for me since November in my neighbour’s house in my Carpathian village. By great coincidence it included a copy of Etzioni’s 2003 autobiography My Brother’s Keeper - which tracks the life of a rare character who managed to straddle successfully the worlds of academia (he is an organisational sociologist) and activism and therefore thoroughly to warrant the label of public intellectual
Etzioni’s has worked as a theorist, researcher, and political advisor, and has even developed his own political strategies. Only a few social scientists have been as active as Etzioni (born in Koeln in 1929) in all four of these fields. He follows in the footsteps of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim, all three of whom were not just theorists, but were also able – although each in his own manner – to act as polemicists and political activists…..
Instead of being demoralized by the power of the market and the state, Etzioni places faith in the citizen’s practical abilities of self-organization. Etzioni counterposes the failures of the market and the state by pointing to a third social sector, the communitarian society. Even in his first important book on social theory, “The Active Society” from 1968, Etzioni formulates the ambitious goal of “societal guidance”.
His multiple roles and activities are nicely set out in an assessment of his work by David Sciulli - Etzioni’s Critical Functionalism – communitarian origins and principles (2011) and another book (produced in 2005) The Active Society Revisited took another look at one of his classic 1968 productions which I remember being a bit too overwhelmed by to venture far into….
The Communitarian Reader (2004) is a useful collection of articles by his major associates in the venture to sketch out an alternative to neo-liberalism and collectivism which became known (in Europe at any rate) as the “third way” and which, arguably, somewhat tarnished his reputation – by virtue of the charlatans (such as Blair and Schroeder) with whom he associated
Nothing daunted, he ran a journal - The Responsive Community journal – for almost a decade; inaugurated the International Communitarian Society and broadened his application of his approach in the book The New Golden Rule

For my money, the one weakness of his analysis is that it does not properly take on board issues of power and profit. 
He is now 89 and still going strong - Last year he issued The New Normal and also an interesting paper on Politics and Culture in an age of Austerity which spends too much time for me on issues of “happiness” but which makes the following critical comment on one of the recent key books on that subject
Skidelsky and Skidelskys seven elements of a good life are decoupled from consumerism but not necessarily from self-centeredness. Two goods are dedicated to creature comforts, namely security and good health. In their rendering, security is of the person, not the nation; health is that of the individual, with little attention to public health. The inclusion of respect and friendship (akin to Maslows self-esteem and affection) in the list of goods is a major step forward, as gaining these goods is disassociated from buying things to enhance ones status or to express friendship.
Skidelsky and Skidelsky enrich Maslow by adding three goods. First is harmony with nature, which for them is not an expression of concern for the environment but, rather, a quest for inner tranquility of the individual (Skidelsky & Skidelsy, 2012).
Next on the list is personality, which is the ability to frame and execute a plan of life reflective of ones tastes, temperament and conception of the goodas well [as] an element of spontaneity, individuality and spirit(ibid., p.160). Both are self-centered.
Finally, while Maslow put selfactualization at the pinnacle, Skidelsky and Skidelsky crown leisure at the top of the list of the goods. Leisure is defined as self-directed activityand purposiveness without purpose(ibid., p. 9). It is an intrinsic good wherein people can and should flourish by doing well in whatever they choose to undertake: The sculptor engrossed in cutting marble, the teacher intent on imparting a difficult idea, the musician struggling with a scoresuch people have no other aim than to do what they are doing well(ibid.)

At the peak of his European peregrinations selling the “third way” he wrote this short piece for The New Statesman – and this longer pamphlet for the Demos ThinkTank

This review of his autobiography not only gives a good sense of the trajectory of his life but sums up my own feelings that he got his wings sizzled by supping too close to the devil….

Despite this reservation, however, he is one of these rare individuals I feel who has used his endowments to create a real and original sense of the "public good"......   
Those wanting to know more about Etzioni can access archives here and interesting comments here

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