The Three Horsemen of the Third Way

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Sept. 29 1998 5:50 PM

The Three Horsemen of the Third Way

The "Third Way" is all the rage. Tony Blair peddles the term (see his recent Washington Post op-ed). So does Bill Clinton. And Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's new leader, is often called a Third Way man by the political press. In other words, the three most powerful Western countries are led by devotees. So what is this "Third Way"?

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In current usage, the term describes a capitalist ideology falling, roughly speaking, just left of center. But, looking back over the last 60 years, "Third Way" has been used variously and promiscuously enough to have lost any specific meaning.

The term has been applied to phenomena as unusual as an Israeli political party formed in 1995 to oppose Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, but its broadest applications have been:

  • Francisco Franco's version of fascism in 1930s Spain.
  • The agendas of dissident communists such as Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia (who broke with Stalin in 1948) and Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslavakia (the architect of the liberalizing reforms in the Prague Spring of 1968).
  • Mikhail Gorbachev's effort to find a route between state socialism and capitalism, including his perestroika campaign (a restructuring of the Soviet economy within a communist framework) in the late 1980s.
  • Movements throughout Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall seeking more freedom under socialism.
  • Socialist Sweden, straddling the divide between a centrally planned economy and pure market strategies.
  • Bill Clinton's appeal to New Democrats, dating from his 1992 campaign.
  • Tony Blair and his Laborites who proclaim their breakaway from both classical liberalism and the Thatcher-Reagan model, as well as contemporaneous movements elsewhere in Europe.

Naturally, the Third Way has its detractors: Vaclav Klaus, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, has said, "The Third Way is the fastest route to the Third World."

This item was written by Kate Galbraith.

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