What if, despite the rhetoric, the relevant ideological ancestors for what passes for Mr Blair’s political thought aren’t the fascists themselves, but those who busied themselves making apologies for authoritarian right-wing rule in the fascist era, above all in Occupied France?
This thought first struck me in the Spring of 1999, when reading Alexander De Grand’s biography of Angelo Tasca, In Stalin’s Shadow (Northern Illinois University Press, 1986). As I wrote somewhere else back in June 1999:
Tasca (1892-1960) is best known for his activities in the Italian Communist Party in the 1920s, where he was one of the leading opponents of Antonio Gramsci in the debates over party organisation and strategy. Having been expelled from the Communist Party in 1929, he wound up in France, where he made the significant error of choosing to collaborate with the Vichy regime, for which he occupied an important post in the Ministry of Information. According to Alexander De Grand’s political biography (… p.161), Tasca introduced the idea of the Third Way in courses he gave at Vichy training academies. The key text was a set of lectures on ‘Le rôle de l’état‘ delivered in April 1943; it remains unpublished, in the Tasca archives at the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in Milan, but De Grand usefully highlights some of the key themes in Tasca’s political thinking during this period.In particular, Tasca called for a reconceptualisation of the idea of rights, as he sought a new understanding of rights that would be distinct from both a liberal treatment of rights as inviolable possessions and the totalitarian ambition to have the scope and content of all rights dictated by the state. Tasca also broke decisively with the socialism he had hitherto espoused. He rejected, for example, the natural equality of citizens, and went as far as to insist that there was no “problem of the ï¿½lites” and that “the masses” were a “negative factor in the Revolution”…. Tasca further argued that the middle class was the sole active historical force; he emphasised themes of social stability and inter-class harmony; and he thought that those who sought change should work for a moral transformation of the already existing political class, rather than seek to transform the social or economic structure of France.
I still think that this isn’t a bad presentation of the ideological core of Blair’s politics, c.1996-8 or so. Like Angelo Tasca, Tony Blair then concentrated his political-theoretical attention on the idea of “rights”, empahsising his “social” understanding of rights which balanced them with “responsibilities”. Tasca’s rejection of socialism and a politics of class conflict and his celebration of the middle classes sits comfortably alongside the broader contours of New Labour politics. And, finally, with respect to the moral transformation of the political class, it’s worth remembering the politics of moral renewal associated with New Labour in this period, after the Major years of brown envelopes and endemic Tory sleaze.
UPDATE [4.30pm]: Jamie has more.