G'day to you all. Been a little busy with working as a carpenter, but managed to produce the following article. Online Opinion once again said that they would run it. I also submitted it to the Westender (Brisbane's West End - an independent newspaper) and to the Australian, although that would be a pretty big step up for me if they publish it.
Forging a Genuine Third Way
Gilbert Holmes 2/12/10
The concept of a ‘third way’, which lies between the extremes of the left and right but is somehow qualitatively different from both, is essentially a great idea.
From Machiavelli to Marx, Hobbs to Rousseau, Smith and Ricardo to Kropotkin, history is peppered with important thinkers from both ends of the political spectrum, so what could be wrong with our taking a mix of good ideas from the left and the right and blending them together in a way that enables us to meet the challenges of our newly globalized, highly technological and ecologically threatening human society?
The third way somehow recalls to us the middle way of the Buddha, and the words moderate and inclusive spring to mind. A great idea! In practice however, unfortunately the third way has made a bit of a false start.
Based on the political strategy of ‘triangulation’, where one party attempts to take the middle ground by claiming their opponent’s policies as their own, the third way as defined by Bill Clinton in the USA and Tony Blair in the UK appears to have meant little more than an embrace by the centre-left political parties of the world of the neo-liberal economic agenda, with its policies of privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization and economic growth.
To date therefore, the third way could perhaps best be understood as such: In their efforts to counter the previous dominance of the conservatives, (especially Reagan and Bush Snr in the USA, Thatcher and Major in the UK), the centre-left made a shift to the right in an otherwise ideologically vacuous rebranding.
Surely we deserve better than this! Indeed, looking at the broader historical context of left/right politics, a genuine, much more interesting third way can be understood to exist than the one offered by Clinton and Blair.
Broadly speaking, left wing economic policies are focussed on the collective. Lefties believe that the role of government is to facilitate people to cooperate and share together, to manage the commonly owned productive assets of the society and to redistribute wealth so that all people have a relatively equal standard of living.
Right wing economic policies on the other hand focus on the individual. Righties believe that government’s role is to free up individuals to pursue their own interests, to promote private as compared to common wealth, and to encourage people to look after themselves.
It is the nature of our society that it tends to swing back and forth between these archetypal opposites. If either side dominates for a time, then the other side will rise up to challenge that dominance. But there is an alternative to this. We can find a balance: this is the third way.
Over the last century or so, a major conflict between the forces of the left and right has played itself out, with our global society negatively polarized between socialist and capitalist ideologies. Following the collapse of the USSR and China’s embrace of capitalism with the end of the cold war, the advocates of right wing economic policies began to claim the moral high ground.
We saw the rise of neo-liberalism, and as mentioned above, neo-liberal policies became embraced by both centre-left and centre-right political parties around the world. Far from being the third way as Clinton and Blair claimed however, neo-liberalism actually meant a shift to the right for the already right-winged global capitalism. A more genuine third way actually lies significantly to the left of here.
What this shift to the right has meant for democratic nations of the world is that political opportunity is beginning to open up on the left-hand end of existing mainstream parties. This can be witnessed by the rise of Barack Obama, the Liberal Democrats in the UK, the left-leaning Julia Gillard in Australia, and the increasing importance of the Greens in political discussions around the world.
A genuine third way however, will involve much more than just a shift to the left in global politics, and we will need to be informed by much more than just a vague discontent with the excesses of neo-liberalism. What we are looking for is something qualitatively different from the existing left/right dynamic.
Considering the challenges with which our global society is faced - a rapidly shrinking world due to an increasing population and technological capacity, and the necessity of transitioning to a post-carbon future to name a couple – advocates of a qualitatively different approach are indeed finding an increasingly receptive audience.
Economic growth for example, may still be spoken about as the panacea of all ills by the treasurers of the world, but the list of authors and other thinkers is already long who are asking the apparently simple question: How can we have continuing growth on a finite planet? Aren’t we already using 1.4 times the Earth’s regenerative capacity?
And then there is the growing focus on localization, embodied in the permaculture and transition movements among others. These are driven in part by concerns about global warming and peak oil, as well as a belief in the importance of community. The focus here is away from globalization and toward creating diverse, interactive and interdependent local economies.
In short, in the aftermath of the cold war, with the battle between capitalism and communism melting into history, a great reassessment is taking place concerning the institutions of governance and economics, and the appropriate shape and direction that they should take.
With this reassessment, outside of the capitalist/communist dichotomy, a number of difficult questions will need to be answered: How do we use fewer resources/pollute less? How do we maintain employment without economic growth? To what extent should we protect local economies and to what extent should we be open to trade? How do we assert local democracy and maintain control of local assets? What are the appropriate forums/democratic mechanisms for working out issues of global and geo-regional politics?
The traditional answers will no longer suffice. While there are those among us who would continue to rock the boat one way or the other, most of us are oriented toward stability and balance. We are moderates, and we do not wish to see ongoing conflict between the left and the right.
For this reason, it is those political parties that can remove themselves from the left/right splice, and look for genuine, structural solutions to the upcoming challenges to our socio-economic system, that will be best positioned to lead us into the future.