This discussion on Third Way politics takes as self-evident the two primary functions of the modern state within capitalist society: (1) that it acts as the central body for administering the affairs and representing the interests of those groups who hold sway over the major means of economic production in society, and (2) apart from exceptional circumstances it functions to exclude, as far as possible, the masses from any form of political participation that may disturb this function.
Following these principles it is possible to employ a conceptual framework derived from knowledge of the capitalist state’s basic social role which allows us to plot a predictable pattern of action that it will undertake in order to maintain authority, address crises, and secure the public’s ideal position of passivity.
If we can understand the basic logic the state will follow when faced with certain challenges and crises, usually taking the form of the public venturing too far into the realms of power and attempting to exert too great an influence on the economic and political forces which constitute their lived reality, it is also possible to go some way in predicting future paths of reaction the state may pursue in order to circumvent challenges to its legitimacy or interests.
If we can expose and understand these basic patterns, we can also learn to subvert them. Here, of course, Antonio Gramsci will be eternally relevant. At base, The Third Way was essentially an effort to deflect a challenge posed to the authority of global capital by seeking to humanise the neo-liberal agenda through a philosophically promiscuous marriage between the values of socialist humanism and the logic of neo-liberal market ideology.
Third Way politics can be understood as an ideological legitimation of neo-liberal monetarist policy during a period when populations who had long endured its socially destructive consequences demanded reform. These processes articulate well with Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and passive revolution, which will form the theoretical context for the remainder of this discussion on The Third Way as ideology. Firstly, a brief outline of terms is required.