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CL: The Economist on Giddens, Hayek & the LSE

Beware of socialists pitching new paradigms. Maybe the Economist hasn't
succumbed to the "Cool Brittania" backwash as much as I thought it did --

Bob Hettinga

--- begin forwarded text

Date:         Fri, 16 Oct 1998 15:50:19 EDT
Reply-To: Hayek Related Research <[email protected]>
Sender: Hayek Related Research <[email protected]>
From: Hayek-L List Host <[email protected]>
Subject:      CL: The Economist on Giddens, Hayek & the LSE
To: [email protected]

>>  Current Literature  <  --  Giddens  /  Political Thought at the LSE

'Bagehot', "The third way revealed", _The Economist_.  Sept 19, 1998.

>From the article:

"SOMETIMES you want to read a book a second time. You know, just to
make sure that there was nothing important you missed first time around.
In the end, though, Bagehot decided to skip the second reading of Anthony
Giddens's "The Third Way" ..  For the time being, first impressions
must stand. This book is awesomely, magisterially and in some ways
disturbingly vacuous.

Why disturbing? There are many bad books in the world. But the third way
is not just a parlour game for intellectuals puzzling over the content
of politics now that both socialism and "unbridled" capitalism are in
It has become the quasi-official political philosophy of Britain's governing
party, and is taken seriously enough to form the backdrop for a curious
political seminar that Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Romano
Prodi, the prime minister of Italy, plan to conduct in New York on September
23rd. Nor is "The Third Way" just any other book about what the third way
is. It is the first detailed account of it by the man who has become its
chief British prophet and interpreter. Even by the standards of the London
School of Economics, which provided a base for the likes of Friedrich Hayek,
the Webbs and Harold Laski, its present director exerts a powerful influence
on Downing Street. Of Mr Giddens (who, thanks to Mr Blair, shall be Lord
Giddens hereafter), as of no other living sociologist, it can be said that
what he thinks matters.

So what does he think? A large part of"The Third Way" consists of a
of where things stand after the death of socialism. Mr Giddens homes in
on "five dilemmas". In merciful summary, these are (i) that globalisation
is changing the meanings of nationhood, government and sovereignty. There
exists (2) a "new individualism" that is not necessarily selfish but which
means that social solidarity can no longer be imposed in a top-down way.
Although distinctions between left and right keep changing, the left cares
more about social justice and equality. However, (3), there is a category
of problems-such as global warming, devolution, the future of the European
Union-about which it is unhelpful to think in terms of left versus right.
(4) Some jobs (defence, lawmaking) can be done only by governments, even
though politicians are becoming less influential and pressure groups more
effective. And do not forget (5) that while environmental dangers can be
exaggerated it is highly dangerous to be sanguine about them, not least
because, as in the case of madcow disease, experts sometimes differ.

Hmm. At this point, the charitable reader may feel that although some of
these points may be obvious, and others arguable, Mr Giddens has at least
raised interesting questions. Moreover, they are original, in the narrow
sense that nobody else seems to have singled out these particular five
points and called them "dilemmas". The trouble with any argument constructed
at Mr Giddens's level of generalisation is that you begin to wonder whether
there might just as plausibly have been four dilemmas, or 14, or even whether
a different five could have been chosen just as easily  ..  But let
that pass. Philosophers describe the world. How does the prophet of
Britain's third way propose to change it?

Mr Giddens admits that what he is offering is merely an "outline". This
is a deceptive species of modesty given that what he claims to be outlining
is no less than "an integrated political programme covering each of the
major sectors of society." Here we learn amongst other things that
is undesirable but so is a "blanket endorsement" of free trade; that there
should be no rights without responsibilities; that the protection of children
is the most important bit of family policy; that society should be "inclusive"
but not "strongly egalitarian"; that constitutions should aim for openness
and transparency; that there may be a case for a world criminal court;
that there is a need to control excessive overshoots in financial markets
but that the nature of these controls is "problematic"; that . .

But, really, why bother to go on?  .. it would have been nice  for Britain's
pre-eminent sociologist and the director of the LSE to come up with at
least one new proposal capable of ruffling at least someone's feathers.
Remember "The Road to Serfdom", Hayek's brave, hugely unfashionable
warning against planning made in the midst of a war that seemed to
have made planners indispensable?  By contrast, Mr Giddens's
integrated political programme boils down to a list of conventional appeals
to civic virtue, in which every bet is hedged and everyhard choice ducked.
It is just the sort of stuffthat could find its way risklessly into the
manifesto of any social democratic party interested in tarting up its image.

Which is presumably why he wrote it. Mr Giddens wants to restore the LSE
to a position of power and influence. How pleasing it must have been to
find in Tony Blair a clever, instinctive politician in the market for some
sort of ideology in which to dress up his opportunism. And how intellectually
disarming. Was it fear of setting out any positions that New Labour could
one day find embarrassing that made Mr Giddens write such a bad book? Whatever
the reason, the third way remains as mystifying as ever. Herbert Morrison-the
grandfather of Peter Mandelson, Mr Blair's cabinet colleague-once wickedly
defined socialism as what the Labour Party did. On the evidence of this
slight work, the third way is whatever New Labour does."

Anonymous, "Bagehot:  The third way revealed".  _The Economist_
Sept. 19, 1998  Vol: 348, Issue: 8086.  pp. 72-73.

Current Literature is a regular feature of the Hayek-L list.

--- end forwarded text

Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'