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Anthony Giddens

• íll

Polity Press



1 The Third Way and its Critics 1

2 Social Democracy and the Third 27

3 Government, the State and Economic Strategy 55

4 The Question of Inequality 85

5 Taking Globalization Seriously 122

Conclusion 163
Third Way Bibliography 169
Index 181
The Third Way and its

The idea of finding a third way in politics has become a

focus of controversy across the world. The term 'third
way', of course, is far from new, having been employed
by groups of diverse political persuasions in the past, in-
cluding sorne from the extreme right. Social democrats,
however, have made use of it most often. During the Cold
War period, many saw social democracy itself as a third
way, distinct from American market liberalism on the
one side and Soviet communism on the other. The term
largely dropped out of sight for sorne while, before being
resurrected in political dialogues of the past few years.
Curiously, the current popularity of the concept of the
third way comes from its introduction into contexts in
which it had never appeared before - the United States
and Britain. Its revival, and subsequent wide diffusion,
owes much to its adoption in those countries - by the
Democrats and the Labour Party. Each party reshaped
its political outlook, as well as its more concrete ap-
proaches to getting elected. Terminologically they resem-

The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

bled one another: the relabelling of the American party because we can't now rely on the big institutions to do so.
as the New Democrats was rapidly followed by the crea- Public policy has to shift from concentrating on the redis-
tion of New Labour in the UK. tribution of wealth to promoting wealth creation. Rather
The third way was originally described by the American than offering subsidies to business, government should fos-
Democrats as a 'new progressivism'. The New Progressive ter conditions that lead firms to innovate and workers to
Declaration, published by the Democratic Leadership become more efficient in the global economy.
Council in 1996, argued that a fresh beginning in politics The New Democrats also referred to the new progres-
was called for to cope with a world in fundamental change. 1 sivism as the third way, a term that eventually carne to
In the first progressive era, in the early part of the twenti- have preference over the former one. These ideas helped
eth century, American left-of-centre politics was radically drive the policies that the successive Clinton adminístra-
reshaped in response to rapid industrialization and tions introduced, or aimed to introduce - among them
urbanism. The New Deal was based on collaboration be- fiscal discipline, health care reform, investment in educa-
tween the state, the labour unions and big business. tion and training, welfare-to-work schemes, urban re-
Today, however, the 'big institutions', the New Demo- newal programmes, and taking a hard line on crime and
crats argued, can no longer deliver on the social contract punishment. To them they added notions of active inter-
as they did before. The advent of new global markets, ventionism on the international scene.
and the knowledge economy, coupled with the ending of Partly borrowing from the New Democrats, and partly
the Cold War, have affected the capabilíty of national following its own line of political evolution, the Labour
governments to manage economic life and provide an Party in Britain converged on similar ideas. Under T ony
ever-expanding range of social benefits. We need to in- Blair's leadership, the party broke with its own 'old pro-
troduce a different framework, one that avoids both the gressivism' - Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution.
bureaucratic, top-clown government favoured by the old Blair started to refer to New Labour as developing a third
left and the a:spiration of the right to dismantle govern- way, eventually putting his name to a pamphlet of the
ment altogether. same title. 2
The cornerstones of the new progressivism are said to be Over the past half-century, the document says, two forms
equal opportunity, personal responsibility and the mobiliz- of politics have dominated thinking and policy-making in
ing of citizens and communities. With rights come respon- · most Western countries: 'a highly statist brand of social
sibilities. We have to find ways of taking care of ourselves, democracy' and right-wing, free-market philosophy
(neoliberalism). Britain has experienced both of these in
1Democratic Leadership Council-Progressive Policy Institute, The
New Progressive Declaration. Washington, DC: DLC-PPI, 1996. 2 Tony Blair, The Third Way. London: Fabian Society, 1998.

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The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

fuil-blooded form, which is why the third way has special Blair, Gerhard Schroder, Wim Kok - at that time prime
relevance there. Sorne neoliberal reforms were 'necessary minister of the Netherlands - and Massimo D' Alema,
acts of modernization'. Yet the neoliberals simply ígnored the Italian prime minister, attended.
the social problems produced by deregulated markets, There was considerable agreement among the Anglo-
which have created serious threats to social cohesion. Saxon leaders and their Continental counterparts. Kok
The New Democrats and New Labour have given par- admitted that he liked the third way approach 'very
ticular attention to family life, crime, and the decay of much', but also felt that Dutch social democrats had al-
community- a conscious attempt to relate policies of the ready come to similar ideas and policies independently.
left to what are seen as prime concems of ordinary citi- Together with the Scandinavian countries, Holland is a
zens. We need a third way approach to the family, dis- country having one of the highest levels of social bene-
tinct from those who simply ignore the issue on the one fits. Yet in the current era, he agreed, it is not enough
hand and those, on the other, who want to turn the dock that people should be protected by government: they
back to a time before women went out to work. Changes 'must also feel the urgency of responsibility', for 'you
in the family are related to antisocial behaviour and crime. have rights, but also responsibilities'. In a world marked
Responding to anxieties about crime is seen as vital to rapid social and technological change, government
third way policies: hence Tony Blair's celebrated state- must be empowering rather than heavy-handed.
ment that the left should be 'tough on crime and tough D' Alema expressed similar sentiments. The European
on the causes of crime'. countries have developed strong systems of solidarity and
When New Labour first carne into government, there protection. But these have become bureaucratic, and
was intense interest among social democratic parties in hence have 'slowed down development and limited the
Continental Europe. Since that time, however, responses possibility of attaining success'. The third way suggests
to the claim that the Labour Party is developing a new that it is possible to combine social solidarity with a dy-
form of left-of-centre politics have been mixed. Sorne namic economy, and this is a goal contemporary social
Continental social democratic leaders, having investigated democrats should strive for. To pursue it, we will need
what was on offer, found it distinctly underwhelming. 'less national government, less central government, but
Others have been more receptive. In April 1999, at the greater governance over local processes', as well as open-
height of the Kosovo conflict, a public dialogue on third ing out in the direction of the global community.
way politics was held in Washington. 3 Bill Clinton, Tony nomic development will require lifelong learning and
adaptation to new knowledge. 'Culture is the most im-
3 The White House, 'The third way: progressive governance for the portant form of social inclusion, and I think we should
21st century' (25 April 1999). invest in culture.' Such an approach, D' Alema concluded,

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The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

has to break away from the old forms of welfare and independence and initiative has to be nurtured. Flexible
social protection. markets are essential to respond effectively to techno-
A short while after this meeting, Tony Blair and logical change. Companies should not be inhibited from
Gerhard Schroder published a joint paper entitled Eur- expanding by the existence of too many rules and re-
ope: The Third Way- die Neue Mitte. 4 The paper seeks strictions. Modernizing social democrats, it is stressed,
to provide a general framework for left-of-centre parties are not believers in laisser-faire. There has to be a newly
in Europe. 'The essential function of markets', the two defined role for an active state, which must continue to
leaders argue, 'must be complemented and improved by pursue social programmes. Employment and growth,
political action, not hampered by it.' however, cannot any longer be promoted by deficit spend-
Blair and Schroder distance themselves decisively from ing. Levels of government borrowing should decrease
what they define as the traditional social democratic out- rather than increase.
look. The pursuit of social justice was often identified
with a pre-eminent stress upon equality of outcome. As a
consequence, effort and responsibility were ignored. So- Critical reactions
cial democracy became associated with a dull conform-
ity, rather than with creativity, diversity and achievement. Given its prominence in sources like these, and in shap-
Social justice was identified with ever higher levels of ing government policies in the US, UK and elsewhere, it
public spending almost regardless of what was actually is hardly surprising that the third way has sparked a va-
achieved, or of the impact of taxation on competitive- riety of critica! responses. Many, of course, come from
ness and job creation. Social benefits too often subdued conserva ti ve circles. Most right-wing critics see third way
enterprise as well as community spirit. Rights were el- politics as either a mishmash of already familiar ideas
evated above responsibilities, resulting in a decline in and policies, or as lacking any distinguishable content at
mutual obligation and support. all. An article in The Economist, for instance, speaks of
Social democrats need a different approach to govern- the thírd way's 'fundamental hollowness'. Trying to give
ment, in which 'the state should not row, but steer: not an exact meaning to this political philosophy is 'like wrest-
so much control, as challenge'. The quality of public serv- ling with an inflatable man. If you get a grip on one limb,
ices must be improved and the performance of govern- all the hot air rushes to another.' 5
ment monitored. A positive dimate for entrepreneurial I shall be more concerned with critica! reactions com-

4Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroder, Europe: The Third Way - die 5 'Goldilocks politics.' The Economist (19 December 1998): 49 and
Neue Mitte. London: Labour Party and SPD, 1999. 47.

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The Third \Y/ay and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

ing from within the left. Many leftists agree with their He accepts that what he calls the 'mainstream left' has
conservative counterparts that the content of third way to adapt to a world in rapid change. However, on each
doctrines is elusive. They also stress the indebtedness of of the three issues just mentioned the third way has proved
the third way programme to its supposed opponents, the less than adequate. In the manner in which it developed
free marketeers. The third way is seen as presenting an in the US, at least, it was not originally constructed as a
essentially right-wing philosophy in a somewhat more coherent política! philosophy. The third way is not in
attractive light - Mrs Thatcher without a handbag. fact a systematic approach at all, but developed as a tac-
tical response to Democratic failures in the presidential
elections of 1980 and 1984. The Clintonite Democrats
The Anglo-Saxon critics daimed that beca use of its New Deal mentality the party
was no longer in touch with the anxieties and aspira-
Jeff Faux, writing in an American context about the tions of ordinary Americans. To become successful again
Democrats, is one of those who holds that the third way in elections, the party had to respond to their concerns,
is 'an intellectually amorphous substance'; it has 'become and give priority to 'conservative' issues, such as law and
so wide that it is more like a political parking lot than a order, rather than to questions of economic security.
highway to anywhere in particular'. 6 So much so, he con- particular, the New Democrats believed they had to break
tinues, that the term has been applied to virtually every with a 'tax and spend' approach.
prominent political leader one can think of - not just Bill Faux disputes much of the historical ground on which
Clinton and Tony Blair, but 'Chrétien of Canada, Prodi these interpretations are based. Democratic presidents
of Italy, Jospin of France, Salinas and Zedillo of Mexico, have cut taxes as often as they have raised them. Some
Schroder of Germany, Cardoso of Brazil, Menem of Ar- Republican presidents, such as Ronald Reagan, have been
gentina - even Boris Y eltsin! '. more fiscally irresponsible than Democratic leaders - they
Faux distinguíshes three claims in terms of which the wanted to spend on big government for purposes of de-
third way should be judged: that it has a coherent analy- fence, not, as the Democrats wanted, for social pro-
sis of the dedining relevance of the 'old left'; that it pro- grammes. 1V1oreover, in practice, the main proposals the
vides an effective basis for rebuilding the fortunes of social New Democrats carne up with were actually those which
democratic parties; and that it has a plausible strategy the 'mainstream left' had been advocating for a long while,
for dealing with íssues of the post-Cold War age. such as more spending on education and child care.
It wasn't a new programme, Faux asserts, which lay
6Jeff Faux, 'Lost on the third way'. Dissent 46/2 (Spring 1999): 67- behind the successful presidential campaigns of 1992 or
76, 75. 1996. The campaigns were fought mainly on the basis of

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The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

the economy, and Bill Clinton won because of support Third way thinking seeks to expand opportunities, but
from traditional Democratic groups - labour unions, mi- is silent about the unequal distribution of wealth and
norities, and the poor. 'The lesson is that full employ- power. The third way has not proved to be a philosophy
ment beats conservative family values - just the opposite that moves political policy-making 'beyond left and right'.
of the New Democrats' daim.' Instead, it is 'primarily a rationalization for political com-
The New Democrats, he says, have echoed the relent- promise between left and right, in which the left moves
less complaints of the conservatives about over-sized gov- doser to the right'.
ernment. As a result, they have acquiesced in a failure of Comparable views have been expressed by critics writ-
government to stand out against the excesses of the mar- ing in Britain. In December 1998, Marxism Today pub-
ket. The message that the Clintonite Democrats have sent lished a comprehensive attack upon New Labour, in a
to the average American facing the competition of the one-off special issue. The magazine had ceased regular
new global economy is: you're on your own. They have publication sorne years before. The special issue had a
contributed to declining trust in government, rather than picture of T ony Blair on the front. Printed across the pic-
helping to reverse it. ture in giant letters was the single word: 'Wrong'. Those
The daim that third way thinking has fashioned a strat- involved all criticized New Labour for taking over too
egy effective in the new global economy, Faux declares, much from Thatcherism.
isn't persuasive. There is no new strategy, but in fact an The main contribution was from the influential thinker
old one. The third way expresses the world-view of the Stuart Hall, entitled 'The great moving nowhere show'. 7
multinational corporate sector - that the global market- In the 1980s Hall developed a persuasive account of the
place only works effectively if government plays a mini- nature of Thatcherism and the reasons for its success.
mal role. The response has been a rising hostility to Thatcherism was a radical doctrine, the aim of which
globalization. The free-flowing nature of global capital was to alter the political landscape. Mrs Thatcher knew
has outstripped the capability of international agencies who she was against: 'she knew that, to achieve radical
to 'keep markets from self-destructing and to keep their change, politics must be conducted like a war of posi-
people from suffering the brutal consequences'. Left-of- tion between adversaries. She clearly identified her en-
centre parties, the New Democrats say, should stop try- emies, remorselessly dividing the political field: Wets v
ing to guarantee outcomes for their citizens; all they can Drys, Us v Them, those who are "with us" v "the enemy
do is help provide opportunities for them to make the within".'
best of their lives. However, 'the new global economy,
which the third way aggressively promotes, undercuts the 7 Stuart Hall, 'The great moving nowhere show.' Marxism Today
third way premises every day'. (November/December 1998): 9-14.

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The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

Tony Blair and New Labour claim to have a project at values, Hall argues, but a perennial dissatisfaction with
least as ambitious as Mrs Thatcher's. But in practice third markets.
way politics shies away from radicalism, opting for a Another British critic, Alan Ryan, offers a different
middle course on everything. It advocates a 'politics with- interpretation of third way politics and its daims to origi-
out adversaries' and therefore ends up accepting the world nality. 8 The third way is a distinct and viable political
as it is rather than truly seeking to transform it. position, he propases, but it isn't an innovation. It first
New Labour has succumbed to a sweeping view of glo- emerged in British politics about a century ago - at which
balization, which provides 'the dubious legitimacy' of the point it was known as New Liberalism. 'The truth is that
third way project. Globalization is treated as if it were the third way is neither New Labour, as its admirers say,
an irresistible force of nature, as much outside our in- nor warmed over Thatcherism, as its detractors say, but
fluence as the weather. New Labour has been seduced by a reversion to a very old idea.' The third way attempts to
the gospel that global markets are self-regulating and re- avoid an excessive domination of the state over social
quire no social or institutional framework to function. and economic life, but does not accept that the market
The sovereign consumer has replaced the ideas of the citi- can be left to its own devices. These were exactly the
zen and the public sphere. views held by the Liberals. Even the anxieties and
The image that guides New Labour policies, Hall says, problems of the electorate, to which third way politics
is one of the lonely individual, set free from the state in reacts, are similar to those of the turn the century.
arder to face life's risks alone - 'like those lean urban Concerns about deteriorating education and rising crime
"survivors" on their mountain bikes who haunt our rates echo the fears of the early 1900s.
streets'. The social insurance of the welfare state was origi- The third way of today, Ryan continues, does not
nally designed to underwrite citizenship - to bind rich fact have an effective response to these problems. It will
and poor alike into society. Cutting back on public fund- fade away, as its forerunner did. It has no principled an-
ing stigmatizes welfare recipients, and produces a two- swer, for example, to rising unemployment, should a
tier system, where the better off buy themselves prívate downswing in the economic cycle occur. At that point, a
provision for their needs. third way government would have to move either to the
Tony Blair's pamphlet on the third way is dismissed left or to the right - to raise taxes and borrow, or stick to
with sorne scorn. It acknowledges increasing inequali- a fiscally 'responsible' position, and see unemployment.
ties, but offers no strategy for securing a more equitable dimb.
distribution of income or wealth. No reference is made
to power. Instead there is vague talk about the values of 8Alan Ryan, 'Britain: recycling the third way.' Dissent 46/2 (Spring
the left. What distinguishes a party of the left isn't its 1999): 77-80.

12 13
The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

The turn-of-the-century third way was actually in sorne prime value the freedom of the individual. The left must
respects superior to its more recent counterpart. The cur- fight against the intrusiveness of the market and against
rent version of third way politics is trying to reduce in- the insecurities the global economy brings in its train.
tervention in the marketplace in the face of the turbulent Globalization is largely the result of political decisions to
nature of the world economy, arguably the opposite of deregulate markets. As a result, the world economy has
what we need; while in the areas of crime and education become a casino economy - save that, in this particular
it has an unacceptably authoritarian standpoint. 'To the casino, ordinary people don't get to play. Their money is
extent to which it is a coherent or acceptable approach often involved - in the shape, for example, of pension
to government, it resembles the New Liberalism of the funds. But it is banks, finance companies and other power
beginning of the century; to the extent that it <loes not brokers who take the decisions about what happens to
resemble it, it is neither coherent nor attractive.' it.
Financial markets, and those who domínate them, have
to be subjected to regulation in order to put social goals
Continental responses above economic ones. In Europe ~e can also use other
strategies to curb the influence ofthe world marketplace.
The Blair-Schroder paper passed almost without notice The European Union can resist the worst features of the
in the UK. In Germany, by contrast, it proved enormously world economy and by keeping spending levels high can
controversial. Ex-finance minister Oskar Lafontaine defend a 'social Europe'. Coordination of tax policies in
launched a stinging attack on it and on the third way the European Union will be necessary to achieve this end.
more generally. The third way, he declared, is no way at It is this view, Lafontaine comments ironically, which
all - 'Der dritte Weg ist ein Holzweg' .9 led the Sun newspaper to call him 'the most dangerous
The idea of 'modernization', Lafontaine says, comes man in Europe'. Lafontaine insists that 'not the "mar-
clown to little more than an endorsement of global free- ket", but democratically chosen governments and par-
mai;ket capitalism. The concept is reduced merely to eco- liaments must take the decisions that determine the future
nomic categories. The questions of how we should live of our society'.
together, and of what sort of society we want, are de- A similar division between 'modernizers' and 'tradi-
clared irrelevant. Social democrats should have a differ- tionalists' has opened up in many countries. Sorne critics
ent concept of 'the modern', one that stands in the from the left, however, take quite a different tack from
tradition of the Enlightenment and which places as its Lafontaine. For them, the more advanced sectors of Con-
tinental social democracy already incorpora te the worth-
9 Oskar Lafontaine, Das Herz schliigt links. Munich: Econ, 1999. while contributions the third way has to offer.

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The Thírd Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

According to Erkki Tuomioja, writing from a Finnish versal pension plus earnings-related pensions and con-
context, the idea that third way prescriptions might be uolled prívate sector provision.
relevant to other European countries, such as the Nordic Moreover, the Nordic welfare states have long since
states, 'is baffling' .10 Consider welfare reform, for exam- concentrated upon active labour market policies, now
ple. Why should policies relevant to a British context have making a delayed appearance in an Anglo-Saxon con-
any bearing on more fully fledged welfare systems? After text under the la bel of 'welfare to work'. Nordic social
all, the UK is not a welfare state 'in any sense that is democracy has been characterized by a willingness to
familiar to and accepted by most people in the Nordic introduce reforms on a pragmatic basis with the aim
countries'. Britain (in common with the US) has one of · of finding solutions that are effective. Advocates of
the highest levels of economic inequality of any of the third way politics suggest that a different orientation to
developed societies. politics is needed beca use existing social democratic poli-
Third way writers, Tuomioja says, call for reform of cies have failed. 'This is something most European
the welfare state because it hasn't been especialiy good social democrats would not agree with. Reforms and
at reducing inequalities. In fact, in the Nordic countries new thinking are needed, not because of social demo-
the welfare state 'has been extraordinarily successful in cratic failure but because the lifetime full employ-
eliminating poverty'. Welfare states in northern Europe ment conditions of Fordist mass production and con-
have mostly had a universalist approach to benefits and sumption and of Keynesianism-in-one-country on which
public services, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon countries. the Nordic model was originally built do not exist any
As a result, most people share common experiences of more.'
public provision - there is both redistribution of income Tuomioja is not claiming, he stresses, that all is well
and increased social solidarity. with the Scandinavian welfare states. On the contrary,
The Nordic welfare model involves civil society groups they face major problems. But they should be able to
in the running of welfare services and allocates a high deal with these without structural changes that would
degree of local autonomy in so doing. Struggles over pub- bring them closer to the Anglo-American system. Unem-
lic ownership haven't had the central place they have in ployment, far example, remains high in Finland. Adjust-
Britain. Finland is already in most respects a 'third way ments needed to reduce it can be made without changing
country'. Take the example of pensions. In Finland, there the fundamental character of the Nordic social contract.
is a mixed system of pensions, with a state-provided uní- Social democracy has always been able to implement re-
forms on a pragmatic basis, a more effective outlook
10 Erkki Tuomioja, 'Blairism may not work elsewhere in Europe.'
the search for 'an ephemeral third way'.
Newsletter of the Finnish Institute in London (July 1998). Another critic, Vicenc,; Navarro, comes to his assess-

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The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

ment of the third way from a Spanish perspective. 11 nity, they also have a developed civil society. Look, for
Navarro recounts how, while acting asan adviser to the example, at the areas of northern Italy led by left govern-
Spanish Socialist Party, he was asked to write an intro- ments - public responsibility anda flourishing civil soci-
duction to the Spanish translation of Blair's Third Way . ety go hand in hand. The third way, Navarro agrees with
pamphlet. After looking at it, however, he declined, feel- Tuomioja, 'might be new in the UK, but it is quite old in
ing it to be almost the opposite of what the European left Europe'. 'Social democracy needs a process of reform,
needs. Third way politics supposedly develops a perspec- but not in a third way direction ... What seems to be
tive beyond both old-style social democracy and needed is not for social democracy to learn from the third
neoliberalism. But this position, Navarro says, ignores way, but for the third way to learn from "classical" so-
the diverse nature of Continental social democracy. It óal democracy.'
also ignores the different forms of conservatism that ex- The sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf once famously wrote
ist in Europe and elsewhere. In Europe most conserva- of the 'end of the social democratic century' .12 He still
tive governments haven't taken a neoliberal line. Christian harbours suspicions about the revival of social demo-
Democrats have long been suspicious of unfettered capi- cracy, especially in its third way guise. How could any-
talism, and advocate a role - although a restricted one - one, Dahrendorf asks rhetorically, who knew of its past
for the state, as well as endorsing developed welfare in- choose to resurrect the term 'third way'? After all, 'third
stitutions. Third way politics steals sorne of their clothes. way' has a dubious history from Franco to Tito, quite
In third way politics, 'there is more than a touch of Chris- often referring to anti-democratic forms of politics, es-
tian Democracy with a sprinkling of Liberal Party'. pecially those having corporatist or syndicalist goals.
Like the Christian Democrats, third way politics calls In its current version, Dahrendorf asserts, third way
for a revival of civil society, which is threatened if the politics is a project with Anglo-Saxon origins. What he
state grows too large. However, it is a mistake, Navarro . calls 'the Giddens-Blair concept' of the third way is a
argues, to suppose that the expansion of the state - at largely unsuccessful attempt to develop a 'big idea' for
least, in its role as welfare state - undermines civil soci- our times. It is a politics that speaks of the need for hard
ety. On the contrary, where countries have a well-funded <:hoices, but then avoids them by trying to please every-
welfare state, providing general benefits for the commu- one. There is a 'big question' that confronts us all today,
Dahrendorf argues: 'how can we combine sustainable

11 Vicern;: Navarro, 'Is there a third way?' Mimeo paper, Pompeu

Fabra University, Barcelona (1999): 10. Navarro's arguments were 12 Ralf Dahrendorf, 'Whatever happened to liberty?' New Statesman

subsequently published and further elaborated in 'La tercera via: un (6 September 1999): 25-7. See also Dahrendorf, Ein neuer Dritter
análisis critico.' Claves de Razón Práctica 96 (October 1999). Weg? Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999.

18 19
The Third Way and its Cr~tics The Third Way and its Critics

prosperity with social solidarity, within institutions that lopment.' So perhaps, obliquely, as Dahrendorf in-

guarantee liberty?' But there is no big answer. terprets it, third way politics <loes actually come back
There can't really be a coherent third way, Dahrendorf ·to the authoritarianism associated with the term in the
argues- only an array of different policy responses as we •I\yJpast.
try to cope with a changing world. We face new ques- ;;t•r There is one final source of criticism of third way poli-
tions, but we haven't got systematic solutions for them. tics that deserves mention. This is the ecological critique.
For instance, reform of the welfare state is necessary, and •&1 Gore, a key New Democratic figure, has written an
this must mean a pulling back from universal benefits. lftportant book about environmentalism.13 Why, then,
How can this be done while still preserving social soli- hitics ask, haven't ecological concerns been more closely
darity? No one really knows. Civil society should take . . mtegrated with third way politics?
over tasks which can't be effectively run by the state. But 5 All politicians, of course, pay lip-service to environ-
how this should be accomplished isn't easy to see, and 1!:mental issues. Third way authors and politicians, it has
all we can do is to <leal with aspects of the issue. We have been argued, are no different. How <loes an emphasis
to find new ways of defending public space, and redraw · íJpon economic growth and the generating of jobs square
the boundaries between public and private. Third way with an ecological outlook? Social democrats have long
politics is in thrall to the market, but the public sphere is had trouble introducing a serious strand of ecological
not one that can be provided for by markets. The market thinking into their doctrines, and in this respect the third
doesn't create safe neighbourhoods or clean streets and way seems more of the same. Thus the New Democrats
pathways. in the US have had close ties with sorne of the large bio-
Third way authors and politicians talk a lot about technology companies, and appear to support their in-
community, but they lose sight of the core importance terests rather than putting ecological considerations first.
of democratic freedoms. There is one word, Dahrendorf In the controversy about genetically modified foods in
says, that hé}rdly ever appears in publications by the pro- che UK, New Labour has refused to condemn the actions
motets/ófthe third way - liberty. This isn't accidental. of such companies. It has been strongly criticized for so
Foi: the third way isn't about open society or liberties. doing. Critics from within the green movement argue for
Echoing the comments of Alan Ryan, Dahrendorf ar- ;t moratorium, or a complete ban, on such foods. Here
gues that there is an 'authoritarian streak' in third way fpere is a certain joining of hands with critics such as
politics. '1 wonder whether the curious silence about the faux and Hall. Third way politicians refuse to embrace
fundamental value of a decent life, liberty - old, very á precautionary principie, critics from the green move-
old liberty if you wish - will not involuntarily make this
political episode one further element in a dangerous de- 13 Al Gore, Earth in the Balance. London: Earthscan, 1992.

20 21
The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

ment say, beca use they are reluctant to face up to corpo- themselves as 'centre-left', but in fact have simply moved
rate power. 14 towards the right. A preoccupation with the political cen-
tre is manifestly not compatible with the goals of the
left. Stuart Hall condemns New Labour, for example,
The critics: a summary for its preoccupation with 'middle England' - middle-
class voters, located mainly in the south of the country,
Since the commentators referred to come from different rather than the less prosperous north. This orientation,
positions, a diversity of criticisms is offered by them. The Hall says, is 'profoundly traditionalist and backward
critical observations can be grouped, however, into a lim- looking'. Manual workers, the backbone of support for
ited range of categories. It is argued that the third way: a leftist party, slip out of view. When Alan Ryan says
the views of third way politicians today are the same
(1) Is an amorphous political project, difficult to pin as those of the New Liberals of yesteryear, he is mak-
clown and lacking direction. Since it isn't clear who or ing much the same point. The New Liberals sought a
what third way politicians are against, it is hard to say middle-of-the-road position. They accepted sorne leftist
what they are for. The very name 'third way' is perhaps values, but distanced themselves firmly from most ver-
indicative of this fuzziness, since it has such a chequered sions of socialism.
history, and has been used so often before. 'Third way' is The conservatism of the third way is also said to ap-
empty of content because it is defined only negatively, pear in its views of the family and the control of crime.
as contrasted to old-style social democracy and neo- Third way politicians want to defend the traditional fam-
liberalism. Any worthwhile political perspective should ily, while placing more emphasis than most on the left
surely be capable of more active definition. By implica- have done upon personal responsibility for criminal
tion other perspectives; closer either to the traditional behaviour, and hence upon firm policing. Aren't these
left orto the neoliberal right, are more coherent and more again the policies of the right? These attitudes underlie
capable of responding effectively to political issues in cur- Dahrendorf's feeling that third way politics allocates too
rent times. little place for individual liberties.

(2) Fails to sustain the proper outlook of the left and (3) Accepts the basic framework of neoliberalism,
hence, whether deliberately or not, lapses into a form of especially as concerns the global marketplace. Global-
conservatism. The advocates of the third way define ization and the information revolution are quite rightly
fastened upon by the critics as key concerns of third way
14 See, for instance, Ian Willmore, 'Environment: sun sets on a greener
politics. According to them, however, the third way takes
future.' Guardian (23 July, 1997).

22 23
The Third Way and its Critics The Third Way and its Critics

globalization as a given. Crucially, it fails to contest in- stance, were established in Sweden well before they were
equalities of income, wealth and power. heard of in the US or UK.
This is easily the most common criticism that those on
the more traditional left make of the third way 'modern- (5) Has no distinctive economic policy, other al-
izers'. Globalization producers winners and losers. Third lowing the market to rule the roost. Old-style social
way offers nothing to the losers - it cannot do so, be- mocracy had a coherent economic strategy, based upon
cause it adopts the world-view of the winners. Redistri- state intervention in the marketp!ace, demand manage-
bution, always one of the majar aims of the left, seems to ment and full employment. The neoliberals also had a
have been discarded. Promoting greater equality is im- clear policy outlook - privatization the deregulation
possible without using the state to redress the inequities of markets would supposedly benefit everyone, rich
created by the market. In wanting to limit the role of poor alike. Third way economic thinking veers more to-
govemment and the state, the third way is again accept- wards the latter rather than the former, but any
ing one of the main themes of the neoliberals, with their distinctive policy orientations of its own.
wísh to reduce the scope of state power. There is no need Having no definite economic thinking, it is argued, third
to worry about government getting too large. As Navarro way politics is liable to succumb to drift. economy
says, state and civil society are not mutually exclusive. m1ght have been remarkably successful in recent years,
but this seems to ha ve nothing much to do with the ac-
(4) Is essentially an Anglo-Saxon project, bearing the tivities of government policy. The third way, as Ryan
hallmarks of the societies in which it originated. The puts it, has been riding a wave of economic prosperity: it
term 'third way' has been resurrected by politicians and has no way of coping should there an economic turn-
intellectuals in countries that have only weakly devel- down.
oped welfare systems, and where inequalities are more
marked than elsewhere. Policies developed in such a con- (6) In common with its two main rivals, has no
text are of little use to societies that are further a long the tive way of coping with ecological issues, save for giving
road to social justice and more comprehensive welfare token recognition to them. In accepting globalizatíon,
provision. way politics acquiesces in the destructive conse-
The importing of third way ideas into such contexts quences that world economíc development has for the
would be a retrograde step. In so far as the third way environment. By endorsing technological change, the third
does have anything relevant to more highly evolved wel- ~:v~y d~monstrates its in~ifference to ecological damage.
fare states, the policies involved are familiar to social .:,c~ent1fic a~1d technological development toda y is largely
democrats anyway. Active labour market policies, for in- dnven_ by b1g business, which will always put profit ahead
of env1ronmental considerations. The between

24 25
The Third Way and its Critics

the large corporations and scienti:fic innovation is much

more worrying than it used to be, given the profound
nature of the scientific discoveries now being made, such
as those in the :field of the life sciences. The only means
of approaching such developments, many ecological au-
thors say, is through a precautionary outlook. We should
rein back scientific innovation until we are sure of its
likely consequences.