The Integral ‘Third Way’: A comprehensive view of Integral Politics and AQAL

by editor

Many have argued the importance of a ‘Third Way’ in politics. Right from Bill Clinton to Tony Blair to all the sociologists and political ideologists, every one wants a ‘Third Way’ or a way that is better, higher and can last longer than the existing system. This way could be obtained by growing up to a new or higher level of politics or could be achieved through regression (going back to an older stage). Whatever be the case, a ‘Third Way’ has become the need of the hour. Integralism and Ken Wilber’s AQAL theory have shown a ‘Third Way’ to the current political scenario that rises the need to address global issues and want of collaboration between the First, Second and Third World countries. This article will explain in depth the ‘Third Way’ prescribed by Wilber and the Integral theorists and why such a ‘Third Way’ is essential to transcend existing ideologies.

Why should there be a ‘Third Way’? The first thing that has to be brought to the analytical table is why should there be a ‘Third Way’? If we cruise through history, we find that third ways have risen when people found existing dominant ideologies lacking. Gregory Wilpert, a noted Integral theorist points out in his essay, “Integral Politics: A Spiritual Third Way” in AQAL Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (Summer 2006, Vol. I, No. 2), “In the nineteenth century, socialism originally emerged as a third way between conservatism and classical liberalism. Later, in the twentieth century, social democracy developed as a third way between socialism and conservatism/free market capitalism.” He also notes that in the current context of “globalized society”, governments, parties and political ideologists propose to have third ways as old classical, social democracies do not seem to serve the purpose. But what happens in most of the cases is, rather than serving the problem, the new third ways thus proposed become a centric point between the two dominant ideologies. The ‘Third Way’ thus initiated is no different from the existing framework and does not transcend the current ideology context. Integralism proposed by Ken Wilber and others understands this issue and addresses the political climate with political ideologies framed out of the Integral Theory. Integral Politics, a political framework designed with Integralism as the base, overcomes and transcends the shortcomings of the existing ideologies and presents a “true alternative to politics” (Wilpert).

The AQAL concept of Wilber: Ken Wilber in all his writings has mapped out the evolution of the Kosmos and our political and cultural belief systems down the ages. According to Wilber, the world is what we see or what we perceive. In other words, our perspectives matter a lot when it comes to our belief systems. There are basically two dimensions to our perspectives – interior or exterior dimension (we can view the world from either of the perspectives) and individual or collective dimension (we can perceive the universe in an individual or collective point of view). If we put all these together, we will get a matrix comprising of four quadrants – subjective, objective, intersubjective, interobjective. Wilber put all these four perspectives in axis and quadrants to make them comprehensive. Above is a diagram of the AQAL (All-Quadrant-All-Levels) concept which is a comprehensive whole of all the levels/stages of human perception of the Kosmos – from the subjective to objective to intersubjective.

Integralism is a unification of all these perspectives. Unlike other theories, Integralism does not dissociate Subjective Knowledge (“I” or “We”) from Objective Truth (Science) or Intersubjective Morals (Truth). In Wilpert’s words, “the Integral Vision reintegrates the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in an unforced, holistic embrace”. A knowledge obtained by such a perspective will be wholesome, all-encompassing and true. In this Integral concept, no level or stage is devalued or ignored, but everything is intimately related to each other. As stated by Integral theorists, one level/perspective “transcends yet, includes” the other. There is also no imposing doctrine (like the Church in the Middle Ages) to exercise control over the society. Integralism is a holistic take upon a fragmented modern society which does not allow one particular sphere of knowledge to take precedence over other spheres but, gives equal importance to all.

Integral Politics – Application of AQAL to Politics: Wilber’s AQAL model can be applied to politics for mapping out political ideologies and sieving the best out of them. Gregory Wilpert achieves this by drawing two axis based on two dimensions – 1. Degree to which a political ideology believes that interior or exterior factors shape the individual or the society, 2. Degree to which a political ideology emphasizes the role of the individual versus the collective in resolving social problems. The first dimension can be understood by the ideologies of conservatism versus liberalism. While the former believes that an individual’s values shape up his life, the latter believes that the exterior, social institutions, shape up his lifestyle. To understand the second dimension, you need to take a look at the differences between Fascism, Libertarianism and Left. While Fascism believes in interior motivation of people with collective orderliness of society for social improvement and Libertarianism believes in individual’s values as the key factors behind his life conditions, Leftist ideologies believe in exterior forces as causatives. Wilpert’s diagrammatic representation of these two dimensions of Integral Politics can be seen below:

Beyond this, there is a third dimension to Integral Politics – what Wilpert calls “its degree of embrace or inclusion”. This based on the contexts considered by political ideologies – some take “physical needs” as the only contexts, while others emphasize “emotional or ethnocentric truths” and a few others may hang on to “universal or ration truths.” For instance, fascism believes only in ethnocentric truths, whereas liberalism acts upon rational truths. But Integralism, transcending all these, acts upon Kosmic or universal truths which is but a integration of all existing truths. Integral Politics recognizes the existence of “deeper truths, wider contexts” and understands the need for synergy of all truths/contexts. This is another reason why Integral Politics can be a successful ‘Third Way’.

There is yet another dimension, the fourth one, to politics and that is the “type and direction of change” prescribed by political ideologies. While some may prefer “translation” (reformative change or change within existing level), some may opt for “transformation” (revolutionary change or change that takes you to a level higher than the existing one), some may even prefer “regression” (no change or back to previous stage).

Integral Politics, in Wilpert’s words, “argues that all four dimensions must be considered when developing political analyses and policies”. This is the primary factor which makes Integral Politics “integral” and a rewarding ‘Third Way’ to existing political and social problems. Integral politics provides a ‘Third Way’ by both transcending and integrating all existing belief/ideological systems.

Reference Links:

1. Gregory Wilpert’s Integral Politics: A Spiritual Third Way

2. Augustine’s Integral Politics: A Brief Outline of and Introduction to the Integral Era

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