New Labour: A Critique

New Labour: A Critique

New Labour: A Critique

New Labour: A Critique

Synopsis

New Labour is the most innovative and powerful political movement in Britain today. However, New Labour: A Critique argues that its apparent pragmatism disguises an ideological commitment to particular forms of social science, deploying new institutionalism and communitarianism to respond to the New Right. Bevir traces the impact of these forms of social science on the ideas and policies of New Labour, paying particular attention to the welfare state and the economy. New Labour, the new institutionalism and communitarianism typically objectify aspects of the social world to sustain claims to expert knowledge. Bevir defends and enacts an alternative, interpretive approach to social science. This interpretive approach inspires a critique of New Labour as a contingent reworking of a particular socialist tradition rather than the necessary or pragmatic response that it portrays itself as.

Excerpt

I have written a tract for our times. I would like to be able to say that I have written about what is to be done, but alas, as the reader will find, I have only the vaguest reply to that most important of questions. What I can say is that I have tried to raise doubts about prevailing trends in social democracy and political science, and that in doing so I have tried to point to neglected alternatives that I believe to be preferable to these trends.

I am a social democrat and a political scientist. Yet I shrink somewhat from these labels due to their association, respectively, with statism and positivism. the last twenty-five years have made both labels increasingly awkward ones to own. State socialism, and so perhaps social democracy, has been undermined by the collapse of communism and by changes in Keynesian welfare states. Positivism, and so perhaps political science, has been undermined by the interpretive turn, that is, those theoretical movements that have emphasised the holistic nature of meanings, beliefs, and language as well as their constitutive relationship to actions. While social democrats and political scientists could stick their heads in the sand and deny the importance of these political and intellectual movements, I think that they would be foolish so to do. Once they raise their heads, they confront the issue of how to reform social democracy and political science. To urge the need for reform is not to call for an emphatic break with the past. Rather, social democrats and political scientists can draw on competing strands in their heritage to define their various proposals. To urge reform is merely to foreground the question, what is to be done?

Social democracy and political science are in need of reform. I am not alone in believing this. On the contrary, the dominant movements in social democracy and political science are today ones of self-conscious renewal - New Labour and new institutionalism. in my opinion, however, these movements are bland, complacent, evasive, and mistaken. All too often their advocates identify them with phrases that are so bland it is difficult to imagine anyone disagreeing with them. At times they appear complacent about the adequacy of these vacuous phrases; they seem ignorant of the importance of giving them specific content. At other times, especially when pushed on such matters, they become evasive; perhaps they give

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