By Will Banyan (Copyright © March 2005)

Defining Functionalism

In the dense academic language employed in the International Relations departments of most universities, “functionalism” refers to that policy of shifting responsibility for resolving various problems from the nation-state to international bodies “indirectly, by stealth.”[1] According to one key academic International Relations textbook, under functionalism “the role of governments is to be progressively reduced by indirect methods, and integration is to be encouraged by a variety of functionally based, cross-national ties.”[2] As international mechanisms expand in scope and authority, “the role of the nation-state would diminish and the prospects for world government [would] become more real”[3] The functionalist approach, quite simply, seeks to undermine the nation-state and build world government, not through a frontal assault but by outflanking it.

Readers of populist accounts of the New World Order would be more familiar with Richard N. Gardner’s formulation of functionalism presented in his article “The Hard Road to World Order” published in the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) journal, Foreign Affairs in 1974. In his contribution to the “quest for a world structure that secures peace, advances human rights and provides conditions for economic progress”,[4] Gardner had endorsed an “end run around national sovereignty, eroding it piece by piece…”[5] This “functional approach to world order”,[6] Gardner explained, would involve “inventing or adapting institutions of limited jurisdiction and selected membership to deal with specific problems on a case-by-case basis…”[7]

The impact of Gardner’s article on New World Order researchers is not to be underestimated; it is probably the most widely cited Foreign Affairs article in the genre, with many researchers crediting Gardner as the sole architect of that strategy. Dr. Steve Bonta, for example, the Executive Director of the Robert Welch University and a regular contributor to the John Birch Society’s periodical, The New American, declared in 2004 that Gardner was obviously “one of the most influential men alive” and the “intellectual godfather of the modern new world order.” That Gardner’s “program for world order” was still being followed three decades later, argued Bonta in a direct reference to Gardner’s 1974 article, was “testament to his cunning as a global strategist.”[8]

What is not widely known, though, is that not only was Gardner but one of many Establishment voices advocating this strategy in the 1970s; it was not even Gardner’s idea. The essential characteristics of the functionalist approach had actually been devised in some detail in the 1930s and 1940s by a Rumanian-born academic David Mitrany. His proposals had already been published in the 1940s by the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA), the British counterpart to the CFR. In this article I propose to explore the genesis and evolution of the functionalist approach from its original formulation by Mitrany; the cultivation of Mitrany and his functionalist concept by the liberal-internationalist faction of the Anglo-American power-elite; the revival of functionalism in the 1970s; and finally, if only very briefly, how its implementation has built what many observers now call “global governance.”

The Chief Architect: David Mitrany (1888-1975)

Although hailed as the “chief architect” of functionalism by his admirers,[9] Mitrany’s background is inauspicious. Born in Bucharest, Rumania on 1 January 1888, Mitrany does not appear to have come from any privileged bloodlines; in fact as a Jew, opportunities for advancement in the educational and professional fields were restricted. It was in seeking to escape those limitations that in 1908 Mitrany had travelled to Germany to work and study. In 1912 he moved to London and enrolled at the London School of Economics (LSE) where he studied sociology and economics until the outbreak of the First World War. During the war Mitrany did what he describes as “intelligence work relating to South-Eastern Europe for both the British Foreign Office and War Office.” Though exactly what that “intelligence work” entailed, Mitrany, not surprisingly, has neglected to explain in his rather brief “Memoir”.[10]

The seeds of the functionalist concept were planted during his years in Britain, first at the LSE by his most primary teachers Leonard T. Hobhouse (1864-1929) and Graham Wallas (1858-1932). This is confirmed by Mitrany’s short “Memoir” on the origins of the functionalist idea, where he explicitly identifies his instruction from Hobhouse and Wallas on sociology and political science as crucial to the development of functionalism:

Without a doubt the first light towards a “functional” outlook on things social and political came from my two teachers at the London School of Economics, in its early days, when it was small but intensely alive, and truly free intellectually.[11]

In particular Mitrany credited Hobhouse with introducing him to the idea one should treat “politics as a science” and strive to uncover “the relation of things” rather than make predictions. This concept, according to Mitrany, was “in a way the central philosophical idea behind the whole functional theory.”[12]

Further inspiration was to come during the First World War when Mitrany became an “active member” of the British League of Nations Society,[13] an organisation founded in 1915, according to one of its leading members, as a “propaganda body” for the express purpose of convincing the British public of “the necessity for a League [of Nations] and for its establishment in the peace treaty after the war.”[14] Mitrany joined its group of five lecturers who visited towns throughout Britain on a rotating basis to speak for the Society. As the token Eastern European, Mitrany’s topic was usually “Small States and a League of Nations.” Reflecting on his role years later, Mitrany suggested it showed his “plain concern”, even then for “the effective working of an international system.”[15]

It also brought him into the orbit of Leonard S. Woolf (1880-1969), one of the Society’s co-founders, as well as a Fabian Society member and scholar, and author of the influential Fabian Society tract International Government (1916). In that tract and some other pamphlets he had written for the Fabian Society, Woolf had endorsed the creation of an “international authority to prevent war”, that would be based on the merging of the existing “internationalisation of administration” in crime, communications, industry and commerce.[16] These contacts were extended when in 1918 Mitrany was “invited” (most likely by Woolf) to the join the Labour Party’s Advisory Committee on International Questions. Mitrany notes that Woolf, who was Committee Secretary from 1918 to 1945, was among its “regular members.” Mitrany resigned from the Committee in 1931 when it became compulsory to be a Labour Party member.[17]

Given their close proximity over at least fifteen years, it is assumed by many analysts that Woolf influenced Mitrany’s functionalist concept to no small degree. Peter Wilson, for example, argues that it was Woolf who was clearly “a pioneer of international functionalism” and suggests that in constructing his functionalist theory Mitrany “drew on Woolf’s ideas on international government, perhaps more than he himself realised.” Wilson suggests their “close working relationship” in the League of Nations of Society and the Labour Party Advisory Committee on International Questions, would have given Mitrany an “in-depth knowledge of Woolf’s ideas”, many of which were “strongly functionalist in flavour.” According to Wilson, Woolf was “the first thinker to show how a functionalist type analysis could be applied to international relations”; he provided “the skeleton of functional theory.”[18]

There is some truth to these claims, though it ought to be remembered that even Woolf’s tract had non-Fabian origins. When putting together International Government, Woolf apparently did not refer to any of the few Fabian works on international relations. In his own memoir, Woolf would recall that there were “only two books of any use”, one was the Yearbook of L’Union des Associations Internationales, the other was Public International Unions (1911) by an American academic, Paul Reinsch.[19] According to Dubin, it was Reinsch “a University of Wisconsin political scientist who, between 1907 and 1911, anticipated the core of Mitrany’s thesis.”[20] Mitrany, however, would go beyond the basic outlines of Reinsch, Woolf and Hobhouse to construct something more enduring.

The next steps in Mitrany’s functionalist odyssey took him onto the editorial staff of the Manchester Guardian from 1919 to 1922. When his time finished there an apparently chance meeting with American academic James T. Shotwell, led to Mitrany’s employment as Assistant European Editor of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s (CEIP) Economic and Social History of the First World War. Mitrany would later credit the Carnegie study, which he worked on until its completion in 1929, with revealing to him how the functions of government could shape its actual structure.[21]

Additional inspiration came during the 1930s when in 1933 he joined the Institute for Advance Studies (IAS) at Princeton, a body established and run by Dr. Abraham Flexner, a leading figure at the Rockefeller Foundation who had spent much of his career as an advisor to John D. Rockefeller Senior. Mitrany would have preferred to devote his studies at the IAS to international issues; however, Flexner reportedly took a strong dislike to the Rumanian scholar and insisted he focus on domestic politics. Mitrany thus found himself studying the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Yet, the TVA, which had emerged to address a specific function – water control – across seven states, merely reinforced Mitrany’s functionalist idea. The TVA, noted Mitrany, boasted one important innovation, although it had not formally changed the US Constitution it had actually transformed it by increasing Washington DC’s powers at the expense of the states. But this had happened without much public protest; in fact the American people had accepted the new state of affairs because they needed the service.[22] Not surprisingly Mitrany thought this strategy could and should be applied globally.

Mitrany’s first public expression of his new “functionalist” idea was in a lecture he gave in 1932 at Yale University, on “The Communal Organization of World Affairs.” After reviewing all the other models for world order, including world government, and finding them wanting Mitrany had argued that one of the main obstacles in the quest for a “world society” was the “pagan worship of political frontiers.” To overcome this he proposed to “dissect” the “tasks and relevant authority” of government on “functional lines.”[23] Only the “[f]unctional integration of material activities on an international scale and cultural devolution on a regional basis”, he argued, offered the “most hopeful way out of international anarchy.”[24] The four lectures he gave at Yale were later published as The Progress of International Government (1933).

At the outbreak of World War Two, Mitrany was back in Britain working for the British Foreign Office in an academic intelligence unit called the Foreign Research and Press Service. Although under the day-to-day direction of Chatham House, this unit’s actual role was to contribute to the Foreign Office’s war and peacetime planning.[25] Mitrany contributed a number of papers, including one in January 1941 titled Territorial, Ideological, or Functional International Organisation? However, Mitrany ruefully recalled, the Foreign Office was “polite, but not interested.”[26]

“A Working Peace System” (1943)

Frustrated with the Foreign Office’s rejection of his ideas, Mitrany had resigned in 1942 and returned to Chatham House to expand upon his ideas in the pamphlet The Working Peace System (1943). This would prove to be his seminal work on functionalism. In it Mitrany claimed there were only two approaches to eliminating the political divisions which caused conflict:

One would be through a world state which would wipe out political divisions forcibly; the other…would rather overlay political divisions with a spreading web of international activities and agencies, in which and through…all nations would be gradually integrated.[27]

Mitrany, of course, argued for the “spreading web”, rejecting out of hand proposals for “continental and ideological unions”, such as the proposed Pan-American and Pan-European unions, as little more than “rationalised nationalism.”[28] There was “little promise of peace”, he charged, “in the mere change from the rivalry of Powers and alliances to the rivalry of whole continents.”[29] Instead the only hope was to “make changes of frontiers unnecessary by making frontiers meaningless through the continuous development of common activities and interests across them.”[30] The “functional approach” would make “frontier lines meaningless by overlaying them with a natural growth of common activities and common administrative agencies.”[31]

Mitrany also made it clear that he did not envisage a world permanently ruled by an uncoordinated mass of international agencies but held out the possibility of “some of them or all being bound together in some way.” To this end Mitrany suggested a four-stage plan to reach this goal:

  • First, there would be coordination within the same group of functional agencies, such as those dealing the road, rail and sea transport.
  • Second, several groups of functional agencies would be coordinated.
  • Third, the functional agencies would then collaborate with certain international planning agencies. Mitrany envisaged two such agencies: an International Investments Board and an International Development Commission.
  • Finally, the fourth stage, would involve creation of an overall political authority, although not quite a world government, it would be something like the League of Nations Assembly or the International Labour Organization Governing Body, though with few actual powers.[32]

In Mitrany’s prescriptions we find a very careful and perceptive pragmatism. There was, he wrote, “no prospect that under a democratic order we could induce the individual states to accept a permanent limitation of their economic sovereignty by an international authority, operating over the whole field…” even in the midst of or in the immediate aftermath of a major war. Yet nations may be “found willing…to transfer part of that sovereignty to international executive agencies entrusted with specific and carefully defined activities.”[33] What he offered, he admitted, was a “spiritless solution”,[34] one that was not wrapped up in the emotions and ideologies engendered by the more overt schemes for international order, such as the push for world federalism. But what it did offer was the potential “creation now of the elements of an active international society.”[35]

The functionalist premise was simple, yet deceptively dangerous to the concept of democracy. In response to a succession of narrowly defined needs, the public would unwittingly give its consent to the erosion of national sovereignty and a weakening of the bond (such as it was) between it and government. Mitrany’s scheme, for all its idealism about building world peace, was also a recipe for a creeping global dictatorship. When applied international bodies would assume more responsibilities and thus greater authority, while national, state, provincial and local political organisations would see their autonomy eroded, their power and their public responsiveness and accountability curtailed by a growing network of supranational organisations.

The Post-War Years (1948-1967)

Despite Mitrany’s strident efforts, functionalism remained on the sidelines of world order thinking during the post-war years as the United Nations took centre stage and the nuclear arms race generated a mass movement in favour of world government.[36] Mitrany also had to contend with an eruption of nationalism as the European nations, many of them weakened by the war, dispensed with their empires.

Speaking at Chatham House in 1948 to a distinguished audience which included Lionel Curtis – a Round Table member and co-founder of the RIIA and CFR – Mitrany appeared to lament the appearance of new states, seeing the “danger of regression” into “social nationalism or national socialism” in those areas pushing for independence from their former imperial masters.[37] This new wave of the “idea of national self-government”, he argued, was actually undermining the “unity” emerging from the “modern division of labour” that had tended to “weld peoples and countries together.” These were conditions, he noted, in which “international house-building must start.”[38]

Mitrany maintained his pitch for functionalism while rejecting regional federation as “an argument for new nationalism not for a new internationalism.”[39] The functional approach, he explained, “is not a matter of surrendering sovereignty, but merely of pooling so much of it as may be needed for the joint performance of a particular task.” Yet, he acknowledged this mere “pooling” would in time go further, especially if national governments let these international organisations succeed and grow in number, to the point that “world government will gradually evolve.”[40]

Taking questions afterward, Mitrany had assured the audience that with regard to his functionalist proposal “the ultimate goal was federation.” There was at that time, though, “no prospect” of achieving that world federation, but through functionalism countries would “lose their hesitation about international arrangements” and world federation would in effect be developed in “instalments.”[41]

During this lengthy period in the wilderness Mitrany also took up a role on the board of the multinational corporation Unilever, working as a close adviser to its chairman Paul Rykens from 1944 through to 1960. As Ambrosi points out, Rykens was a co-founder and “prime mover of the Bilderberg Group”, who reportedly had the ear of its founder Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.[42] Ambrosi suggests that Mitrany’s functionalism would have probably inspired Rykens and his Bilderberg cohorts to pursue the creation of the European Union by linking the countries through economic means first.[43] Given Mitrany’s documented distaste for regional federations this would be an ironic outcome, and probably accounts for his silence on the issue.

In 1967 Mitrany embarked upon a three-month tour of US universities with the purpose of promoting functionalism. Who funded this endeavour, and which universities he visited is unclear, but this venture marked the beginnings of a revival of functionalism. The key moment, though, arguably occurred towards the end of 1969.

The Functionalist Revival: The Bellagio Conference (1969)

Consult any travel guide to Italy and look up Bellagio, located on the banks of Lake Como in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, and one is overwhelmed with superlatives. “The prettiest town in Italy”, according to Frommers; “an impossibly enchanting location”, gushes; and “one of the most beautiful places on the planet”, asserts Luxury Link. So spectacular was the location that director George Lucas used it for some scenes in Episode II of Star Wars. It is also the location of Villa Serbelloni, better known as the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Centre. Bequeathed to the Foundation in 1959 by American expatriate Ella Holbrook Walker to promote “international understanding”, Villa Sorbelloni is an estate comprising eight buildings dating from 17th to 19th centuries, set amongst 50 acres of gardens.

This facility offers both short-term residencies to individual scholars and a venue for all manner of international conferences. According to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 1999 Annual Report, the Centre had paid host, over its 40 years, to some 2,700 residents and 19,000 conference delegates from over 80 countries. Some of those conferences have contributed to the cause of global political and economic integration. In June 1965, for example, it paid host to a conference on “Conditions of World Order” (see Daedalus Summer 1995). While its alumni of residents includes David Ray Griffin, a Professor of Theology and author of numerous books disputing the official version of what happened on 9/11, including The New Pearl Harbour. Griffin admits to having being a resident there for five weeks in 1992, during which time he “first developed the conviction that if the world’s global problems are to be solved, we need to move from the present global structure–technically known as global anarchy–to global democracy.”[44]

In November 1969 Bellagio was host to a conference on “Functionalism”. The purpose of that conference was explained in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Report for 1968-1970:

After a period of some neglect, international organization scholars have begun to re-examine the functionalist theories developed by Dr. David Mitrany several decades ago…In an effort to redefine and reassess functionalism and the functionalist approach and to take advantage of Dr. Mitrany’s recent efforts to revise and update his original ideas, a conference was sponsored at Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy in November 1969 by the Endowment and the Institute for the Study of International Organization of the University of Sussex. Sixteen scholars from the United States and Europe attended the conference and a conference report was distributed by the Endowment in 1970.[45]

It is important to keep in mind the stated purpose of the conference: “to redefine and reassess functionalism and the functionalist approach.” Coming after a “period of some neglect” the objectives of the conference in breathing new life into the functionalist concept could not be any clearer. This would have been more than amply facilitated by the sixteen individuals who attended a group comprised mostly of academics with a couple of bureaucrats. The identities and affiliations are outlined below:

Attendees – Bellagio Conference on Functionalism, 20-24 November 1969

  • Dr. David Mitrany.
  • Professor Inis L. Claude, Jr – University of Virginia.
  • Professor Harold K. Jacobson – University of Michigan; CFR.
  • John Groom – University College London.
  • Paul Taylor – London School of Economics and Political Science.
  • Professor Leon N. Lindberg – University of Wisconsin.
  • Robert Rhodes James – Institute for the Study of International Organisation, University of Sussex.
  • Professor Marcos Kaplan – Escuela Latinoamericana de ciencia politica y administracion publica, FLASCO.
  • Edward Miles – University of Denver; recipient of Ford Foundation and CEIP grants.
  • Professor Joseph S. Nye – Program Director, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University (in 1968 he was visiting professor at the CEIP’s educational institute in Geneva).
  • Professor James P. Sewell – Yale University.
  • Richard Symons – UNITAR (Geneva).
  • Sir Geoffrey M. Wilson – Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Development (Britain).
  • Dr Gerda Zellentin – University of Cologne.
  • M. Jean Siotis – CEIP (Geneva).
  • Anne Winslow – CEIP (New York).

The deliberations of this trans-Atlantic group of academics and bureaucrats was put together in a single document by the rapporteurs, Groom and Taylor, and published by the CEIP as: Functionalism: final report of the conference, Bellagio, 20-24 November 1969.[46] One of the oddities of this report is how hard it is to obtain. Few libraries save for the Library of Congress have it; even the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace library in Washington DC does not have its own copy![47]

Only Mitrany’s address to the conference appears to have been published elsewhere – in Chatham House’s journal International Affairs – and from this we can gain some insights into the revival of functionalism. Prime among Mitrany’s concerns was the need for the world to bring under “common control” a combined “political upheaval, social surge and a scientific eruption.”[48] There was a need for a flexible “scheme for a new international order” to deal with the “permanent revolution” then underway.[49] If anything the world had a reached a crucial point of decision:

The immediate issue is nothing less than the breaking away from a concept and practice which since the end of the Middle Ages has been inculcated as an ideal, the near worship of the national-territorial state…We are standing at a crossroads, but do not know what kind of world we are reaching for…It is beyond us, who live in the turmoil of the transition, to grasp how great an historical turning-point ours may prove to be…[50]

Of course, the only method Mitrany approved of to meet this dilemma was functionalism which “in essence means…a direct attack on problems, mutual problems, as such; in the process building up, sector by sector, effective positive rules of international government…”[51] Mitrany noted that with issues such as nuclear power and space exploration “there is no alternative to mutual functional arrangements for these most controversial and most fateful international issues.”[52] He stressed the need to create a “peaceful international community” through a gradual process of bringing under joint control those activities “which concern the essential needs of the people at large.”[53] Otherwise, he warned, “We will go on acting the pretences of old political ideas until some calamity blasts them out of the scheme of human organisation altogether.”[54]

Taking the “Hard Road to World Order” (1973-1976)

For Mitrany and his admirers, the Bellagio conference stands as a pivotal moment in the evolution of the functionalist idea. In the preface to The Functional Theory of Politics (1975), published shortly before his death, Mitrany was full of thanks to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for sponsoring the conference.[55] While Anderson presents the “outstanding conference of academics” at Bellagio, as the culmination of the wave of interest generated by Mitrany’s university speaking tour.[56] Despite its obscurity, the conference was pivotal in elevating functionalism from the fringe to the centre of Establishment world order thinking as the liberal internationalist faction abandoned the direct approach to global unity.

The functionalist approach was endorsed in a number of Establishment forums and publications. The aforementioned Richard Gardner, for instance, had embraced the idea in a paper he presented at the Pacem in Terris III convocation held in Washington DC in October 1973 by the Center for Study of Democratic Institutions (CDSI). A slightly revised version of that paper was later published in Foreign Affairs. Other key public advocates included Lester R. Brown, a scholar with the Rockefeller-funded Overseas Development Council; Maurice Strong, a millionaire environmentalist and senior UN official; and some of the participants at the Bellagio conference including Inis Claude Jr and Joseph Nye. Even some leading Establishment figures who had not attended the conference also got in on the act.

This new generation of functionalists presented a number of common themes. Like Mitrany they rejected the other more direct approaches to world order, including the UN. Gardner, for instance, declared at Pacem in Terris III that plans for “instant world government” through world federalism, revising the UN Charter and “world peace through world law” were now “bankrupt of possibilities.”[57] Indeed, given the current state of affairs where the UN’s member nations “pay lip service to the organisation while…pursuing their interests at its expense”, thereby contributing to its “creeping irrelevance” such plans carried “little credibility.”[58] In his bestselling book, World Without Borders (1973), Lester Brown was just as equivocal, noting how the UN had “not lived up to its expectations” as it had been “hobbled” by the Cold War.[59] Establishment éminence grise David Rockefeller, also dismissed the United Nations as unworkable, arguing it had “largely reduced itself to a forum for the expression and promotion of narrow national or bloc interests rather than the broad human interests its charter proclaims.”[60]

The solution, of course, lay in what Gardner described in Foreign Affairs as the:

much more decentralized, disorderly and pragmatic process of inventing or adapting institutions of limited jurisdiction and selected membership to deal with specific problems on a case by case basis, as the necessity for cooperation is perceived by the relevant nations…

To this end Brown had endorsed creating new international institutions, devoted to specific problems such as an “international oceanic regime”, a “World Environment Agency” and a “National-Corporate Authority”, to overcome the reluctance of many nations to sacrifice their sovereignty.[61] In Foreign Affairs, Gardner had argued that a “structure of peace” required “strengthened international institutions at the global and regional levels…”[62] Earlier, in July 1973, Maurice Strong Executive Director of the U.N. Environment Program had written in Foreign Affairs of the “need to develop at the national and international levels the kinds of structures and institutions needed for societal management.”[63]

Evidence that Gardner was merely appropriating Mitrany’s concept can be seen not only in the obvious similarity between their recommendations, but in the language used. At Pacem In Terris III, Gardner stressed that no matter how the international arrangements were made “the main thing is that the essential functions be performed.”[64] One of the panellists, Elizabeth Mann Borgese, then a Senior Fellow at the CSDI, explicitly linked that phrase and Gardner’s proposal to the “functionalist” approach.[65] Subsequently in Foreign Affairs, Gardner again made reference to “essential functions”, but also to “functional problems”, “functional and regional commissions,” the “functional approach,” and more explicitly, he described his proposal as the “functional approach to world order.”[66] In using these words Gardner was acknowledging that there was nothing original about his proposal.

Somewhat more blatant was the Trilateral Commission’s Triangle Paper No.11, The Reform of International Institutions (1976), which argued “functionally specific international organisations” were a more successful means of binding nations together than multi-purpose international organizations.[67] Another Trilateral Commission report, Triangle Paper No.14, Towards a Renovated International System (1976), was even more explicit in recommending “piecemeal functionalism”, in which issues were to be dealt with separately, an approach that delivered “more durable” solutions “faster.”[68]

The otherwise unknown Bellagio Conference can be judged a success on those grounds alone. After languishing for some thirty years the concept of “functionalism” had entered the lexicon of the Establishment as a definite strategy of world order. Mitrany’s years of patiently pursuing his policies, and above all his stated willingness, as a “matter of principle”, not to tie himself “to any political party or ideological group” and to instead “work with any and all of them for international peace”[69] had finally paid off. Mitrany’s pragmatism in service of this objective had been uncompromising and had seen him consort with Fabian socialists, write pamphlets for Chatham House, and work as an Advisor on International Affairs to the board of multi-national corporation Unilever for 19 years. At the same time his unwillingness to be tied to any political group remained strong, thus he refused to join the British Labour Party when it became compulsory for members of its advisory committees, he never joined the Fabian Society, and even rejected membership of the Freemasons, even though his “respected friend, Lucien Wolf” was ready to “open the door to their Authors’ Lodge” for Mitrany.[70] But this was all in accord with Mitrany’s conviction, as he told his friend Felix Frankfurter[71] in a letter in May 1925 to “see some development in the organization of peace” and his admission that he cared “little how it is done and by whom it is done as long as it takes us to that end.”[72]

From Functionalism to Global Governance

Mitrany died in 1975, his dreams of seeing a “working peace system” in his lifetime unfulfilled. Yet, with so many groups promoting functionalism there could be no doubt the period of “neglect” of his ideas had truly ended and that functionalism had taken on a life of its own. So much so that, ironically, the word “functionalism” has again retreated to background, now mentioned only in International Relations textbooks in universities. But functionalism has persisted and if we consider developments in contemporary international politics over the past twenty years it is perhaps pertinent to consider that we are still being shepherded towards the fourth stage of Mitrany’s original plan, the creation of an overall political authority to organise the functional agencies. The most obvious manifestation of this fourth stage was the flurry of talk over the past decade about the new phenomenon of “global governance” and the need to transform the UN and existing international institutions so they could integrate with these newer bodies and networks.

This becomes apparent once we consider the definitions of global governance employed by its advocates over the years. The Commission on Global Governance, for example, in its 1995 study Our Global Neighbourhood sought to define the concept as follows:

At the global level, governance has always been viewed primarily as intergovernmental relationships, but it must now be understood as also involving non-government organizations (NGOs), citizen’s movements, multinational corporations, and the global capital market. Interacting with these are the global mass media of dramatically enlarged influence…Nation-states must adjust to the appearance of all these forces and take advantage of their capabilities.[73]

If anything a common theme of the definitions of global governance is that the world is now captured by a plethora of functional arrangements. In a paper prepared by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, for the UN Panel on UN-Civil Society, for instance, it was asserted the “contemporary global order is increasingly the outcome of multiple, interlocking patterns of transnational interaction shaped by both state and non-state actors.”[74] Writing in the OECD Observer, Professor Walter Clemens from Boston University explored the future scenario of “global governance without world government” in the following terms:

The transnational civil society develops across many countries and regions…There is no world government by a supranational authority. National governments remain, but they share power with a medley of non-governmental agencies – business and labour groups as well as nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Together they form expanding networks of institutions designed to meet a wide range of human needs.

National governments confer among themselves and with responsible specialists from international and transnational agencies. This is functionalism writ large – decision-making informed and managed by experts, mediated and supervised by representatives of elected governments…[75]

In short, too many international activities, it seems, are now subject to the rulings, pressures and even interference of various functional bodies and transnational actors. In Our Global Neighbourhood it is claimed there is at present “no single model or form of governance” but a “broad, dynamic, complex process of interactive decision-making that is constantly evolving and responding to changing circumstances.” “Effective global decision-making” to “build upon and influence decisions taken locally, regionally and nationally” would need to “build partnerships – networks of institutions and processes – that enable global actors to…develop joint policies and practices of common concern.”[76]

The recommendations of the global governance proponents repeat the same evasions as employed by the functionalists. Thus the CGG report on the one hand insists their argument that national governments would not “bear the whole burden of global governance”, but would have share it with “actors who have the power to achieve results”, “does not imply…world government or world federalism.”[77] But on the other hand, they admit that countries must now “accept that in certain fields sovereignty has to be exercised collectively, particularly in respect to the global commons.”[78]

It seems that this supposedly entirely natural process in which a profusion of international agencies, NGOs and other transnational bodies has appeared to weaken the nation-state requires a solution. The shape of that solution is represented in calls for a greatly strengthened and expanded United Nations and new international organisations. Our Global Neighbourhood thus recommends: strengthening the ability of the UN to intervene military, including establishment of a “UN Volunteer Force”; creating an “Economic Security Council” to provide high level international guidance on economic matters; forming a “Global Competition Office” to provide “oversight of national enforcement efforts”; strengthening the power of the World Court; and establishing an International Criminal Court.[79] Finally, and recalling that Our Global Neighbourhood was published in 1995; the report looked forward to the UN’s then imminent fiftieth anniversary and declared:

The ultimate process has to be intergovernmental and at a high level, giving political imprimatur to a new world order whose contours are shaped to the designs developed for the anniversary year.[80]

In sum David Mitrany’s contribution to the New World Order is there for all too see. In fact, it can be safely said – with apologies to Dr Bonta – that Mitrany was the intellectual godfather of the modern New World Order. The fact that Mitrany’s program for a “working peace system” is still being followed some sixty years later is an indisputable testament to his cunning as a global strategist. We ignore Mitrany’s program at our peril.


[1] Robert W. Cox, “On Thinking About Future World Order,” World Politics, January 1976, p.188.

[2] A.J.R. Groom & Paul Taylor, ed.s, Functionalism: Theory and Practice in International Relations, (University of London Press, 1975), p.2.

[3] Cox, “Future World Order”, p.188.

[4] Richard N. Gardner, “The Hard Road to World Order”, Foreign Affairs, April 1974, p.556.

[5] ibid, p.558.

[6] ibid, p.573.

[7] ibid, p.558.

[8] Steve Bonta, “New World Order Strategist,” The New American, 3 May 2004, p.17.

[9] Groom & Taylor, Functionalism, p.1.

[10] David Mitrany, “The Making of the Functional Theory: A Memoir”, in David Mitrany, The Functional Theory of Politics, (London School of Economics & Political Science, 1975), p.6.

[11] ibid, p.16.

[12] ibid, p.17.

[13] ibid, p.6.

[14] Leonard Woolf, Beginning Again: An Autobiography of the Years 1911-1918, (Hogarth Press, 1965), p.191.

[15] Mitrany, “Memoir”, p.6.

[16] Martin Dubin, “Transgovernmental Processes in the League of Nations”, International Organization, Summer 1983, p.470.

[17] ibid, pp.8, 49 endnote 8.

[18] Peter Wilson, “Leonard Woolf and International Government”, in David Long & Peter Wilson, eds, Thinkers of the Twenty Years’ Crisis, (Clarendon Press, 1995), p.141.

[19] Woolf, Beginning Again, p.187.

[20] Dubin, “Transgovernmental Processes”, p.470.

[21] Mitrany, “Memoir”, pp.17-18.

[22] ibid, p.26-27.

[23] Mitrany, The Functional Theory of Politics, p.101.

[24] ibid, pp.103-104.

[25] Dorothy Anderson,  “David Mitrany (1888-1975): an appreciation of his life and work,” Review of International Studies, Vol.24, (1998), p.579.

[26] Mitrany, “Memoir”, p.20.

[27] David Mitrany, A Working Peace System: An Argument for the Functional Development of International Organisation, (Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1943), p.6.

[28] ibid, p.19.

[29] ibid, p.12.

[30] ibid, p.26, emphasis added.

[31] ibid, p.27.

[32] ibid, pp.35-37.

[33] ibid, pp.52-53.

[34] ibid, p.56.

[35] ibid, p.55, emphasis added.

[36] The rise and decline of the popular world government movement is detailed in Wesley T. Wooley, Alternatives to Anarchy: American Supranationalism Since World War II, (Indiana University Press, 1988) pp.3-82; and Lawrence S. Wittner, One World Or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953, (Stanford University Press, 1993).

[37] David Mitrany, “The Functional Approach to World Organization,” International Affairs, July 1948, p.350.

[38] ibid, p.351.

[39] ibid, p.352.

[40] ibid, p.358.

[41] ibid, p.360.

[42] Gerhard Michael Ambrosi, “Keynes and Mitrany as instigators of European Governance,” January 2004, pp. 11-12.

[43] ibid, pp.12-13.

[44]David Ray Griffin Responds and So Do I911 Truth Movement Musings, 3 October 2004.

[45] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Report for 1968-1970, (CEIP, 1970), p.20.

[46] See Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Functionalism: final report of the conference, Bellagio, 20-24 November 1969, (CEIP, 1970).

[47] The author discovered this in course of email inquiries with the CEIP. The CEIP claimed they would have to obtain a copy from the Library of Congress.

[48] David Mitrany, “The Functional Approach in Historical Perspective,” International Affairs, July 1971, p.532.

[49] ibid, p.533.

[50] ibid, p.543.

[51] ibid.

[52] ibid, p.539.

[53] ibid, p.541.

[54] ibid, p.543.

[55] Mitrany, The Functional Theory of Politics, p.vii.

[56] Anderson, “David Mitrany”, p.582.

[57] Richard N. Gardner, “The United Nations and Alternative Formulations,” in F.W. Neal & M.K. Harvey, eds., Pacem In Terris III, Volume III, American Foreign Policy in the Age of Interdependence, (Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions/Fund for the Republic, 1974), pp.168-169.

[58] ibid, pp.167-168.

[59] Lester R. Brown, World Without Borders, (Vintage Books, 1973), p.303.

[60] David Rockefeller, “Multinationals Under Siege: A Threat to the World Economy”, The Atlantic Community Quarterly, Fall 1975, p.316.

[61] Brown, World Without Borders, p.318.

[62] Gardner, “Hard Road to World Order”, p.576.

[63] Maurice Strong, “One Year After Stockholm”, Foreign Affairs, July 1973.

[64] Gardner, “The United Nations”, p.179, emphasis added.

[65] Bradford Morse et al. “Transnational Institutions: More or Less, Faster or Slower,” in Neal & Harvey, Foreign Policy in the Age of Interdependence, p.195.

[66] Gardner, “Hard Road to World Order”, pp.559, 576 & 573.

[67] Trilateral Commission Task Force Reports: 9-14, The Triangle Papers, (New York University Press, 1978), p.93.

[68] ibid, p.214.

[69] Mitrany, “Memoirs”, p.8.

[70] ibid.

[71] For a short profile of Frankfurter see

[72] Quoted in Anderson, “David Mitrany”, p.578, emphasis added.

[73] The Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighbourhood: The Report of the Commission on Global Governance, (Oxford, 1995), pp.2-3.

[74] Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “Civil Society and Global Governance”, Contextual Paper for High Level Panel on UN-Civil Society, June 2003.

[75] Walter C. Clemens Jr, “Alternative futures AD 2000-2025”, OECD Observer, October 2000 (emphasis added).

[76] Our Global Neighbourhood, pp.4-5, (emphasis added).

[77] ibid, p.4.

[78] ibid, p.70.

[79] ibid, pp.335-352.

[80] ibid, p.351.