A competent polemicist, David Goodhart has produced a slick diatribe against left critics of the third way in general and, in particular, my annotation of the Blair-Schroeder manifesto. He’s also reproduced in his writing the defects of the politics he’s trying to defend. It’s all there: superficial and contradictory analysis, passive acceptance of the neo-liberal worldview, unimpressive policy notions, an I-know-better-than-you stance, and indifference to (or disdain for) the best of the democratic tradition.
Goodhart gets off to a foolish start by trying to justify the mediocrity of the manifesto. He says it’s no more than “a rather ephemeral political statement that resounds with the platitudes required by official political life.” Actually, it’s a lengthy, formal document, presented by the prime ministers of two significant European nations, that claims to explain in some detail the ideas behind and policies of the third way. The British Labour Party and the German Social Democratic Party distributed it widely. It’s available on their Web sites.
Goodhart specifies that the “official political life” that “required” this set of “platitudes” was the European Parliament elections of June 1999. This will impress no one who believes that politicians and parties in a functioning democracy should engage citizens in substantive debate. Everyone knows that political discourse takes place at an appallingly low level these days, but “small-d” democrats agitate to raise that level. They don’t, like Goodhart, cynically blow off a substandard document with an “it’s-just-for-the-voters” attitude.
Most democratic leftists take statements produced by the left (and center-left) seriously not only because they want to upgrade the quality of political life, but also because they see programmatic statements and philosophical manifestos as tools for mobilizing their constituencies. How should we understand what’s happening to us? What should we fight for? How can we best make our case? This type of left desires a lively, engaged citizenry; its political platforms aim to educate the reader and rally the troops. The Blair-Schroeder manifesto does the opposite. It lectures us not to expect too much from the public sector, urges everyone to submit to market forces, and assures us that government technocrats will tweak whatever needs tweaking in order to provide all things to all people. For Goodhart and other third-wayers, nice modernized folks stay put in the private sector and make their money quietly. “Lefties”—all old-fashioned ideologues—make noise.
Neither Goodhart nor the manifesto has anything to say about the global economy, despite the fact that third-wayers invented their project to respond to what they see as traditional social democracy’s failure to cope with the pressures of globalization. They have nothing to say because they’ve simply adopted the neo-liberal point o...
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