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).

5 thoughts on “Remembrance of Third Ways past”

  1. Is Amazon the only way?

    Carlson’s thesis is intriguing and congenial. I am one of the small publishers whose efforts to publish books using a competing printer have been squeezed by, and I am also a supporter of local bookstores. Sorry to be the humorless skunk at the picnic, but is it consistent that your bookseller-link for Carlson’s book is


    • Interesting question
      I would think that Amazon is bad for bookstores, good for independent and self-publishers. So how does that sort out from the Chesterbellocian etc. standpoint? (As a small publisher you might have ideas on the subject.) In NYC as I recall B&N etc. had already nuked the independent bookstores before Amazon appeared on the scene.

      In any case, anti-Amazons can get the book at Carlson’s (and my) publisher, ISI Books. Amazon has a bonus reader’s summary of the book, ISI a bonus interview with Carlson.


        Thank you for your gracious response. In fact, is also bad for independent publishers, not just for independent bookstores.

        As I suggested, perhaps too obliquely, in my post, is hurting many small publishers. Small publishers have depended on Amazon, where their books can compete equally with the books from large publishers. Your readers may perhaps not know, however, that Amazon has bought its own POD printer. Amazon is now requiring all publishers to use that printer, rather than Lightning Source, which has been the POD printer for most of us. If small publishers refuse to use Amazon’s own POD printer—at increased cost—Amazon simply takes the “Buy” button off the publisher’s pages. That can kill a small publisher’s business.

        “It had already happened” reasoning, like “it would in any event have happened” reasoning, leaves out of account the fluidity of the market and the responsibility each of us has. Think, for example, of the person who is just opening a bookstore. Supporting Amazon hurts that person.

        Bloggers put their support where their links are. Would you consider linking Carlson’s book on your blog to your publisher’s web site, Jim, rather than to

        All the best,


        • I adjusted the links
          It seems a problem with Amazon is that it acts as an aggregator of books, sellers, and reviews, since it lists used books and items it doesn’t carry, links other sellers, allows negative reviews etc. Once it has established itself as the dominant aggregator it can then manipulate the system it’s created to its own advantage, as long as it doesn’t go too far.


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