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Remembrance of Third Ways past

I just finished reading Allan Carlson’s Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies - And Why They Disappeared. It’s a really excellent collection of short case studies of 20th century attempts to create, recreate or maintain local, familial, distributist or agrarian economic forms in the face of commies, fascists, and cigar-chomping businessmen. In addition to central European agrarians, Swedish socialist housewives and Chesterbellocian distributists, he covers Karl Polanyi, the postwar Social Democrats, the late great family-wage regime, and a decentralist Russian agricultural economist, Alexander Chayanov, who died extremely suddenly in 1937.

The reasons they failed include, it seems, the brutality of their opponents and the dissolution of an intellectual culture capable of supporting any outlook not machine-tooled. When Alva Myrdal and Olof Palme came for the Swedish housewives there was no one to defend them. It seems that modern one-principle theories of social organization are more at home in modern thought, and they make their proponents effective and hard-hitting if not perhaps very pleasant. I’d add that they consume for their own purposes whatever fragments of other principles manage to survive for a time. American and Swedish proponents of housewifery tried to make it respectable by promoting “domestic science,” but they just made it an indefensibly inferior form of industrialism. And the distributist-inspired federal attempt to expand homeownership became, under Clinton and Bush, a particularly mindless and indeed catastrophic social engineering scheme to advance “diversity.”

Hope nonetheless springs eternal: here’s Carlson interviewed by Crunchy Con Rod Dreher on what one might call the approaching Third Wave of the Third Way. Here’s a longer review of the book by a policy advisor to the Dutch Christian Democratic Party. And the Amazon page on the book has a lengthy summary by “zosimos” (who also did a summary of my book).