Generally, the Third Way is defined as a political position, which goes beyond right-wing and left-wing polices; a mixture of both. Apart from transcending differences between the left and the right, Third Way politics put an emphasis on equal opportunities for everyone, strengthening communities and most importantly on the welfare state.
The Third Way gained terrain mostly due to the fading distinctions between left and right ideologies. Political leaders soon came to realise that the centre was the place to be. Targeting a more inclusive electorate, they engaged in centre positions and added left-wing social policy and right-wing economical policy to their political programs in order to appeal to their bases. Nevertheless, by doing so they lost sight of their voters, addressing to the society needs rather than the individual needs. Thus, the Third Way somehow assumed a certain placebo effect, “that offers the appearance of a choice where essentially there is none” as Žižek puts it. However, the Far Right was there to seize every opportunity presented. In Zizek words: “The populist Right moves to occupy the terrain evacuated by the Left, as the only ‘serious’ political force that still employs an anti-capitalist rhetoric—if thickly coated with a nationalist/racist/religious veneer”. Politicians of the far right such as Haider in Austria, Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands or even Åkesson in Sweden managed to win considerable votes because they identified the concerns of the voters as individuals, addressing to them as ‘you’.
References: Exorcing Europe’s Demons, Extreme right-wing voting in Western Europe, The Radical Right in Romania, Political party evaluation and the distancing of Romania from Europe
By identifying different groups in a society, populist leaders have the power to polarise society. This is appealing to unsatisfied voters who feel they are not being heard as individuals. By offering the voters an alternative to break out of the placebo effect, populism manages to give voters a sense of power through a message of change. Although Zizek wrote his article in 2000, he still makes a good case in explaining why the Third Way is shortcoming compared to populism. By 2010, fourteen countries in the European Union have populist parties in parliament and thereof three countries have these parties in government. There is no denying that populism is an effective political tool.
Reference: The Rise of Europe’s Right-Wing Populists
Zizek claims that binary oppositions are everywhere, so what is wrong with acknowledging that fact? Moreover, why not use it? To Third Way parties this tool works exactly in the opposite direction of their politics, because it separates people instead of bringing them together. Anno 2010, the damage of separating people has been done in half of the European member states, so it is about time to reconsider failing Third Way politics. It is in the very nature of people to be identified as an individual and not to be overlooked in a great grey society. Populism gives the individual what it wants: self-identification by stigmatizing those who are different.
Populism is a very dangerous and effective tool when it is being used by extremist, xenophobic parties. Populism, however, does not necessarily have to be used for politics that we perceive to be morally wrong. To illustrate this with an example, in 2006 a political party for animal rights got voted into Dutch parliament. Times are changing, and so does politics. It is time to answer to new political tools by altering the old ways. Politics is a game of action and reaction and its the Third Way politicians turn to move.
Maija Komonen, Marsida Gjoncaj and Paul Bongers