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From the Private to the Public and Back Again: The International Thought of David Mitrany, 1940-1949

Rosenboim, O. (2013). From the Private to the Public and Back Again: The International Thought of David Mitrany, 1940-1949. Les Cahiers européens de Sciences Po, 2, article number 02/2013.


This paper looks at the international thought of David Mitrany in the 1940s. The Second World War spurred many to outline a new world order that would guarantee peace and prosperity. Mitrany, an influential economist and public intellectual, saw international private cooperation as the foundation of a new world order. He developed the notion of "functionalism" to explore the diffusion of practices from the private to the public sphere, and define a new global political space which would 'make frontiers meaningless'. In an increasingly interconnected world, the private domain of business and entrepreneurship offered successful models of global cooperation, and had a unique social function in the nascent welfare state. Mitrany promoted this idea not only in theory but also as political adviser to the international corporation Unilever. This paper analyses his claim that the diffusion of collaborative practices from the private to the public sphere would revolutionize international relations and could become the basis for European unity. It assesses Mitrany’s theory of the diffusion of concepts, institutions and practices like "human rights", "democracy" and "welfare" from the private to the public and back. Finally, I argue that Mitrany's original "functionalist" theory can shed light on the role of private companies and organizations in enhancing cooperation and unity in today’s European Union as well.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Civil society, Functionalism, Corporate governance, History, Ideas, Supranationalism
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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