Review: “Left, Right and the third way”

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The ideal way of driving a nation’s path has become the cornerstone in several political debates, from antique Greece up to the global World we live in. In fact, policy making is constantly observed, carefully analyzed, radically criticized and often lethargically modified by modern politicians, sociologists, philosophers, ideologists and even concerned citizens. The cited work “Left, Right, and the third way” arguments about the applicability of a new way of doing politics in England; moreover, it drives us on several conclusions about the transcendence of this “third way” from the Old Left and the New Right regarding Britain’s Modern Labour Party. The author’s main concern is to assert that in fact contemporary policy does not move as “beyond”, from the Old Left and the New Right, as some politicians like Tony Blair strongly promulgated during his time as Prime Minister. The article profoundly analyzes the conditions, values and means to achieve new policies and clearly suggests that there is not just space for a third way but for many other ways of making public policy. This paper is a positive critique and analysis of the following points; first, is the third way an ideology or a political project? Second, it is just a matter of a radical shift from the left or right and moving forward to a totally different context? And finally, how relevant is the conception of having multiple ways and not just a third way?

Defining can be sometimes complicated and even a confusing task. At the beginning of the article, despite it seemed easy and simple to describe the third way, when going deep into context we realized that embracing the perfect definition was in fact challenging. Is the third way an ideology or just a political project?; throughout the article, the authors try to define this new way of doing policy by revealing us what is not, by explaining how distant or close it is from the Old Left or the New Right and mainly by detailing the scenario for a new way to act in terms of its general conditions, values and means. Nevertheless, the third way is often described as a political project that combines different types of democracies from social to liberal. In fact, it is presented and cited by Blair as a series of steps to proceed in a global context with inherited problems from Thatcherism in the 70s and neoliberals, especially in terms of deregularization of the financial sector, poor state intervention on trade and “free market” (individualism), and even poor action on common wealth. In contrast, the third way is also shown as a project far beyond the Old Left, since it doesn’t promotes unhealthy state paternalism, excessive public spending, and other Keynesian recipes for macro economical problems. In the end, we can infer that the third way is a project that tries to combine the best of each ideology with a tendency of moving “further on” to Centre Left with a very close look to the right. Moreover, the idea is to assert new ways of public intervention with a touch of governance striving for efficiency and common wealth.

 On the matter of a radical break we can surely assume that the third way does not leave the past behind. Hence, as the authors clearly state “the third way offers a politics which is beyond the close ideological systems of Left and Right; but which still combines them both and remains within the tradition of the middle way politics…[1]. It is obvious and clear to understand that in order to modify our modern context we need to base our decisions on past experiences by carefully selecting the best practices derived on historical results, not just by deliberately assuming the best policy that serves social justice and economy efficiency with social cohesion. In addition, we can refer to a more feasible project that is moving forward to a different context embracing several policies on “rights-based liberal individualism in constitutional reform but social conservatism in welfare and criminal justice system”, or giving independence to the Central Bank but spending more public funds in order to improve health and social security. As the authors conclude, the third way is a consensus that could leave us neither on far beyond left not far beyond right.

 It seems extremely selfish and even unacceptable to declare the “third way” as the only rout for modernizing public affairs or democratizing democracy[2] as Anthony Giddens Stated. As mentioned earlier, the fundamental grounds of any democratic regime are based on values, formal institutions and national identity. Therefore, we can infer that political context will always change depending on current issues and specially on values; consequently, different points of view could apply for the same social problems. This statement opens a wide range of alternatives for policy making and ways of applying “the third way” in order to mitigate any social problematic. The perfect example is provided by the authors when they mention that “Gidden’s solution is to emphasize active individualism where Blair´s is to stress moral responsibilities and standards as an antidote to the individualism he identifies, a more communitarian response…” Both had different concepts of the ideal third way, and indeed both had discrepancies on how to ideally build policies in an era where globalization, transformations in personal life and relationship to nature play a significant roll.

We must think, analyze, infer and explore new alternatives beyond social or liberal democracies, but combining the best of both practices by situating ourselves on a middle position. A position that should be pragmatic, congruent with current events, novel with society, efficient with trade and market, understanding with global governance and liberal on social matters in favour of greater economical interventions. To sum up, society needs constant changes on “policy making” since scenarios are constantly changing. The historical context and modern values lead us to multiple ways of conceiving public policies where Left and Right must coexist in this so called “third way” “with mutually dependent and reciprocal relationships”.

[1] Driver, S. & Martell, L. (2000). “Left, Right and the third way”. Policy & Politics vol. 28 N° 2, page 154.

[2] Giddens, A. (1994). “Beyond Left and Right — the Future of Radical Politics”. Cambridge: Polity.


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