Frank Hart on Thu, 17 Sep 1998 06:39:53 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> The Third Way (Book Review)

subject: "The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy" (Bk review)
date: 14 Sep 1998 00:00:00 GMT
from: papadop@PEAK.ORG (MichaelP)
organization: FLORA Community WEB
newsgroups: flora.mai-not

looks like a sweetener/smokescreen for neolib "theory", doesn't it ?

Observer (london)                         Sunday September 13, 1998
Giddens on the Third Way 
Blair and Clinton meet next week to discuss a new politics - the Third
Way. Here, in an exclusive extract from his latest ground-breaking
book, New Labour's favourite guru Anthony Giddens argues social
democracy should take the radical route
Sunday September 13, 1998
Political ideas today seem to have lost the capacity to inspire, and
political leaders the ability to lead. Public debate is dominated by
worries about declining moral values, growing divisions between rich
and poor and the stresses of the welfare state.
If political thinking is going to recapture its inspirational
qualities, it has to be neither simply reactive nor confined to the
everyday and the parochial. Political life is nothing without ideals,
but ideals are empty if they don't relate to real possibilities. We
need to know what sort of society we would like to create and the
concrete means of moving towards it. Here I seek to show how these
aims can be achieved and political idealism revived.
Marx spoke of the disappearance of the state with the coming of a
fully developed socialist society, in which "the free development of
each will be the condition of the free development of all". In
practice, socialism and Communism alike placed a firm emphasis upon
the role of the state in generating both solidarity and equality.
Collectivism became one of the most prominent traits distinguishing
social democracy from conservatism, which ideologically placed a much
stronger emphasis upon "the individual".
Much of this has been going into reverse since the late 1970s. Social
democrats had to respond to the challenge of neoliberalism, but more
important were the changes going on that helped to give Thatcherism
its ideological purchase.
The new individualism is associated with the retreat of tradition and
custom from our lives - through globalisation and the welfare state.
Welfare institutions have helped liberate individuals from some of the
fixities of the past. Rather than seeing ours as an age of moral
decay, then, it makes sense to see it as an age of moral transition.
Social cohesion can't be guaranteed by the top-down action of the
state or by appeal to tradition. We have to make our lives in a more
active way than was true of previous generations, and we need more
actively to accept responsibility for the consequences of what we do.

Anthony Giddens goes on to argue that the old Left/Right divide is
unequal to the task of addressing modern problems. These include the
globalisation of the economy, ecological questions and issues to do
with the changing nature of family, work and personal and cultural
How should we react to global warming? Should we accept nuclear
energy? How far should work remain a central life value? Should we
favour devolution? What should be the future of the European Union?
None of these is a clear Left/Right issue, which suggests that the
centre holds the key.

The centre, in the context of Left and Right, can only mean
compromise, but if Left and Right are less encompassing than they once
were, this no longer follows. The idea of the "active middle", or the
"radical centre", discussed quite widely among social democrats
recently, should be taken seriously.
It implies that "centre-left" isn't inevitably the same as "moderate
left". Nearly all the questions mentioned above require radical
solutions or suggest radical policies. All are potentially divisive,
but the conditions and alliances required to cope with them don't
necessarily follow those based upon divisions of economic interest.
Economist J.K. Galbraith suggested that in contemporary societies the
affluent lose interest in the fate of the underprivileged. Yet
European research shows that in many respects the opposite is the
case. Alliances can be built, and can provide a basis for radical
Tackling ecological problems, for instance, often demands a radical
outlook, but that radicalism can in principle command a widespread
consensus. From responding to globalisation to family policy the same
The term "centre-left" thus isn't an innocent label. A renewed social
democracy has to be left of centre, because social justice and
emancipatory politics remain at its core. But the "centre" shouldn't
be regarded as empty of substance. Rather, we are talking of the
alliances that social democrats can weave from the threads of
lifestyle diversity.
The overall aim of third way politics should be to help citizens pilot
their way through the major revolutions of our time: globalisation,
transformations in personal life and our relationship to nature.
Third way politics should preserve a core concern with social justice,
while accepting that the range of questions which escape the
Left/Right divide is greater than before. Freedom to social democrats
should mean autonomy of action, which in turn demands the involvement
of the wider social community.
Having abandoned collectivism, third way politics looks for a new
relationship between the individual and the community, a redefinition
of rights and obligations.
One might suggest as a prime motto for the new politics, no rights
without responsibilities.
Government has a whole cluster of responsibilities for its citizens
and others, including the protection of the vulnerable.
Old-style social democracy, however, was inclined to treat rights as
unconditional claims. With expanding individualism should come an
extension of individual obligations.
Unemployment benefits, for example, should carry the obligation
actively to look for work, and it is up to governments to ensure that
welfare systems do not discourage active search.
As an ethical principle, no rights without responsibilities must apply
not only to welfare recipients, but to everyone - otherwise the
precept can be held to apply only to the poor or the needy.
Exclusion is not about gradations of inequality, but about mechanisms
that detach people from the social mainstream.
Limiting the voluntary exclusion of the elites is central to creating
a more inclusive society at the bottom. Many suggest the accumulation
of privilege at the top is unstoppable. Income inequalities seem to be
rising across a wide front. In the US, for example, 60 per cent of
income gains over the period from 1980 to 1990 went to the top 1 per
cent of the population, while the real income of the poorest 25 per
cent has remained static for 30 years. The UK shows similar trends in
less extreme form. The gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid
workers is greater than it has been for at least 50 years. While the
large majority of the working population are better off in real terms
than 20 years ago, the poorest 10 per cent have seen their real
incomes decline.
'Civic liberalism' - the recapturing of public space - must be a basic
part of an inclusive society at the top. How can this liberalism be
renewed or sustained? The successful cultivation of the cosmopolitan
nation is one way. People who feel themselves members of a national
community are likely to acknowledge a commitment to others within it.
In terms of social solidarity, the most important groups are not only
the new corporate rich but also the members of the professional and
moneyed middle class, since they are closest to the dividing lines
which threaten to pull away from public space. Improving the quality
of public education, sustaining a well-resourced health service,
promoting safe public amenities, and controlling levels of crime are
all relevant.
Inclusion must stretch well beyond work, not only because there are
many people at any one time not able to be in the labour force, but
because a society too dominated by the work ethic would be a
thoroughly unattractive place in which to live. An inclusive society
must provide for the basic needs of those who can't work and must
recognise the wider diversity of goals life has to offer.
Reform of the welfare state should not reduce it to a safety net. Only
a welfare system that benefits most of the population will generate a
common morality of citizenship. Where "welfare" assumes only a
negative connotation, and is targeted largely at the poor, as has
tended to happen in the US, the results are divisive.
Our current welfare state isn't geared up to cover new-style risks
such as technological change, social exclusion or the accelerating
proportion of one-parent households. These mismatches are of two
kinds: where risks covered don't fit with needs, and where the wrong
groups are protected.
Welfare reform should recognise that effective risk management
(individual or collective) doesn't just mean minimising or protecting
against risks, it also means harnessing the positive or energetic side
of risk and providing resources for risk taking. Active risk taking is
recognised as inherent in entrepreneurial activity, but the same
applies to the labour force. Deciding to go to work and give up
benefits, or taking a job in a particular industry, are risk-infused
activities - but such risk-taking is often beneficial both to the
individual and the wider society.
Although these propositions may sound remote from the down-to-earth
concerns of welfare systems, there isn't a single area of welfare
reform to which they aren't relevant or which they don't help
The guideline is investment in human capital wherever possible, rather
than the direct provision of economic maintenance. In place of the
welfare state we should put the social investment state, operating in
the context of a positive welfare society.
* Extracted from "The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy",
  published by Polity Press on Friday, 6.95

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