[New Perspectives on International Functionalism]

By Pentland, Charles; Long, David et al. | International Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
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[New Perspectives on International Functionalism]


Pentland, Charles, Long, David, Ashworth, Lucian M., International Journal


Among approaches to international politics, functionalism has a venerable pedigree. Several of the authors in this fine collection trace its intellectual roots to ideas about international reform carried forward from the Enlightenment by British liberals, French technocrats, and German idealists. Paradoxically, its good genes have not always ensured it the impact on world affairs sought by its advocates. Chief among them was David Mitrany, on whom the book really focuses. As a scholar and commentator on world politics, Mitrany was active from before World War I until his death in 1975. In the interwar years he pressed the League of Nations to pay more attention to the social and economic underpinnings of the peace, but was ignored until it was too late. His ideas for the post-1945 order, brilliantly promoted to the British government in his renowned A Working Peace System, had limited effect. Revived yet again as part of the theoretical frenzy surrounding the early phases of European integration, functionalism had its central ideas cherry-picked by empirically minded political scientists who relegated it to the shadowy status of a pre-theory.

The first three contributions examine various facets of this history. In their introduction, the editors sketch the broad lines of the functional approach. They criticize Inis Claude's realist dissection of its theoretical assumptions and Ernst Haas' appropriation of it as a theory of regional integration despite Mitrany's reservations about both theory and regionalism. Justin Coopers chapter then places functionalism in the liberal-institutional tradition of international theory, stressing the strengths and weaknesses deriving from its association with scientific and technological progress. John Eastby pushes the Enlightenment theme further, particularly in playing functionalism against neo-Hegelian ideas about modernity and the 'end of history.'

The remaining chapters deal with various facets of functionalism in two different ways. First, on issues that engaged Mitrany directly and which are still with us, the authors invite us to revisit his work. Luke Ashworth explores Mitrany's extensive and oft-forgotten early writings on nationalism, in light of the long and tortuous relationship between liberalism and ethnicity. Craig Murphy's rich contribution explores organization theory, democracy, and the limits of functionalism faced with structural conflict, tracing parallels with the ideas of his interwar contemporary, Mary Parker Follett.

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