What, then, to make of all of this?
I don’t really know.
Obviously Mr Blair isn’t a fascist, or an apologist for fascism, and the Labour Party isn’t a fascist formation. (If it were, I wouldn’t be a member.) But demi-semi fascist phrasemaking does fall easily, far too easily, from Mr Blair’s lips, and it’s doubly depressing that it seems to be on those occasions when he goes out of his way to talk about his most deeply-held political convictions that he sounds most like the heir to the ideological apologists for the Vichy regime.
In the most sensible thing ever written about the third way (Mr Blair’s that is, not Mussolini’s), Steven Lukes — commenting on the second most sensible thing ever written about the third way, Stuart White’s instant-classic paper, “Interpreting the “Third Way”: Not One Way But Many” — had this to say:
“I suggest that the very point of the rhetoric of the Third Way is to fudge such distinctions [between left and right, communitarianism and liberalism, elitism and democracy], thereby enabling the political leaders who foster it to pursue their project while enlarging their constituency among the ideologically inclined. So the Third Way can unite Anthony Giddens (for whom it signifies the renewal of social democracy) with John Gray (for whom social democracy belonged within a historical niche that is gone beyond hope of memory); high-minded pieties about family values and British pride with talk of flexible self-invention in a postmodern world; and media manipulation and Leninist party control with constitutional decentralization and support for citizens’ juries.”(Lukes, Liberals and Cannibals, Verson 2003, p.173, based on remarks given at a conference at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, November 1998.)
That’s always seemed to me to be about right.But I’d add just this one observation, that while we’re familiar with the ways in whicih third way rhetoric has been terribly useful for the government as it seeks to cover its left flank while shifting Labour politics to the centre and then to the right, we should pay more attention than we do both to the ideological ancestry of this kind of political language, and to the extent to which this way of talking can be used, and has been used, as political camouflage for an odious accommodation not merely with Mr Blair’s celebrated “forces of conservatism”, but also with the politics of the far, far right.
UPDATE [1.4.05]: Consider Phlebas has more.