Integral Politics: Ken Wilber’s ‘Third Way’ of interior and exterior development

by editor

Ken Wilber is the man behind what is now widely called the ‘Integral Theory’. Ken Wilber’s theory is advocated by many politicians and social activists as an all-quadrant theory which emphasizes the integration of the Right-Hand and Left-Hand ideologies of politics. In an Introduction to the Volume 8 of the Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Wilber throws light on why he thinks interior and exterior development can only become the “Third Way”or the Integral way sought by political thinkers. This  “Third Way”, Wilber opines, should be a marriage of the “best of the liberal and the conservative” and should provide an all-level, all-quadrant framework to support a worldcentric change prophesied by politicians.

What is the need for all-quadrant political theory?
With too much going on between the Right and Left wings, one may wonder if one needs another political theory that is all-quadrant and brings with it the best ideas from both the liberal and conservative points of view. While the necessity of a “Third Way” maybe subject matter for a separate debate, it can be gathered from the views of politicians that many thinkers today are looking for an option that is different and yet is a cohesion of both the Right-Hand and Left-Hand political theories. A cross-fertilization of original ideas is the need of the hour and Ken Wilber, along with many other theorists, has sensed the pulse of politicians and ideologists who have a strong desire to find a “Third Way” to clear the mess and annihilate suffering and inequality in the world. Probably, Bill Clinton was referring to this Third Way when he reiterated “Vital Center” in his speeches and maybe, George W. Bush was talking of the same when he mentioned of “Compassionate Conservatism” or Tony Blair was ruminating about this when he actually referred to the need for a “Third Way”.


Ken Wilber’s Integral Politics: According to Ken Wilber’s Up From Eden, the liberals and the conservatives have different opinions with regard to the cause for human suffering. While the liberals claim that every other suffering perpetuates from an objective cause, the conservatives always attribute the subject as the cause. For instance, if an individual is suffering, the liberals tend to blame the society, social institutions, poor state of economy etc. as the only causes for the state of the individual. In this case, the individual becomes an object who is forced to suffer because of objective causes/factors.  On the other hand, a conservative blames the individual as the reason for his own suffering. Laziness or lack of knowledge or proper self-motivation maybe stated as the causes.

While the liberals seek “objective intervention” to resolve social situations, the conservatives recommend instigation of values and subjective conditioning of the individual and his/her family. The liberal demand for reform would comprise of redistribution of wealth, even slicing of the economic pie, and equality among all classes and strata of the society. The typical conservative demand for reform would be to instill a sense of responsibility, family values, morality, work ethics etc. in and individual and thereby to motivate him to excel in his environment.

Since both these ways are extremes in which one wants to thrive at the expense of the other, Ken Wilber seeks a “Third Way” that integrates the best of the liberal and the conservative through interior and exterior development.

Third Way – Interior and Exterior Development: Wilber opines, “Both the interior and exterior quadrants are equally real and equally important” and seeks to attend to both the factors with an equanimity and worldcentric approach. A Third Way, according to Wilber, can be successful only if it emphasizes both interior and exterior development, the Left-Hand and the Right-Hand, the subjective and the objective. Interior factors would comprise of values, meaning, morals, the development of consciousness etc. Exterior factors would include economic growth, technological advancements, material prosperity, social security, environmental safety etc. When both the interior and the exterior are nurtured and fused together, human suffering can be alleviated and a sturdy political theory can be arrived at. For this to happen, the evolution of the individual self should happen from the “egocentric” to the “sociocentric” and the “worldcentric”. In other words, this means tempering down the society’s “rational-egoic” self that emerged with liberal thought. Also, the strong belief in the “flatland” or “scientific materialism” should be controlled.

We can look into Ken Wilber’s thoughts on why liberalism became a “political champion of the flatland” and why that is a major hindrance to achieve “Third Way” in the next article.

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