The liberal Flatland vs worldcentric consciousness: Why Integralism is not liberalism

by editor

This is a continuation of the previous article on Integral Politics: Ken Wilber’s ‘Third Way’ of interior and exterior development. Ken Wilber believes that a “Third Way” should be a fusion or an integration of liberalism and conservatism, the Right-Hand and the Left-Hand. But why cannot the other way be possible? Why not the “rational-egoic” liberalism be imbibed into the Integral theory or the “Third Way”? Wilber’s reasons follow.
Integralism is not liberalism – all of us do know that. But there is in liberalism a higher kind of development of consciousness and a worldcentric approach to life. It is higher in thought compared to the “mythic-member” conservatism which relies only upon values, individual morality and conventional, sociocentric view of world. But liberalism is not the best of all. It is, according to Ken Wilber, only a “sick version of a higher level”, while conservatism is a “healthy version of a lower level”.

This is because liberalism fails to admit that there are stages of interior development and this contributes to changes in the external world. The liberalist cannot just swallow the fact that the interior can influence the exterior and that it too has its own stages of development. According to him, all interiors are the same and the discussion ends there. To analyze on why liberalism is not the ideal way, one has to excavate its ideologies a little more in-depth.


The liberal enlightenment: Liberalism was a breakaway from the traditional, conventional and what Ken Wilber calls the “mythic-membership” sociocentric wave of development. While the values and traditions of conservatism seem to be grounded in mythic religious orientation, that of liberalism are worldcentric. Set in aristocratic roots, conservatism has a tendency toward patriarchy and militarism and is thereby, sociocentric and ethnocentric. The liberal enlightenment happened as a “reaction” against the mythic-membership of conservative fundamentalism. Liberalism specially opposed two aspects of conservative consciousness and they are: 1. Ethnocentric prejudices and mythic rendering of society,  and 2. non-scientific nature of the knowledge claimed by myths. Opposing on the grounds of non-scientific and mythic prejudices, conservatism, according to the liberalists, indicted untold suffering on people. The need of the hour was an “ego that was identity-free from ethnocentric bias and based on rational and scientific inquiry” (Wilber). Liberalism advocated just that and transitioned the society from an egocentric/ethnocentric identity to that of a worldcentric approach. Liberal Enlightenment, in Ken Wilber’s words, represented, “evolution of consciousness from conventional/sociocentric to postconventional/worldcentric”.

But why is not liberalism Integralism? Reasons vary, but one of the primary pointers is, liberalism is a “poor or sick version of a higher version” and hence is not the “Third Way” sought by political theorists. This is because, liberalism arose in a climate which Wilber calls “the flatland”. By Flatland, he means the scientific materialism of the modern era and the overt importance given to matter above everything. Growing up amidst a political flatland, liberal enlightenment believes that everything Right-Hand is real and even the Left-Hand ideologies are correlated in their connection to the Right. By being the “political champion of the flatland”, liberalism opines that the mind is a “tabula rasa” (blank state) that is filled with representations of the Right-Hand or the objective world. So, if there is a problem on the interior or subjective world, it should have occurred on account of an objective causation. In other words, for all the higher development of liberal political theory, it has been caught in the political flatland, in a pathological state without any possibility of self-rescue. This is where Wilber hints at the “great irony of liberalism”. The liberal enlightenment happened because of a development of an inner consciousness, a higher form of thought process. When it erupted as a theory, it championed the cause of the objective world, forgetting, rather denying the existence of its birth. To put in Wilber’s words, “The liberal stance is the product of stages that it then denies and this, is the inherent contradiction of liberalism”.

Liberalism, thus, instead of analyzing or judging on the interior development stages of individuals, found ways to focus on the exterior, economic, social institutions. Divulging from interior development, liberalism is but a handicap as a political theory. It cannot and would not be able to replace the integrated “Third Way” that seeks to bring the best of both liberalism and conservatism. A Third Way would an embrace of the higher level, that would focus on both the “growth and development of consciousness and subjective well being, as well as growth and development of economic and material well-being”.  Two ways, Ken Wilber prescribes as steps toward the Integralism are: “1. Uniting the subjective and the objective and 2. Seeing stages of the subjective and thus arriving at the prime directive.”

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