Part III: Community and the Third Way
in The Third Way and beyond

This part assesses some of the approaches, attitudes and assumptions surrounding the role of community and of communitarianism in the Third Way as manifested in Britain by New Labour. For Amitai Etzioni, 'cultivating communities where they exist and helping them form where they have been lost should be a major priority for future progress along the Third Way'. The part provides a challenge to accepted beliefs about the role of community and of communitarianism in New Labour's Third Way.

Part III

Community and the Third Way

The idea of community forms a significant part of the positive content of the Third Way. Anthony Giddens, in his account of the Third Way, says that ‘the theme of community is fundamental to the new politics’.1 For Amitai Etzioni, ‘cultivating communities where they exist and helping them form where they have been lost … should be a major priority for future progress along the Third Way’,2 while community is one of the four values placed by Tony Blair at the heart of his Third Way.3

Linked to the idea of community is the doctrine of communitarianism, which appears in a number of forms. The prominent juxtaposition of rights and duties, or rights and responsibilities, in the Third Way – for example, Giddens suggests, ‘as a prime motto for the new politics, no rights without responsibilities’,4 while Blair’s Third Way has responsibility as a key value and features the claim that ‘the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe’5 – a key aspect of some versions of communitarianism, particularly that of Etzioni – and thus feeds back into ideas about community. The different forms taken by communitarianism can, at the most basic level, be categorised as political and philosophical. Both have been linked with New Labour.

While the narrative of community is central to New Labour’s message, there is little consensus among commentators as to either the form or the significance of the concept in this context. Closely linked, and similarly vague, is the idea of communitarianism and its role in the ‘newness’ of New Labour. The chapters in Part III both reflect and assess some of the approaches, attitudes and assumptions surrounding the role of community – and of communitarianism – in the Third Way as manifested in Britain by New Labour.

Sarah Hale examines the role of communitarian philosophy in New Labour’s Third Way, challenging the view that contemporary academic communitarian philosophy has played a significant part in informing the party’s approach, and critically assessing the claim, made by Blair himself and endorsed and promulgated by commentators, that the British moral philosopher John Macmurray has influenced New Labour’s approach.

Eunice Goes and Simon Prideaux consider the role of political communitarianism, and the contribution of its most noted exponent, Amitai Etzioni. Goes argues that New Labour has not, as is often suggested, adopted communitarian values, but has used them strategically in developing a Third Way which moves away from a traditional commitment to equality, particularly in the context of the party’s welfare-to-work agenda.

Simon Prideaux traces the provenance of Etzioni’s 1990s communitarianism and finds that it is little different from the organisational theory which that author espoused as a functionalist sociologist in the 1960s. This, Prideaux argues, makes for a highly inappropriate basis for a Third Way supposedly of the Left.

Taken together, the chapters in Part III provide, on a number of fronts, a challenge to accepted beliefs about the role of community – and of communitarianism – in New Labour’s Third Way.

Notes

1 Giddens 1998: 79.
2 Etzioni 2000: 18.
3 Blair 1998: 4.
4 Giddens 1998: 65.
5 Blair 1998: 4.

References

Blair, T. (1998) The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century, London, Fabian Society.

Etzioni, A. (2000) The Third Way to a Good Society, London, Demos.

Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Cambridge, Polity Press.

The Third Way and beyond

Criticisms, futures, alternatives

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