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]

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