The Third Way: Myth and Reality

By Petras, James | Monthly Review, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Third Way: Myth and Reality

Petras, James, Monthly Review


What is the Third Way? Both historically and in the contemporary world, there are numerous examples of political leaders and movements that declare their allegiance to a Third Way--defining alternatives in opposition to what they perceive to be dominant paradigms. In the contemporary world, the best known exponent of the Third Way is British Prime Minister Tony Blair, though a number of other political leaders in Europe and elsewhere have expressed sympathy or support for the rhetoric or substance of Blair's version of the Third Way.

What we should keep in mind, however, is that there are many other varieties of a Third Way in the modern world besides the Euro-American brand. Moreover, the contemporary version represents a sharp divergence from earlier Third Way approaches, prominent in European politics throughout the twentieth century. This paper will begin with a brief exposition of the principal arguments of the contemporary Euro-American Third Way. We will then compare and discuss historical experiences and earlier exponents of the Third Way, critically analyzing their assumptions and prognostications. We will then proceed to discuss a variety of contemporary Third Ways, including the Euro-American one, before summing up our analysis and theoretical conclusions.

The Claims of the European Third Way

The Western European version of the Third Way (specifically the Tony Blair/Anthony Giddens account) begins by elaborating a critique of what they describe as free-market capitalism and state socialism. They argue that free-market capitalism is in humane and exclusive--based on a class-bound establishment that denies equal opportunity to all classes and social groups. On the other hand, the ideologues of the Third Way claim that statist socialism denies the individual freedom of choice and incentives to engage in entrepreneurial activity. Having specified the two dominant modes of thought of the present or recent past, the Blairites and their cohorts claim that they are in favor of an economy and society that combines the individual choice of the marketplace and the social opportunities of the welfare state. Underlying the Third Way is a set of sociological assumptions that provide the theoretical gloss for Blair's political directives.

Sociohistorical Premises of the Third Way

According to Third Way theory, historical developments have dissolved old class-based politics and rendered class struggle approaches irrelevant. New technologies and market-driven incentives unite producers in a new, information-driven global economy. The principle that unites producers is the drive for higher productivity and greater competitiveness in the global marketplace. The state, according to Third Way theory, should play a role on the supply side, creating conditions and incentives to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, and equal opportunity. The state's role in the social sphere is to promote personal responsibility and to encourage employment rather than welfare dependency. According to Third Way theory, society will retain social inequalities but encourage equal opportunity; the goal accordingly is not to redistribute income but to increase income for all. In confronting the assumptions and propositions of contemporary Third Way theory, it is useful to compare and contrast it with earlier Th ird Way arguments. In doing so, we can clearly identify its radical break with the past, as well as gain a critical perspective on the limitations of previous Third Way approaches. Following this historical comparison, we can then turn to an examination of each of the basic premises of contemporary Third Way approaches and draw some general conclusions about the contextual emergence and possible demise of the Third Way.

Comparative Historical Experiences of Third Ways

It is important to distinguish between two distinct but interrelated efforts to elaborate Third Ways in the twentieth century: the reform socialist approach that dates from the turn of the nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War; and the welfare capitalism approach that emerged in the period after the Second World War and lasted until the mid-1980s. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Third Way: Myth and Reality


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.