Goodbye, Tony, the Man Who Would Be Poodle
Cartoon by Sardon, from Le Monde
I am not British, so the finer points relating to the transformation of Labour intended by Blair are somewhat blurred. But I do understand that the Third Way, celebrated by Bill Clinton, was meant to remove the Labour Party from the influence of the unions and the Marxists.
As an aside, the West is supposed to be undergoing some kind of neoliberal transformation but there is an abundance of reticence on the subject. There are no public intellectuals to give us the information and our governments are using the surprise assault technique to destroy the welfare state such as it is in the United States without clearly establishing what is going to replace it. An Italian intellectual remarked that nobody really knows where all this dismantling and free enterprise talk is taking us and that it's more of a fashion statement.
German historian Wolfgang Nowak examines what Blair intended to accomplish and how his fatal embrace of Bush's War on Iraq spoiled his legacy in an interview conducted by Le Monde's foreign affairs correspondent, Daniel Vernet.
Q. Ten years ago, one might have paraphrased a remark by André Malraux on DeGaullism: Everyone was, is or will be Blairist. Today, the statue has been toppled from its base.
A. It is sad that the Blair era ends in such a horrible way: by a sort of Labor Party death wish. But I do not believe that the time of Tony Blair has ended. I believe that his formula, We must control the future, remains one of the main tasks of political parties that are mean to be progressive. Blair has a vision of the future that I see in a phrase by François Furet: “The past is an illusion”. I think that this is the starting point of Blair’s thinking. Blair is a politician who takes seriously the last phrase of Furet’s book: Nous voici condamnés à vivre dans le monde où nous vivons [Here we are condemned to live in the world in which we live]. The old social democracy has made an art of regretting the past and offers no vision of what the world will look like in twenty and thirty years. (...)
Q. You portray Tony Blair if not as an ideologue, then as a thinker, whereas his success owes primarily to his ability to communicate.
A. I see Tony Blair as theoretician inside small circles. Of course, to go from theory to practice, you must be an able tactician. Blair is a good actor and a good orator. Blair the intellectual and Blair the tactician are not mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that I can condemn him for exploiting the media in a culture of entertainment. He gave an interpretation of grand ideas which he intended to put into practice, even if the implementation never quite measured up to the rhetoric.
Q. Do you know that Blairism is no longer fashionable in France and to be called Blairist is almost an insult?
A. Let’s take the example of the German Left. When the Blair-Schröder declaration was published in 1999 (Europe, the Third Way and the New Center), the old school social democrats were in a state of shock because their beliefs had been shaken and their reason for existence was questioned –above all, the notion of class struggle. The merit of Blair was to have said that class struggle was an artifact of the past and to have brought social democracy into the present -an extremely difficult task. The German social democrats had been basking in the past. As to the French, they missed their chance five years ago, during the presidential elections. I think that Lionel Jospin was a modernizer although he did not consider himself to be Blairist. He used Socialist language, which Blair never did. Blair developed his own vocabulary.
Q. You were the organizer of the 2000 Summit of the Modernizers (Blair, Clinton, Jospin, etc.) How would you characterize Blairist principles in a few words?
A. First principle: the responsibility of the citizen cannot be nationalized. This is a typical social democrat attitude. For Blair, the citizen must capable of deciding his life in society. The second concerns the State. The social democrats believe in an all-powerful state that resolves all problems. Blair’s idea is that the State is there to provide guarantees but it doesn’t do everything itself. This is the new partnership principle between the State and the citizen, who must assume his responsibilities. Blair tried, not always with success, to replace dependence on the State with a kind of equality in equal opportunity. The goal was to emancipate the citizen from the supervision of the State, which is not there to relieve the the citizen of his responsibility. The State is a facilitator, having created the conditions for a takeover of the citizen by himself. The problem with Blair is that he believed in the salvation of globalism. His shortcoming was his inability to demonstrate how the state would influence globalism. His strength was his desire to make the citizen a partner of the State and society -a citizen who would be the entrepreneur of his own life.
Q. So Blairism has an international component?
A. Blair attempted to gather people who had the same convictions but not necessarily the same solutions. In India, Korea, in South Africa or in Latin America, his ideas not only could have helped to climb out of the impasse of Westernization or Americanization but they could have been useful to Germany, where the welfare state is in the process of strangling the State and compromising the future. His ideas remain attractive; even if he does not enjoy the success of a prophet in his own country. I’m thinking of the internationalization of the rights of man, which was manifested in Kosovo but derelict in Iraq. Blair was convinced that it is our values themselves that do not permit our values to be trampled elsewhere in the world. If we take this declaration of faith seriously, then we should be intervening everywhere, from Darfur to Byelorussia. But he believed a community of values should be created within the UN that would rally those who share Western values. For him, these values are anchored in the Enlightenment and in the French Revolution. The plan was thwarted by the crusader mentality of George Bush and by Blair’s inability to understand that a difference exists between Bush and America. By make the distinction, he disoriented a number of his friends.
Q. For what reasons did he avoid drawing the distinction?
A. I first would like to underscore that on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I did not understand why Schröder, for purely electoral reasons, was so critical of the United States. I did not understand Chirac, either. As a matter of fact, I did not understand Blair. All three of them knew that Bush was going to war at all costs. They saw the looming catastrophe and Europe remained on the sidelines. Perhaps Blair thought that as an ally, he could have prevented George Bush from foolish acts. He failed. I would have liked to have seen France, Germany and Great Britain find a way to force the Americans to reflect on the consequences of their actions in Iraq. Blair could have been a great statesman of the 21st century, like De Gaulle, Adenauer and Churchill were in the 20th, if he had not participated in that fateful war.
Q. Is the war the principal cause of Blair's demise?
He would have had a chance to recover if the war had ended quickly, if a better Iraq had emerged out of the adventure. As terrible as the regime of Saddam Hussein was, I now think things are worse there. It is a mistake that will forever tarnish Blair’s reputation.