Third Ways

I recently read Allan C. Carlson’s Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies—And Why They Disappeared — it’s always nice, isn’t it, when a subtitle is so long that it obviates the need to describe the book? I started reading it because I wanted to know a little more about Distributism, the small-is-beautiful, cottage-industry, a-man’s-home-is-his-castle model of political economy promoted by G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc; but the other Third Ways Carlson describes are pretty interesting too. (By the way, a PDF of the chapter on Distributism is available via the link to the book.)

Carlson traces these histories well, but I found the book somewhat disappointing, because it did not help me to answer the chief questions that I brought to it. To be fair to Carlson, I don’t think it was his chief purpose to answer these questions, but they’re in my mind all the same. Here’s what I’m wondering:

We all know that, in this country anyway, there is no chance of any such Third Way model succeeding — in the sense of its proponents actually coming to power or even having a significant role in national government (forty Distributist congressmen, that kind of thing). Given that reality, what should a person who is attracted to these Third Ways do? Can their values be successfully promoted on the local level, if not on the national? Can the recommending of such alternatives be a sort of public service, an ongoing reminder to people that there are alternatives to business as usual? Or is this just quixotic tilting at windmills?

These questions are much on my mind as I face yet another election season with no parties or candidates I want to vote for. I need a Third Way I can believe in, even if I’m its only adherent.