Here Comes the "Third Way"
There is a new political catch phrase here in Britain that is finding its way into many of the government's policy documents and causing quite a stir among the chattering classes. It is called "the Third Way".
Readers in the Czech Republic will remember this slogan from the more optimistic years of the early 1990s when some politicians proposed a political course that would combine the best aspects of bold yet cruel capitalism and safe yet stupefying socialism. That line of thinking, of course, was crushed by the rise of Klaus who openly stated that "The Third Way is the fastest route to the Third World", and the idea has been taboo in the Czech Lands ever since.
Not so in Great Britain, where the Labour Party has de-emphasised its old slogans of a "stake-holder society" and thoroughly embraced the rhetoric of the "Third Way". The idea is to break from age-old dichotomies and find new solutions in all fields of government.
In foreign affairs, for example, this approach means rejecting both the method of direct conflict and the method of quiet complicity with oppressive regimes elsewhere in the world. Instead, it seeks to promote gradual reform in these countries. Foreign Minister Robin Cook this week unveiled a new Human Rights Report in this vein promising "not to row or kow-tow" with oppressors. (Independent 22.4.98)
In other fields, the slogan "Third Way" is becoming popular as well. Blair has used the term in relation to health care and the economy, and the idea is known to have been a topic of conversation between Blair and President Clinton. The ferment has reached such a point that Tony Blair will host 30 academics and policy advisors at a conference on 7th May to discuss the "Third Way" and its meaning for politics and economics.
"Third Way" fever is clearly spreading here among the intellectual elite. The Independent on 21st April, in addition to some of the information above, included a brief history of the term "Third Way" which seems to have been used by Christians, fascists and socialists at various times.
If it means that politicians are breaking out of the outdated right-left dichotomy and searching for new solutions, I think this recent exploration of the "Third Way" may be positive. I do agree with Blair when he says that it is not what is right or left that counts but what works. Hopefully, a bit of lateral thinking will infuse some new ideas into policy.
In the long run, the success of policy is judged not by the words and the slogans but by the actions. Britain must wait to see if new substantial policies are put into force and then judge the success of this "Third Way" in reality. If the "Third Way" does turn out to be neither left nor right but what works, then I will be all for it.
I wonder if such a public debate about an escape from the old ideological dichotomy is yet possible in the Czech Republic. It is clear to me that such a discussion would be helpful.
It seems that a public debate in the Czech Republic on a "Third Way" could be useful for rejecting ideological solutions and for finding working solutions. People are tired of hearing the same old politicians bleat on about simplistic economic solutions based on outdated ideologies. They are weary of reading only the views that the suffocating political dichotomy of left and right gives them. People are ready for something different, something non-ideological, and something that works.
Though such a public debate in the Czech Republic would be useful and popular, I fear that the Czech chattering classes are still prejudiced against any talk of a "Third Way".