The Magazine

The Communitarian

Amitai Etzioni on his life and times.

Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
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Similarly, I'm not sure whether Etzioni's criticism of President Carter ("he made every mistake in the political science textbooks and even invented some new ones") has much meaning, since Etzioni goes on to describe Carter as "our best ex-president." Actually Carter has been a terrible ex-president--a man who in 1991 wrote an open letter to Arab heads of state, urging them to oppose the forcible expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Carter warned them that an American-led counterattack would lead at once to massive rioting, and he predicted the war would cause untold numbers of casualties. Wrong, as usual.

ETZIONI'S "My Brother's Keeper" is marred by longueurs: extended lists of reviews of his books and his op-eds, for instance, all of which would have better fitted into some back-of-the-book appendices. On occasion the book reads like a database, and it lacks an index--which, in a memoir of mammoth proportions like Etzioni's, makes the book like a laptop without a user's manual.

Still, there's no denying that Amitai Etzioni has led a fascinating life, and his progress from Germany to Israel to the United States makes his intellectual autobiography an interesting study. If his communitarian ideas weren't entirely right, they weren't entirely wrong either, and he sold them with all the brio of a born entrepreneur and salesman. The success of that approach to the intellectual life--and the limits to its success--are all present in "My Brother's Keeper."

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for the Washington Times.