What is the Third Way? Definition and meaning

The Third Way is a political-economic approach that is neither left nor right wing – it is neither capitalism nor socialism, but something in between, or a combination of both. The Third Way is a centrist economic philosophy which emerged and grew in the 1990s in the United States and United Kingdom, Europe, and then the rest of the world.

The Third Way attempts to reconcile left-wing and right-wing politics by advocating a combination of left-wing and right-wing policies.

Bill Clinton, who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001, and Tony Blair who served as Britain’s Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, both built the New Democrats and New Labour respectively by promoting the Third Way.

Developed in the UK by Professor Anthony Gidden, Director of the London School of Economics, the approach claimed that the traditional class-based divisions of the left and right had become redundant.

The Third Way - Anthony GiddensAnthony Giddens – Baron Giddens – is a British sociologist, considered to be one of the most prominent sociologists in the world today. He has written 34 books, which have been translated into 29 languages. He is listed as the 5th most-referenced author of books in the humanities. (Image: adapted from 1. Wikipedia. 2. Amazon)

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the third way is:

“A political movement in which the development of business is balanced with the needs of society. ‘Tony Blair claimed that New Labour is the Third Way between capitalism and socialism.'”

The third way – the centrist way

According to Prof. Giddens, in the face of global financial forces, reformist governments were no longer able to rely on traditional statist programs. Rather, political parties needed to gain consensual support by campaigning from the center of the political spectrum, while at the same time remaining committed to radical measures.

New Labour should not be afraid of being labeled conservative, Prof Giddens emphasized, because this new way included ideas from the more centrists parts of conservatism.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Clinton both held a conference together in New York in September 1998 to officially launch the Third Way – their new ideology.

Both leaders said that they rejected the idea put forward by neo-liberals that everything could be left to the market, but added that the traditional left-wing faith in state intervention in the economy had become obsolete.

The Third Way in the politial spectrumIn the political spectrum, the Third Way is right in the middle. As well as being centrist, it also mixes some left and right wing elements in its cocktail.

The Third Way spread

It was not long before Europe’s social democrats embraced the third way, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder; the Italian prime minister, Massimo D’Alema, and Dutch prime minister, Wim Kok, and others.

Since then, George Bush became the US President, followed by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, conservative David Cameron became UK Prime Minister, followed by fellow conservative Theresa May, and ultra-left-wing Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the British Labour Party – the outlook for the Third Way looks bleak.

A BBC article published in September, 1999, included the following description of the Third Way:

“Put at its most basic the Third Way is something different and distinct from liberal capitalism with its unswerving belief in the merits of the free market and democratic socialism with its demand management and obsession with the state.”

“The Third Way is in favor of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but it is also in favor of greater social justice and it sees the state playing a major role in bringing this about.”

“So in the words of one of its gurus Anthony Giddens of the LSE the Third Way rejects top down socialism as it rejects traditional neo-liberalism.”

The Third Way supportersThe political heavyweights, pictured above, who supported the Third Way have all gone. Some analysts say that it will never come back, others insist that it will because most voters tend to select the center of the political spectrum on election day.

According to Tony Blair:

“My kind of socialism is a set of values, based around notions of social justice … Socialism as a rigid form of economic determinism has ended, and rightly. The objective – a modern civic society in which all individuals have the ability to develop their potential – places us firmly within the tradition of social democracy and democratic socialism.”

“The era of the grand ideologies … is over. In particular, the battle between market and public sector is over. There will be boundary disputes but not war…”

Video – Conversation between Blair and Clinton

In this conversation between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, which took place at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the ‘Third Way’ in politics is discussed frankly.