Mapping political ideologies: Wilpert’s dimensions of Integral Politics

by editor

Ken Wilber, in his Foreword to his Volume 8 of The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, has demonstrated the importance of a “Third Way” owing to the practical flaws and incompleteness of the existing political options. Analyzing Wilber’s ideologies, Gregory Wilpert classifies and defines the varied dimensions of existing political ideologies in his essay, “Dimensions of Integral Politics”. Wilpert’s mapping out of political ideologies is based on the general framework of Wilber’s work and constitutes everything from liberal to conservative, individual to collectivist outlook of politics. Below is a gist of the five dimensions of political ideologies as stated by Gregory Wilpert.

First Dimension – Causation: According to Wilpert, “causation” is the first dimension of the existing political ideologies. While one political thought believes the “internal” to be the cause (conservatism), the other vouches on the “external” (liberalism). The view that internal or cultural factors formulate and shape a society has been derived directly from Hegel’s idealism. If such idealism is at one end of the spectrum of first dimension, materialism (as hailed by liberalists) is at the other end of the spectrum.

Second Dimension – Unit of Analysis: Different ideologies promote different units of analyses. However, on the whole, there are only two units of analysis – the individual and the group/collective. In contemporary America, the Democrats follow a materialist approach to social problems, believing in redistribution of wealth or economic resolution of conditions to improve material conditions. The Republicans, on the other hand, have a conservative approach in which they believe the cultural system to be a cause of social problems. Among these, both the liberalists and conservatives have extreme ideologists too. There is tension among two group of liberalists of which one believes the individual is important and his/her integrity is to be maintained and there is the other group which vows by the importance of the collective. Conservatism too has these two divisions.

With the above dimensions and the different spectrum of each dimensions established, one can analyze various types of approaches – extreme approach and neo- or ‘back to original form’ approach.  Based on these, we have extreme materialist and extreme idealist approaches.

Extreme materialism: Since materialism thinks that external factors are the root cause of all evils, the economic conditions of the society  are responsible for social welfare or degradation. Considering which, an extreme materialist is anti-capitalist and usually, socialist. An individual materialist outlook will be of anarcho-socialism which sees the individual as the primary unit of analysis. The individual materialist is “anti-state and anti-capitalist”. An extreme collective materialist approach is that of “state socialism” because of its “anti-capitalist” tendencies.

Extreme idealism: Though idealism has nothing against capitalism in terms of ideologies, it is not comfortable with the “greed and individualism” promoted by the ideology. Owing to this, extreme idealism is pro-fascist in its belief that cultural value system needs to be changed in order to  bring about social change. The collective idealist is for social change through some other system than capitalism (in order to maintain cultural order) while the individual idealist is libertine in its anti-statist ideologies. The individual idealist considers individual values to be the cause of problems.

Neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism: Neo-liberalism is liberalism back to its nascent stages, where economic liberty acquires primary importance and is quite pro-capitalist in its approach. Economic success, in a neo-liberalism, is measured in terms of both materialist and idealist terms. Neo-conservatism never overlooks or ignores economic system as a problem. Most of the neo-conservatives are Marxists who emphasized both cultural and economic reform.

Third Dimension – Form: The third dimension, in Wilpert’s opinion, is “form or what is called the level at which ideological belief system finds itself.” The levels can vary from egocentric (individualistic) to membership-level to universalistic or worldcentric. Nationalistic ideologies favor membership-level. While liberalism is universalistic and rational, conservatism favors membership-level. Wilpert calls this “form” in order to differentiate it from the fifth dimension, “content”.

Fourth Dimension – Change:
Wilpert says that how ideologies welcome change is also to be taken into account. Some of the existing political ideologies welcome change, while a few others prefer regression to transformative change and some oppose change in all forms. What Ken Wilber calls as “flatland” does not bring about any kind of transformative change. Transformative change allows society to move from one level to another;  translative change aims to maintain individuals in their current state; while regressive change does not allow any change at all. Marxism is the only ideology which motivates transformative change. All other ideologies, especially, most of the existing ideologies, allow only translative change.

Another thing to be analyzed is how ideologies expect change to happen. Planned change is the most common perspective. But planned change has met with a lot of criticism as one person plans and the rest follows. Also, it is considered totalitarian in its approach. Marxism faced with such accusations in the initial stages when it proposed planned change. Another way is through what Wilpert calls “critique” or to bring about change by stating what is not to be done. This negative or critical approach  to social change has been represented by Theodor Adorno and Jacques Derrida. But in recent times, there has been a backlash against this negative approach.

Fifth Dimension – Content:
The fifth and final aspect/dimensions of political ideologies is – “unique specificity”. Every political ideology has a specific content quadrant that distinguishes it from all the others. It is this uniqueness that cannot bring down the ideology under these dimensions and it is this peculiarity that makes it accepted or hated by majority in the society. Nazism as an ideology has all the dimensions mentioned above, but its identification as Jews as the target is unique and has nothing to do with the “ideology’s scheme in location”.

In conclusion, Wilpert states that a “Third Way” as prescribed/suggested by Ken Wilber should consider all the different spectrum of the dimensions mentioned above. Such an Integral Politics would be practically possible, socially concrete and can bring about change that is long-lasting and reformative.

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