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.
Illustration: Yu Sha
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.
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 (
Bridging the gap
Understanding Taiwan's "new middle way" as merely being a third way between the Scylla of independence and the Charybdis of unification obscures the link between Taiwanese and European versions of the "third way." It also paints the supporters of the "new middle way" as hopelessly clinging to the independence/unification divide, and the "new middle way" policy as nothing more than a election strategy to steer the DPP through Taiwan's divided political environment.
If one takes a careful look at the documents associated with the "new middle way" in Taiwan, however, it becomes clear that the policy in fact aspires to bridge the gap between left and right. The appearance of the idea of a "partnership government" in the DPP's Policy Platform for 2000 bears more than a casual resemblance to the "third way" put forth by European parties.
The platform contends that the arguments for a "large" or "lean" governmental structure are outdated ideological positions, and the relationships between the government and civil society, state and market are not zero-sum games. It also states in clear language that a government should be judged by the welfare it brings its people and not its size.
This role for the state is also delineated in the DPP's China Policy White Paper and the National Security Development Strategy is listed as a part of the "new middle way." The policy also states that a simplistic separation of the "no haste, be patient" (
Compared to those leftists who still stick to the old formula of, "socialism = nationalization = protective subsidies = universal welfare," Taiwan's "new middle way" is a more practical policy in the light of the limits that globalization sets on nation-state. Keynesian policies and macroeconomic controls are no longer possible in the globalized world of today, and "leftists" of all stripes, whether supporters of the "new middle road" or a more radical policy, should give up their pipe dreams about the powers of nation-states.
Of course, questions of how to best foster social solidarity and guide the market to bring the greatest welfare to the public under new economic, political and social conditions is not the exclusive property of any one party or the "new middle way." Rather, they are pressing contemporary issues that demand a response from all who reject neo-liberal market dogma.
Tseng Chao-ming (
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