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Fri, Jan 28, 2000 - Page 13 News List

A new ideology for a changing world

By Tseng Chao-Ming

Illustration: Yu Sha

The "new middle way" or the "third way with Taiwanese characteristics" put forward by the DPP has generated much discussion. Many people have criticized the policy's opacity, while others suggest that the policy is nothing more than an election tactic. The public's lack of understanding of what this policy seems to support charges that the "third way" policy lacks a popular base in a "left-less" country like Taiwan. The critics suspect that the "third way," which developed out of the experience of European Social Democracy, will fall on infertile ground in Taiwan, and end up as nothing more than a facile campaign slogan. These criticisms should be taken seriously if Taiwan hopes to develop a mature center-left political force.

One of the often-heard criticisms is that the centrist policies of the "third way" are meaningless in Taiwan as there is no "left" to balance the "right."

It is worth noting that most of the supporters of the "new middle way" do not believe that the "middle" refers to a middle ground between the "left" and "right" at all, but rather to finding a way to reconcile opposing positions in the endless "unification vs independence" debate.

Actually, both supporters and detractors of the "new middle way" have overlooked the fact that the policy shift the "new middle way" embodies is a response by European social democratic parties to the challenge of globalization. Ideologically speaking, the "third way" is an attempt to break the stalemate between neo-liberalism and social democracy. Policy-wise, however, the goal of the "third way" is to deconstruct the contradictions between a borderless capitalism and the exclusive sovereignty of nation states, and to find a center-left policy somewhere between the extremes of removing all government protections and fattening an already bloated government through increasing protective measures.

Contending forces

The need to find a "third way" between the right and left arises from the dilemma that all nation-states now face. Politics, economics, state and society all tend towards autonomy and disintegration in modern society, and those with political power can make policy choices that can eit-her tilt left (increased government supervision and intervention, and social integration) or right (reduced government intervention, establishment of autonomous mechanisms for social groups). In Taiwan, you can hear the same pro and con arguments on a range of issues, from the control of pornography on the Internet, the lowering of the stock transaction tax, the establishment of the National Stability Fund, how to solve unpaid private mortgages after the earthquake, to the liberalization of agricultural land. A similar debate has emerged within the DPP.

More discussion is required about the critics' charge that the "new middle way" is meaningless because there is no struggle between right and left in Taiwan. How should governments work towards economic and social fairness when the very power of nation-states is limited by the forces of globalization? How should the state maintain its numerous social contracts and integrate society's various functions, while at the same time raising the self-discipline (自我規範) and autonomous abilities of various groups? These questions belong to the "right-left" debate, but because they are rooted in deep structural changes, they are also questions that any political force must face if it wants to lead Taiwan into the new century. Simply put, a centrist, "new middle way" is necessitated by the changes to the structure of the international political-economy, not by the existence or lack of a self-proclaimed left in Taiwan. The development of a viable "new middle way" in Taiwan is dependent on whether political forces can put forth a center-left policy to meet the structural changes listed above. It is not consequent upon the existence of a left-wing tradition in Taiwan.

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