Ernst B. Haas

Ernst B. Haas was Robson Professor of Government Emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley.

The Semantics of Functionalism

Functionalists, in the specific sense of the term, are
interested in identifying those aspects of human
needs and desires that exist and clamor for attention
outside the realm of the political. They believe
in the possibility of specifying technical and “non~
controversial” aspects of governmental conduct, and
of weaving an ever~spreading web of international
institutional relationships on the basis of meeting
such needs. They would concentrate on commonly
experienced needs initially, expecting the circle of
the non~controversial to expand at the expense of
the political, as practical cooperation became coter-
minous with the totality of interstate relations. At
that point a true world community will have arisen.

The philosophical reasoning underlying this
program does not at the moment concern us. What
matters is the notion of function: it is, according to the
explicit intent of the Functionalist writers, equivalent
in meaning to “organizational task.” The function of
the Food and Agriculture Organization is to increase
agricultural productivity and the world food supply;
the function of the Universal Postal Union is to speed
the world’s mail; the function of the International
Labor Organization is to raise and equalize the living
standards of workers throughout the world.
Apparently, there are no half-hidden relationships to
systems and models, no intended or unintended con-
sequences: function means task. Functionalism, then,
becomes both an analytical tool for criticizing the
deplorable present and an ideological prescription for
ushering in a better future. The question next arises: Is
it possible to reformulate the sociologist’s notion of
functionaism, to strip it of its ambiguities, so that a

punfied version can then be applied to the study of
international institutions?

Certain awkward questions had best be faced at the
outset. Does not the Functionalist notion of function
also carry the connotation of cognitively perceived
need on the part of the actor, leading to the creation of
an organizational task designed to meet the need? If so,
cannot the implementation of the task carry with it
consequences not planned or intended by the actor,
which may then somehow transform both the organi-
zation and the actor’s initial perceptions? The task may
be carried out to fulfill the initial need, but once imple-
mented, it may create an entirely new situation, setting
up novel relationships affecting the total context in
which action takes place. In that event, has the notion
of function not been linked again, however involuni
tarily, to a system of some kind?

This complication may be illustrated by two state-
ments from the leading contemporary Functionalist
writer, David Mitrany: “The truth is that by its very
nature the constitutional approach [to world peace
and uniry] emphasizes the individual index of power;
the functional approach emphasizes the common
index of need.” 1 And again: “[The functional
approach] … should help shift the emphasis from
political issues which divide to those social issues in
which the interest of the peoples 1s plainly akin and
collective; to shift the emphasis from power to prob-
lem and purpose.” 2 Now “function” acquires the
meanings of need and purpose, in addition to task.
“Task” could be considered merely to imply the legal
mandate imposed on an organization, or the program
that exists in the minds of its officers and executives.
But “need” is a more general notion, a concept with
vague societal implications, and hence a concept that

Beyond the Na/Um-State, Chapter 1, Stanford Unive.rsity Press, 1964, pp. 3-25.


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inv< and prei the ratJ. poi clai tivt hm Na, of I ma gro me cla un def tio lo§ ser cil In ai Fu an fo, va cc pe of he Jn ed of ;o, it )r, 1i~ ay .e- ,g in m n- e- 1St ry :e ~r; ,n al m in ,d b- ,e k. al m :s. :h ,t relates the organization to its environment. If ''pur, pose" refers merely to the task as explicitly conceived by the executive of the organization, we have noter, minological or operational problem; but if it is thought to relate to the more general notion of need, the problem of operationalization does arise. Do we look for the impulse generating organizational action in the organization itself or in the environmental forces? As soon as some structured relationship between organization and environment is postulated, as soon as ''task" ceases to be some simple practical objective in the mind of a manager, we are faced with the notion of system. Whether we wish it or not, such an orientation involves us in political theory, the theory of analyzing and prescribing for the international society. This prescriptive intent is central to Functionalist theory: the Functionalists claim to possess a theoretical appa~ ratus capable of analyzing existing society and of pin- pointing the causes of its undesirable aspectsi they claim, further, to know the way in which a norma~ tively superior state of affairs can be created. Such, however, is not my theoretical intent. To quote Nadel, I am interested in functional theory as "a body of propositions (still interconnected) which serve to map out the problem area and thus prepare the ground for its empirical investigation by appropriate methods. More precisely, the propositions serve to classify phenomena, to analyze them into relevant units or indicate their interconnections, and to define 'rules of procedure' and 'schemes of interpreta~ tion.' 'Theory' here equals conceptual scheme or logical framework. 3 Thus armed, let us leave the semantic aspect and address ourselves to the recon~ ciliation of Functionalism and functionalism. International Functionalism as Reformist Ideology Functionalism has no single prophet, no scriptures, and no dogma. As an ideology seeking to reform the form and substance of international life it has had a variety of spokesmen since the 1870's. But far from constituting a coherent body of militants, these people are united only by a vague and shifting Haas Functionalism 247 syndrome of common attitudes and propositions: in fact, it is of the essence of to avoid rigidity and dogma. Those qualifying to be called Functionalist have been considered to include Paul S. Reinsch, Leonard Woolf, G. D. H. Cole, H. R. G. Greaves, Pitman Potter, Edgar Saveney, and a host of lesser-known writers preparing blueprints for the brave new world that was to arise at the end of World War II. The chief exponent of Functionalism, how- ever, is undoubtedly David Mitrany; yet it should be borne in mind that no one work of his contains the Functionalist gospel, but that the component parts are to be found scattered in books, articles, and speeches. Nor do all Functionalists agree on all points or maintain consistency in their emphases over a gen~ eration of writing. Aspects of the Functionalist argu~ ment singled out by me as crucial have not necessarily been so treated by all Functionalist writers. Yet when I was convinced that a proposition was imphcit in the Functionalist case, even though not necessarily given prominence by an author, I have felt free to incorpo- rate it in the mainstream of the argument. My summary will be as eclectic as the Functionalist approach, though not inaccurate, I trust. It will take up, in turn, the Functionalists' view of the human condition, their criticism of the nation~state in relation to individual fulfillment and international conflict, their theory of change, and their program of reform. Guild Socialism and Pluralism furnished the criteria for diagnosing the human condition. Man is by nature good, rational, and devoted to the common weal; when society is organized so as to bring out man's tendency to mobilize his energies for the general welfare, the forces of peace and harmony rule. This happy state of affairs is approximated whenever a maximum of authority is exercised by technicians and administrators dedicated to the common weal, working in close conjunction with the voluntary professional groups that form part of any modern industrial society. But, cautions Mitrany, "In all societies there are both harmonies and disharmonies. It is largely within our choice which we pick out and further .... We must begin anew, therefore, with a clear sense that the nations 248 Chapter ID International Integration can be bound together into a world community only if we link them up by what unites, not by what divides. '14 Disharmonies and conflict prevail in a society in which authority is exercised by politicians rather than technicians, by parliaments rather than voluntary groups. Power, instead of the common good, then determines policy, and irrational behavior follows. Like Saint-Simon and Lenin, the Functionalist would hold that the human condition will improve only when "the government of men" is replaced by "the administration of things"; but whereas the Liberal will assume merely a quantitative distinction between politics and administration and recognize their mutual dependencies, the Functionalist will insist on a rigorous qualitative difference. Politics is identified with the pursuit of power and with residual infantile behavior traits, and technical management with a mature mind and a healthy society. 5 Preaching the administration and construction of the common good is itself part of the therapy for a disharmonious soci- ety. This is all the more urgent because technological and industrial progress makes the attainment of the general welfare an immediately realizable goal. A healthy society would control the forces of progress for the benefit of mankind; a power-oriented society would let the opportunity escape. When men's loyal- ties are penned up within the territorial confines of the exclusivist nation-state, there is little hope of working for the general welfare. However, these loy- alties, once freed from the shackles of national inse- curity and allowed to identify with humanity at large, will achieve the true common good. This diagnosis brings into focus the distorting role of the modern state with respect to the possibil- ities of human fulfillment. Here again the Guild Socialist heritage of the Functionalist approach is manifest. Pre-industrial and pre-national primary occupational groups were the true focuses for human happiness because they afforded a sense of participa- tion in the solution of practical problems. The rise of the territorially bounded, omnicompetent national state changed all that. Group spontaneity was lost, the tendency of man to identify with his occupational colleague elsewhere was choked off, the search for national security became the focus of life in the state. Even the administration of general welfare measures, such as social security legislation, took place within the depersonalized context of the state structure. The unnatural state took the place of natural society, a fact that was merely codified by the rules of nineteenth-century international law. According to Mitrany, "Our social activities are cut off arbitrarily at the limit of the state and, if at all, are allowed to be linked to the same activities across the border only by means of uncertain and cramping political ligatures. "6 Lack of fulfillment, of course, is closely linked to the element of human and group creativity. For the Functionalist a cooperative national effort aiming only at the negative goal of security is uncreative. So is the minimal program of assuring law and order. True creativity must be tied to the positive goals identified with the modem service state, "an instru- ment of life and not merely an order. "7 The definition of new rights flowing from an expanding welfare concept is a creative task still possible to the state, provided it once again makes available to voluntary groups channels of creative participation. Hence the recurrence of the terms "work" and "working" in the Functionalist vocabulary. Creative work aims at a general good that normally tends to be obscured by centralization, power-drives, and uncreative preoccu- pation with force and national military security. As long as the state remains unreformed with respect to human fulfillment internally, its interna~ tional role will hardly be more reassuring. While the Functionalist is interested in peace, of course, he stresses the elements of creativity and work, of replacing the negatively political in international affairs with the positively functional: The task that is facing us is how to build up the reality of a common interest in peace .... Not a peace that would keep the nations quietly apart, but a peace that would bring them actively together; not the old static and strategi.c view of peace, but a social view of it . ... We must put our faith not in a protected but in a working peace; it would indeed be nothing more nor less than the idea and aspiration of social security taken in its widest range. This passage rains the ess the negative rive successo security, of 1 ences of pa1 tional attem It is so mud reintroducti tional group functioning cared to well agreement, t cal implicat peace-makin and foremos joint manag ment, comr dards, and p, not only of• but of remo· national ins1 But at ti sharply distil the "one wo1 on social am future interr nition that . are more rec domestic ha commonasi: unite them· same would conflict hea than an ind are merely t solutions th1 institutions exacerbated Internat ing the w, experts, tee association than powe agreement This passage from Mitrany bears rereading: it con- tains the essence of the Functionalist diagnosis of the negative existing order and the germ for its posi- tive successor. The peace of statesmen, of collective security, of disarmament negotiations, of confer- ences of parliamentarians, of sweeping constitu- tional attempts at federation, all this is uncreative. It is so much power instead of creative work. The reintroduction of man, united in natural occupa- tional groupings that ignore territorial boundaries, functioning through voluntary associations dedi- cated to welfare measures on which there is general agreement, this is the creative solution. The practi- cal implication, naturally enough, is that working peace-making efforts should address themselves first and foremost to economic and social reform: to the joint management of scarce resources, unemploy- ment, commodity price fluctuations, labor stan- dards, and public health. This would have the result not only of correcting the faults of existing society, but of removing economic causes of war and inter- national insecuirty. But at this point Functionalist thought must be sharply distinguished from simple internationalism of the "one world" variety. The Functionalists' emphasis on social and economic primacy in the elements of a future international order is combined with a recog- nition that group loyalty and national attachments are more real than vague international good will. If domestic harmony can be mobilized by engaging the common aspirations of men with respect to tasks that unite them-welfare rather than order-then the same would be true internationally. By tackling global conflict head-on, a direct political approach rather than an indirect welfare one, existing nationalisms are merely triggered into explosive action; in seeking solutions through political international gestures and institutions, man's remoteness from modern life is exacerbated. International conflict is best tamed by entrust- ing the work of increasing human welfare to experts, technical specialists, and their professional associations. Beirig interested in tasks rather than power, they can be expected to achieve agreement where statesmen will fail. They will be Haas Functionalism 249 unconcerned with "rightful" authorities and jurisdictions; rightful ends, proper functions to be performed, are their concern. Further, conflict is simply side stepped if the territorial principle of representation is abandoned. Tasks will be entrusted to agencies possessing functional jurisdic- tion, i.e. concerning themselves with a specific welfare task; they will be staffed by specialists free from territorial referents. A supreme political authority would be as impossible as it is unneces- sary. An ever-widening mesh of task-oriented welfare agencies would come to pre-empt the work now done by some governments, leading eventually to the creation of a universal welfare orientation. Since men in many nations already share certain welfare aims, this process could be set in motion without involving political sources of friction, thus sidestepping the still blazing national loyalties. "National problems would then appear, and would be treated, as what they are, the local segments of general problems. "8 Naturally, existing international organizations devoted to welfare measures could be used for this purpose. If they also feature the principle of func- tional representation, they become ideal candidates in the indirect approach to community-building. It is for this reason that the International Labour Organization is of particular importance in Functionalist thought. 9 And so, among nations as well as within each, conflict resolution and negative problems of law and order might eventually become no more than an aspect of politics, falling "to a subordinate place in the scheme of international things, while we would tum to what are the real tasks of our common society-the conquest of poverty and of disease and of ignorance." 10 The reform of the state and of interstate rela- tions in the direction of human welfare can bring with it a new type of world only if the Functionalist is able to indicate how the new world will supersede the old: if he has an explicit or implicit theory of change. To this problem we must now turn-not an easy subject for investigation, since.on this vital theoretical (rather than ideological) issue the Functionalist theses are somewhat vague. 250 Chapter 10 International Integration Put in the starkest and most abstract terms, the theory of change seems to be a purely systemic one. If the nations take full advantage of what, initially, are merely converging technical interests, eventually these interests will become fused. "In the end," wrote one early Functionalist, "the nations would find themselves federated, after a fashion, by the very force of things, " 11 This choice of words suggests an automatic process of change once the initial carving out of converging task contexts has taken place. Further, there is a dialectical quality to the automaticity. Since the Functionalist admits that national loyalties are too powerful to be over~ come merely by appealing to the symbols of One World, he also stresses that world government cannot come into existence until the sentiment of world community has come to flourish. Such a feel- ing, however, can evolve only gradually on the basis of joint tasks of equal interest to all. Thus, the thesis of national exclusiveness can be outflanked by the antithesis of creative work dedicated to welfare, yielding the eventual synthesis of world community. To cap off this conception it must be stressed that the Functionalist not only assumes an automatic and dialectical process of change, but puts his faith into action rather than advance planning of neces~ sary steps, action as creative endeavor and as an index of the degree to which the dialectic "force of things" has gotten the better of the status quo: "Promissory Covenants and Charters may remain a headstone to unfulfilled good intentions, but the functional way is action itself, and therefore an inescapable test of where we stand and how far we are willmg to go in building up a new international sociery."12 In other contexts, however, a more human notion of change emerges in the Functionalist literature, resulting in a doctrine of attitudinal reorientation on the basis of "learning." A necessary presupposition is the distinction between "technical" and "political" modes of thought. Change can be introduced by maximizing the responsibility of the expert and the manager: he is committed to performing his task for the benefit of all; conversely, he is indifferent to representing specific (power~infused?) interests. Functional agencies, suggests Mitrany, might be based on "equality in nonrepresentation."* The differentia~ tion seems to be the Rousseauan one between the General Will and the Will of All: the manager stands for the General Will, whereas the politician repre- sents merely the Will of All, i.e. the interests of his constituents, which are by definition selfish and therefore not necessarily geared to transforming the system. The General Will is strengthened by isolating an ever larger slice (Mitrany often refers to "layers of action and of peace") of technical matters, which will be administered so as to extend the range of the technical still further. Yet the problem remains: Do people "learn" to think in non~national terms merely because of a pattern of technical cooperation? This is indeed the central issue in the Functionalist theory of change. At first, it seems to be only the experts and managers who learn. They become habituated to consulting with their opposite n~mbers from other nations about technical problems, and eventually they come to see all problems from the perspective of mankind as a whole. Thus the answer to maximiz~ ing the learning process lies in extending the range of participation in practical problem~solving. In the end, others besides experts, managers, and civil servants will participate and undergo the same process, particularly by way of greatly increased work and responsibiliry on the part of international voluntary groups. Leaming becomes a species of group therapy. 13 The practical Functionalist program is implied in its theoretical position. Instead of attacking nation~ alism and sovereignty frontally, the Functionalist aims at solving these problems by simply ignoring *As quoted in Engle, p. 85. In private correspondence with me (1963 ), Mitrany seems to disassociate himself from this formulation. He now grants that central guidance would have to be given by a government, a provision that would obviate an ultimate clash between the political and the technical principles of action. He denies any affinity with the syndicalist strains of thought apparent in my summary of Functtonalism. them and rel, process for e defeating, th, institutions c service, admit by technical e participation job. The resul sentiment, fol thing Mitran~ ments." The n develop natun came to be fc agencies rathe 1 international professional an building blod We cannot in Functional pr reliance predo expectation of made up prima and the assum1 certain dynamh tution-buildine are at work-cc functionalist the Functionali: Two Case S In principle, an) of international material for it Functionalist id{ ideology to whi, many of these ca basis. Here our attempting a crit the growth of "l specific cases, see of experts and dir between power aspirations. A sui: them and relying on systemic forces and a learning process for eventually transcending, rather than defeating, the old order. An increasing number of institutions of global scope dedicated to social service, administered for the benefit of all, manned by technical experts, and supported by the voluntary participation of non-political groups would do the job. The result would be first a world community of sentiment, followed by a world government, some- thing Mitrany once called "federalism by install- ments." The necessary loyalties of sentiment would develop naturally as people's expectations gradually came to be focused on these new social welfare agencies rather than on the present nations. Existing international bodies consisting of like-minded professional and occupational groups provide logical building blocks for the new structure of society. We cannot improve on Engle's summary of the Functional program: "These three features-a reliance predominantly upon functional units, an expectation of an eventual system of government made up primarily of interlocking functional units, and the assumption that in functional cooperation certain dynamic behavioral mechanisms of an 'insti- tution-building' and a 'consensus-building' nature are at work-constitute, then, the ideal rype of the functionalist theory at the international level." 14 Functionalist Ideology And History: Two Case Studies In principle, any of the myriad "technical" activities of international organizations provide the case study material for investigating the validity of the Functionalist ideology. For the reformulation of this ideology to which we proceed in the next chapter, many of these cases did in fact furnish the historical basis. Here our purpose is more modest. Withou·t attempting a critique of the ideology we shall review the growth of "functional" preoccupations in two specific cases, seeking to highlight, first the rival roles of experts and diplomats, and, second, the distinction between power-infused and welfare-dominated aspirations. A superficial view of these cases may well Haas Functionalism 251 suggest that the Functional perspective is remarkably accurate, and the ideology firmly grounded in historical experience; a second view, however, shows that extensive reformulation is needed. Our first case deals with the growth of interna- tional measures for the control of contagious diseases, beginning with the pioneering health conferences of the nineteenth centuty and ending with establish- ment of the World Health Organization. What were the chief issues? All European governments seemed agreed that the Moslem pilgrim traffic was responsible for the recurrent plague and cholera epidemics that threatened the world but here agreement ended. The medical profession was divided into two major schools of thought: those who held that these diseases were spread by contagion, and those who felt that they orig- inated in unsanitary atmospheric, housing, sewerage, and food conditions. The profession was further divided in its evaluation of the effectiveness of quar- antine, with the environmentalists generally arguing that the isolation of patients and infected vessels was of no avail. Finally, there was dispute on where cholera in particular, originated. Most medical people were convinced that it was in Bengal, but British physicians tended to deny this. Let us note two salient features: the experts were sharply divided on the tech- nical issues involved, and the respective technical positions that they embraced corresponded srrikingly with the political positions espoused by their govern- ments. All the major maritime nations, notably Britain, defended the environmentalist position, ridiculed quarantine, and continually stressed the hardships that international quarantine regulations would impose on commerce and shipping! Britain refused to initiate quarantine measure to isolate Mecca-bound pilgrims in the Egyptian facilities over which she assumed control after 1881.15 Tutkey denied that environmental condition in territories under her sway contributed to disease conditions. Persia denied the efficacy of quarantines. The British medical profession even opposed the creation of an expert commission to study the diffusion of epidemics. Between 1850 and 1903 no less than nine inter- national conferences were convened to arrive at common measures to deal with these diseases. They 252 Chapter 10 International Integration were attended by national delegations composed either entirely of medical men or of, medical men assisted by lay delegates. Although the lay delegates made constant efforts to persuade the medical men to compromise the rival views of contagionists and environmentalists, progress was very slow. Some headway was made after several severe outbreaks of cholera and plague during the half-century, but until the 1890's the conventions for quarantines, ship inspections, bills of health, and expert studies were so poorly ratified and implemented by the partici- pating states that even so "non-controversial" a field as public health showed all the marks of major polit- ical conflict. Apparently it was the severe epidemics of 1893 and 1897 that eventually brought ;uccess. By joining the two rival medical views, the major maritime powers were able to come to terms: they agreed to reinstitute quarantines, disinfect ships, impose standardized inspection of vessels, and notify all other governments …

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