Integral Politics Comes of Age

Integral Politics Comes of Age

In a 2007 interview by What Is Enlightenment? magazine’s executive editor, Carter Phipps, integral philosopher Steve McIntosh explains the revolutions in consciousness and culture that are shaping the geopolitical future of the planet and leading us toward an integral world federation.


Carter Phipps: When I first learned about Descartes, at the tender age of eighteen, and was told that his famous statement of truth, revered for centuries in philosophical lore, was “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am,” I found myself surprisingly unimpressed. No doubt I was a touch arrogant or a little bit clueless, or both, but the notion that one’s capacity to think constituted evidence of one’s existence seemed to my youthful and unenlightened mind just a little too . . . well, obvious.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and my more mature self has come to appreciate the deeper meaning in those simple words and in philosophy in general. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that this scientifically informed technological society of wealth and freedom that we in the West take for granted today can be traced back to realizations embedded in Descartes’ radical declaration. In those formative days, when the foundations of our modern world were still being forged, Descartes’ words heralded the arrival of the rational, autonomous modern self and helped give human beings the capacity to see the world as they had never seen it before—objectively. Every scientist of the last four hundred years owes him at least a small debt.

Philosophy, as it turns out, is not just a clever way to test the patience of first-year college students with early morning lectures and parsings of logic that would challenge the endurance of Sisyphus. At its best, it is an exercise in laying the structural foundations of culture, and philosophers can be likened to a sort of advance team on the edges of the development of our society, setting up outposts on the borders of our collective consciousness. Do you want to know where human society is headed in the next one hundred years? Check out the leading edge of philosophical thought today.

That brings us to integral philosophy and Steve McIntosh, author of the just-released Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution. In a series of recorded conversations for WIE’s online multimedia service over the last year, I have had the good fortune to engage in a little philosophy myself, exploring the contours of an emerging worldview that has come to be called “integral.” My partner in this endeavor has been McIntosh, a forty-seven-year-old businessman from Boulder, Colorado, who is equal parts visionary CEO, inspired political scholar, and gifted philosopher. McIntosh has been following many of the insights of integral theory for decades, but it was not until a few years ago that he became aware of their significance as a new cultural movement. In a series of gatherings in the year 2000 with Spiral Dynamics cofounder Don Beck and the founders of Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, McIntosh began to recognize that the integral worldview was more than just a series of fascinating ideas or an interesting trend in culture. It was, he realized, a historically significant new stage of culture, or as he puts it, “a real, authentic social movement that transcended and included all the problems of the postmodern worldview and the countercultural scene. A new kind of cultural organism was beginning to emerge, one that had a life of its own, and I was beginning to see it with more clarity than ever.”

Inspired and invigorated, McIntosh set off to educate himself in this new worldview with all the passion of a man who has glimpsed the potential of a new future and has not a moment to waste. He dedicated himself to the study and practice of integral philosophy—reading, teaching, exploring, and writing about the implications of this new historical development. And the insights of integralism began to reshape his political sensibilities as well. Democracy, geopolitics, international law, global governance—all long-time personal passions—began to reconfigure themselves under the clarity and perspective of this new way of looking at the world.

My conversations with McIntosh have been stimulating on many levels as we’ve explored the ever-fascinating geography of the integral landscape. But I’ve been particularly struck by his perspective and insight when it comes to politics. With a background in law—he was once a young, upwardly mobile attorney in one of the biggest law firms in the world—and his long-time interest in the potential of global governance, McIntosh has a gift for bringing integral philosophy to bear on the political realities of our world in a way that is inspirational, provocative, and definitely ahead of its time. It wasn’t long before I began to think about bringing some of those insights to the print edition of What Is Enlightenment?

In order to better understand the perspective of integral politics, however, it is necessary to say a few words first about integral philosophy itself. As the name suggests, the integral movement is attempting to reverse the trend toward fragmentation and specialization that has gripped so many fields of knowledge in the last century and to pursue new, integrated, inclusive frameworks that can provide powerful insights into the evolution of consciousness and culture. In a sense, integral philosophy is not new but has been slowly emerging through the thoughts and words of a number of leading thinkers and researchers—individuals such as Georg Hegel, Friedrich Schelling, Henri Bergson, James Mark Baldwin, Sri Aurobindo, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jean Piaget, Abraham Maslow, Jürgen Habermas, and Clare Graves—over the last two centuries. And though it has yet to capture the attention of most professional academic philosophers, integral theory has continued to forge ahead through the insights and efforts of brilliant maverick thinkers, most notably theorist Ken Wilber. Indeed, it is Wilber who is the central organizing force of integralism today, and his work has helped cohere the many various streams of thought that help make up integral philosophy’s synthesis. As McIntosh writes in his new book, “Wilber’s 21st century integral synthesis . . . does for the internal universe what Descartes’ philosophy did for the external universe.”

To appreciate the unique perspective of integral philosophy, it is important to understand what is perhaps its most basic and revolutionary insight—that human consciousness and culture have evolved over time through a series of ascending stages or levels of consciousness. These stages are psychological and cultural levels of development; they are levels of consciousness that individuals pass through in their personal evolution and that societies pass through in their cultural evolution. As McIntosh explains, “The integral worldview recognizes that, in some sense, these levels of development in consciousness are correlated to stages of human history. What I mean is that the stages of psychological development that individuals go through as they mature are a rough approximation of the stages of history that human beings have passed through over the last fifty thousand years—and are still passing through.”

Now, it is not uncommon for sociologists or psychologists to come up with theories regarding the evolution of people and societies, and many of those theories may have stages. But what distinguishes integral philosophy’s adherence to this type of schema is the conviction that these levels are not just a good idea or an interesting proposal but that they are real “structures in consciousness,” actual “living systems of culture” that exist within the fabric of society and have empirical validity.

“Integral philosophy shows us that these internal structures of culture, these internal organisms, if you will, have an evolutionary reality, an ontological reality,” McIntosh explained to me in one of our phone conversations. “And it’s through this description that integral philosophy attains its power. These stages aren’t just created by the human mind. They are historically significant worldviews, self-organizing dynamic systems of values that have an existence that is independent of any particular person’s writing or thinking.”

The term often used to describe the location in consciousness of these stages is “intersubjective,” which literally means “between subjects.” In the same way that subjective consciousness describes that which exists inside or within the individual, intersubjective is a term that is used to describe that which exists inside or within culture. As McIntosh puts it, “These worldviews are structures of culture—not just of individuals. They actually exist, you could say, in the intersubjective.”

In our materialist society, where many people have a hard time acknowledging the legitimacy of subjective consciousness, much less the reality of this relatively new concept called intersubjective consciousness, such assertions require us to step out of our usual patterns of thinking. They ask us to embrace the possibility that there may be more going on beneath the surface of culture, in the subterranean corridors of our collective consciousness, than we previously realized. They ask us to entertain the notion that there may in fact be crucial patterns of order, created in the crucible of fifty thousand years of human evolution, that give shape and form to the complex and often chaotic nature of human life. Indeed, many theorists feel that these levels, when seen together as a hierarchical, interrelated evolutionary system, represent a sort of DNA-like structure in consciousness, quietly influencing the dynamics of culture, shaping our minds even as our minds, in turn, shape the structure itself. Even the form of this structure fits the analogy—a spiral-patterned helix that matches the distinctive shape of our physical DNA.

While thoughts about stages and structures within culture may be heretical in a postmodern society weaned on the notion that all values are created equal and that no culture is inherently more developed than any other, they are hardly without empirical support. Indeed, integral thinkers like to point to a long tradition of research in developmental psychology from Piaget to Maslow to Graves to Robert Kegan that gives tremendous empirical support to this kind of developmental map. Moreover, there is increasing evidence from sociology that also confirms the basic schema and lends particular credence to the existence of the last three significant stages—traditional, modern, and postmodern.

It is worth noting that these three—the three worldviews before integral—are not difficult to discern in American society; that is, if we remember that we are talking about general patterns in consciousness and culture, not rigid and exact definitions. In the United States, for example, we often hear talk about a traditional culture, or a section of the populace that is more religiously oriented and shares more conservative values. Then we can see that there is a more secular-oriented section of the populace, individuals whose values lean toward science and reason, individualism, pragmatism, and achievement. Those are expressions of what is often called modern consciousness, or the culture formed by modernity. And then we can see a more progressive part of the populace, sometimes called cultural creatives, comprising individuals whose values lean more toward liberal politics, environmental awareness, social change movements, and new forms of spirituality. We often associate that segment with the revolution of the sixties. Integral theory understands this grouping as representing postmodern consciousness. Even our political pundits refer to these cultural subgroups—but not as actual structures in consciousness, and certainly not as part of an ascending scale of cultural development.

While the stage-oriented view of cultural evolution is fundamental to integral philosophy, it is even more essential to integral politics, as knowledge of any given society’s general level (or levels) of development is a powerful aid in political analysis. Whether we’re talking about appealing to “family values” in local elections, dealing with foreign dictators, evaluating the rise of China, or reducing conflict in the Horn of Africa, the more deeply we understand how these largely unconscious structures are informing the values of any given society, the more we can respond in effective, targeted ways that have the greatest evolutionary influence. As McIntosh writes, “The integral worldview gives us an understanding of culture that allows us to begin to address the global cultural problems that are at the heart of pretty much every problem. What I mean is that every problem in the world has its solution at least partially in the raising of consciousness. And that’s what the integral worldview does more effectively than any other worldview before it—it can literally raise consciousness at every level.”

There is ultimately much, much more to the integral worldview than its unique understanding of the spiral-structured nature of human evolution. From Wilber’s breakthrough model of the four quadrants to radical new forms of evolutionary spirituality to original insights into psychological development to innovative perspectives on business and organizational management, integral ideas are destined to touch and influence all areas of life in the twenty-first century. Indeed, if McIntosh and his colleagues are correct, then our time in history is a unique one. It affords us the opportunity to shape not just the philosophy but the spirituality, politics, art, economics, and science of this emerging cultural worldview. For his part, McIntosh is forging ahead on many fronts, with a particular focus on international law and global governance. Last May I spoke to this unusual attorney turned businessman turned philosopher about integral politics and how it might transform the geopolitical dynamics of our global society.

–Carter Phipps

What Is Enlightenment Magazine Interview

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT: So how would you describe integral politics?

Steve McINTOSH: There’s a variety of ways to describe integral politics, but one way is that it is the political platform or agenda of those who share the values of the integral stage of consciousness. Integral politics examines how those values are applied to the political arena.

WIE: What distinguishes integral politics from the politics of left and right, and the way that we normally think—conservative versus liberal?

McINTOSH: It’s actually a blind spot in the media to have a political discourse that’s framed by that left-right paradigm. It’s a worn-out category that needs to be discarded. Integral politics transcends the politics of left and right and provides a whole host of amazing new political insights, both domestically and internationally. Among other things, it shows us more clearly how these historical stages of development are still quite active and influential in the world today.

WIE: So where would President Bush be in terms of these stages of consciousness?

McINTOSH: Like almost all prominent national politicians, Bush’s center of gravity is modernist, just like Bill Clinton’s center of gravity is modernist. So when we speak about left and right, we are mostly speaking about what is going on within modernism.

Now Bush, although a modernist, is heavily influenced by traditional consciousness. And Clinton, though also a modernist, is heavily influenced by postmodern consciousness. According to social scientist Paul Ray, about fifty percent of the U.S. population has a modernist center of gravity, so that’s where the majority of the political debate is occurring. It’s within that milieu. But traditionalism and postmodernism are both pulling on the modernist majority to capture its allegiance—traditionalism with the Republicans and postmodernism with the Democrats.

WIE: How do you think integral politics will change the political landscape?

McINTOSH: Well, as we look at this spiral of development, we see that each stage of consciousness and culture has emerged partially in the crucible of politics. What I mean is that each significant new worldview is cocreated by the politics—the politics help define the worldview and the worldview defines the politics, or the specific type of political organization that goes with it. So the political expression of the values of each emerging worldview is what draws people to the higher level of consciousness that they can see demonstrated in this higher level of politics.

Looking at history, for example, we can see this with modernism and the European Enlightenment. Its new values of equality and freedom and rule of law were brought to bear through the advent of democracy as a new transcendent form of political organization. And then with postmodernism, we can see how it championed the new ideals of civil rights, women’s rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, and, later, gay rights. We see in postmodernism the political agenda of righting the wrongs of modernism, bringing an end to colonialism, and ending the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. So the twin political agenda of human rights and peace was the showcase for the higher transcendent values of postmodernism.

So now the integral worldview, because it is a historically significant new worldview, can be expected to do something similar politically. There’s a new understanding of the internal universe, which recognizes that political progress, at least in our time, can be made most directly by raising consciousness. So when we talk about achieving any tangible, concrete political agendas, we can see that the best way to achieve those is by raising consciousness within the body politic.

WIE: In your book, you suggest that each succeeding level or stage of consciousness along the spiral of development has given rise to different types of political structures. Could you describe the different structures?

McINTOSH: Yes, we can see that in history. Each distinct stage of consciousness—tribal, warrior, traditional, modern, postmodern, and now integral—has a corresponding political form of organization that almost always goes with it. We see that the tribal stage of consciousness produces a tribe and the permanent authority of a chief. Warrior consciousness, whether we’re talking about the early Vikings in Europe or the Incas in South America, retains many of the political characteristics of the tribe, but now the tribe is based on conquest, so you have early forms of empire building. Then the traditional stage of consciousness produces a feudal kingdom; indeed, no matter what kind of traditional consciousness we are talking about, East or West, feudalism is a political system that goes with it. That’s not to say that feudalism is an ideal system by any means, but the point is that feudalism is appropriate for traditional consciousness. Then with modernism, we have democracy and the multiethnic nation-state, and this is still basically the de facto system of global politics today—a world of competing nation-states.

Then with postmodern consciousness, we have a political organization that we might characterize as a form of social democracy, which we see, for example, in Scandinavia. There the welfare state is much more developed than it is in the United States; however, that system of government works because you have relatively homogeneous populations in Scandinavian countries. There is also a high level of education and therefore a high level of human capital. You don’t have huge segments of the population that are at premodern stages. And so, in narrow circumstances, a social democracy is a really highly evolved form of political organization, but it’s only one rung on the ladder. I think that to solve the problems of places like the United States, and indeed, the world, you need a stage of organization beyond that—one that can simultaneously accommodate all of the rungs on the ladder. So what type of government is associated with the integral stage? I’m suggesting that it points to the eventual emergence of an integrally informed, integrally structured, democratic federal world government.

Integral World Government

WIE: You’ve written extensively about what this kind of integral world government might look like. Why do you feel it is so needed in the world today?

McINTOSH: Increasingly, global problems call for some kind of supranational federation to deal with them in a realistic way. We need something that can achieve the key goals of providing international cooperation on environmental regulations, democratizing the rules of the global economy, providing enforceable human rights, and eventually bringing greater peace, justice, and prosperity. Also, as the modern world becomes increasingly international in scope and economically interdependent, it cannot be adequately defended by limited treaty organizations or individual nation-states acting unilaterally. So if you’ll pardon the cliché, it is an idea whose time has come.

So what I’m envisioning is a limited form of federal union among modern democratic nations. It could also include other nations that could have various forms of probationary status, similar to what the European Union is doing.

WIE: There is tremendous resistance to the idea of giving up national autonomy to a global governing body. Some feel it’s dangerous.

McINTOSH: Yes, many people intuitively feel that the answer is less government, not more. And I think it’s worth saying that all of these are temporary stages. I think in the distant future when consciousness has evolved much further, we’ll be able to do away with most forms of government. So this proposal is a means to an end. It’s scaffolding for further evolution, not an end state in and of itself.

Some also feel it’s dangerous because too much of the world’s population is at premodern levels of consciousness. And it’s true that even modernist consciousness is not moral enough or worldcentric enough to be able to undertake such a project and do it without corporations taking over or without creating some kind of horrific despotism in the process.

But if we look at history, if we look at the emergence of modernism and the democratic institutions that came with it, there were safeguards built into the structures of democracy. For example, look at the U.S. Constitution—there are checks and balances, separation of powers, etc. It’s a legal structure, and for a population that’s willing to be voluntarily bound by a legal structure, one that is largely modernist and above, a constitution provides for a functional democracy. Despite all of the setbacks, problems, and malfeasance that we’ve seen in American history, it’s continuing to function in at least moderately acceptable ways. So these same safeguards can be evolved to an even higher level in a world federation. And just as Enlightenment philosophy was essential in the creation of the structure of the U.S. Constitution, integral philosophy, similarly, will be essential in helping structure a world federation as one that would be informed by the knowledge of these stages of development.

Now the biggest problem facing any kind of proposed constitution for a world federation is the uneven development of consciousness and culture across the world, which means that a one-person, one-vote structure is going to be problematic if you involve the predemocratic populations of the developing world. That would give them eighty percent of the vote, which would have the tendency to redistribute wealth toward the larger populations, whose level of development is understandably more ethnocentric in scope than the worldcentric perspectives of modernists and postmodernists. And that would do a lot, I think, to destabilize the development of modern and postmodern economies, and thus cultures.

WIE: It’s hard for us in democratic countries to admit that in certain situations, one-person, one-vote can actually set things back in terms of development.

McINTOSH: Right. Well, we saw it in Nazi Germany. You can use one-person, one-vote to bring despotism. The ethnocentric, conformist consciousness of premodern populations can be easily manipulated and swayed by emotional loyalties. Jefferson was extremely clear on the prerequisites to functional democracy. He called for a degree of public virtue within a population; he felt that the society needs to have an enlightened self-interest in what is good for them and that the public must to be able to think independently.

However, the egalitarian nature of one-person, one-vote is also one of the primary moral strengths of democracy. So if we’re going to mess with the key moral underpinning of democracy, we need to be careful not to wipe out the moral superiority of democracy in the first place. We need to preserve the ideal of one-person, one-vote and acknowledge that as consciousness in the world evolves over time, and when the majority of the world is modernist and above in their consciousness, we could probably go to a world federal system that employed one-person, one-vote entirely. But currently that’s not feasible. In other words, if we acknowledge that modernism and postmodernism are worth protecting, and if we recognize that in these stages there is a natural tendency toward a significant decline in numbers, then we can also recognize that modern and postmodern populations would need some kind of insulation from the larger premodern populations in our federal structure.

WIE: The League of Nations and the United Nations were both formed in the wake of world wars. Will another such catastrophe be necessary to rally the political will for this kind of world governing structure?

McINTOSH: Clearly there will be the need for appropriate life conditions, and we can already see those on the horizon, but they don’t necessarily involve a third world war. Global warming, nuclear proliferation by rogue regimes, Islamic terrorism, genocide in Africa, global pandemics—these kinds of conditions are threat enough.

WIE: Many of those issues are likely to get much worse in the next ten to twenty years.

McINTOSH: The trajectories are unmistakable. We no longer live in a world where we can be insulated in our own nation-state. So the higher your consciousness is, the more these global problems seem urgent and real. They’re threatening and they motivate you. If you’re worried about feeding your children, then global warming over the next fifty years is not something that’s going to be at the top of your agenda. It’s up to those of us who are living in the lap of material luxury, with the benefits of free societies, to feel the pressure and to do something about these threats before it’s too late.

War and Peace

WIE: How does integral politics view peace, pacifism, and the use of military force?

McINTOSH: Integralists are much less willing to engage in war than any of the previous stages, except perhaps postmodernism, but they aren’t satisfied with passivity either. They’re not peaceniks. Integralists recognize that there are things in the world that are worth fighting for, things that have to be battled against. So rather than simply resign themselves to living at a time in history when there are wars, integralists recognize that we want to end war once and for all. The only way to do that is the only way it’s ever been done, and that is to replace violence with law, with an agreement or social contract that actually monopolizes violence in a way that’s sustainable, that is moral, legal, democratic. In the United States, for example, the states no longer fight one another because the rule of law has replaced the state of nature in which violence flourishes. Indeed, what makes the rule of law effective in this way is that it monopolizes violence.

WIE: You’re saying that the only way to prevent violence is to monopolize it within the context of a legal structure?

McINTOSH: You can also monopolize it within a dictatorship or some kind of autocratic authority, but that’s not sustainable. Freedom will break that mold. If it’s not moral, if it doesn’t preserve freedom, if people don’t agree with it at a deep level, if they have to be coerced into that monopoly on violence, then it’s not a monopoly that can be sustained.

So integralism takes an important value of postmodernism, which is the rejection of war, and says that we want to end war once and for all. It turns this admonition against war into something that’s practical, something that we can actually implement. The only way to prevent war worldwide is to replace it with law, and the only way to do that is some kind of democratic world federation.

Radical Islam

WIE: One of the biggest problems today is Islamic radicalism. Of course, it’s not just Islam that has produced a violent form of fundamentalism, but it has been the most virulent over the recent decades. How would an integral perspective respond to the dynamics around this clash between the West and Islamic radicalism?

McINTOSH: It doesn’t take integral consciousness to see that the answer to radical Islam is healthy forms of traditional Islam. Postmodern or modern solutions are not going to apply. We need to help strengthen Islam, making it more successful as a traditional form of civilization and helping to empower the moderate voices. Currently, the moderate voices in the Islamic world are mostly silent. And even those who can be heard are not addressing the core problems that are causing the radicalism in the first place, which is that many of the people in Islam feel disgraced, deeply wounded, and ashamed that they find themselves in what’s unmistakably a backward stage of history and civilization. They have a great sense of pride about the fact that Islam was once the leading culture in the world. It was once great and they know that it could be great again.

So the forces that are creating radicalism are this feeling of being stuck, this feeling of having failed, this feeling of disgrace. And these feelings of disgrace are particularly destabilizing to the Islamic civilization because it is such a proud civilization. This pride is seen in a variety of ways; it’s seen, for example, in the status of women. All forms of traditional consciousness, East and West, are chauvinistic. Women are second-class citizens in all of them, but currently Islam is probably the worst on this account. So this machismo, this male superiority is part of the sense of dignity and the need for respect that are the values of warrior consciousness. The warrior needs respect.

The reason that Islam fails in many ways is because—this is controversial, but I’ll say it—it lacks certain degrees of truth. In other words, the quality of the religion as a whole has certain truth blind spots. We see this in the way these warrior values have been carried forward and embodied in the traditional stage. There hasn’t been enough of a separation between warrior consciousness and traditional consciousness—they’re too close. You can see this in the pride. So when colonialism comes along and conquers Islam, the moral authority of the traditional consciousness is sacked. It can no longer serve in the way that it must in order to make people behave well and be civil actors in the society. It’s been shamed and disgraced. And this is in part because of the excessive pride. The traditional consciousness wasn’t far enough away from warrior consciousness in the first place.

WIE: Is that the sense in which you mean that it doesn’t have enough truth? It hasn’t separated itself enough from warrior consciousness?

McINTOSH: Yes. Christianity had many of the same problems. It had regressed around the time of the Renaissance; the Catholic Church had become corrupt. If you read, for example, the account of the Renaissance popes, they were having orgies in the Vatican. Warrior consciousness had clearly infected and destroyed the moral authority of traditional consciousness. This situation was rejected by Luther, who declared that a more moral form of Christianity was necessary. This led to the Reformation, which purged the warrior elements from Christianity, creating the Protestant structure that then became an effective platform for the Enlightenment. The Reformation was a prerequisite for the Enlightenment. It purified the religion and made it more moral. It made it more good, more true . . . maybe not more beautiful, but nevertheless! So again, it’s not just integralists who are calling for a reformation of Islam. That’s the next step in its history. That’s what is going to be required prior to functional forms of sustainable modernism emerging within Islamic civilization.

WIE: So what are the dynamics that would give rise to that?

McINTOSH: You need to strengthen those who would be voices of moderate Islam, give them a little integral technology, if you will. But again, they can’t be coming from a modernist or postmodernist perspective. They have to be at a traditional center of gravity themselves; they have to show those loyalties.

So the way to do that, for example, is to look at the Qur’an. That’s what we want to use to bolster the morality, just as Luther used the Bible. It’s all there in the Qur’an. So that means helping to sponsor individuals who can be positive voices, without making them puppets.

The other thing we could do is to recognize how important dignity is to the Islamic world and give them back some of that dignity. For example, we could pay for a memorial in downtown Tehran that memorializes our shame at the CIA’s political manipulation of the Iranian government. We can atone for those sins, help heal that little bit of history, and thereby become more moral ourselves.

WIE: I remember when Clinton went to Rwanda and apologized for not doing anything to stop the genocide. It had a tremendously positive effect.

McINTOSH: There could actually be an entire art movement in memorials of this type. I had an idea for a memorial in downtown Baghdad to help restore dignity after the initial invasion. It would be called “We all speak Arabic” and would be a memorial to Islamic civilization’s significant contributions to our international system of decimal numbers and to mathematics in general. The actual forms of our numbers, zero through ten, are taken directly from Arabic script. Think about how important ones and zeros are to the digital age. So this memorial would celebrate Arab achievements in mathematics, which were adopted by Europe several hundred years later and made a big difference in the development of capitalism. We could commemorate that and memorialize the accomplishments of the Islamic civilization in a way that could help restore some of the dignity that they lost by being conquered in three weeks.

But if we’re doing all of this in such a way that it’s obviously self-interested, if we’re doing it only for strategic reasons, then it’s not truly morally fragrant, and people at the traditional stage of consciousness can smell that a mile away.


WIE: That brings up the question of the Iraq war, which is dominating the media in America. What does integral politics have to say about the war in Iraq?

McINTOSH: Part of the reason that we failed in Iraq, and why we’ll continue to fail when acting militarily and unilaterally as a nation-state, is because the battle is not so much on the ground as it is a battle for hearts and minds. And hearts and minds can’t be won if we’re acting from national self-interest with a history of exploitation and colonialism. They’re never going to believe us, even if we have genuinely good intentions, and for good reason. We’ve screwed it up at the modernist level, and until we heal that history, the moral fragrance, the spiritual fragrance that’s going to be required to win hearts and minds, will not be evident. We need the larger moral vision of integralism, which transcends but also includes postmodernism. And what postmodernism brings is a sincere worldcentrism, a multicultural solidarity, an environmental priority, and a spiritual sophistication, which are all prerequisites to making the approach to all of these problems more moral than it can be with modernism.

So in Iraq there were several missteps along the way. The first mistake was invading unilaterally, but even then it wasn’t completely hopeless. I was giving talks about global governance back in 2003 and advocating that at least now that we had invaded, we had to recognize that having this colonial artifice created by the British called the nation of Iraq is part of the problem. The Iraqi people have not gotten to the modernist level, which would allow a functional, healthy, multiethnic nation-state. What I advocated was dividing up the country—maybe not into separate countries, but at least significantly independent districts. And I felt that they were not ready for the separation of church and state, so they needed, for example, to put somebody like Shiite spiritual leader Sistani in charge of the Shiite faction. Then we have to help encourage the more moral aspects of the religion and work with them so that they don’t become too harsh in their application of sharia law. Then there would need to be some kind of a trust that holds the oil wealth and divides it equitably among the three districts.

So integralism would help us move forward in Iraq by recognizing that trying to get them to become a Jeffersonian democracy and function as a nation is hopeless at this stage in their development. The failures in Iraq are actually an evolutionarily potent life condition because they show how inadequate the nation-state structure is on ten different levels.

As soon as you begin looking through the lens of the spiral of development and you cast that lens on the situation in Iraq, everything comes into view. All of a sudden that lens turns and—boom—you’ve got clarity. That clarity doesn’t exist now, even among our most intellectual, well-intentioned leaders and pundits. And it’s also a showcase for why the United Nations is not adequate and why we need a functional world federation. A world federation is many years away, but when we recognize that this is the future of positive political evolution, we can begin to see where we’re heading and use this knowledge to make better strategic decisions in the present.

Democracy and Dictatorship in Sub-Saharan Africa

WIE: I’d like to hear your thoughts about the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly in Rwanda. Of course, your heart goes out to the people there and the horror that unfolded, and the ethnic tensions that continue to this day. At the same time, there is a great deal of hope in Rwanda. The president, Paul Kagame, has established some kind of order. Aid is starting to come back. It’s one of the more hopeful cases in Africa, despite the fact that the genocide happened so recently. So I’m curious what you feel integral politics might have to say about a situation like Rwanda.

McINTOSH: I’d like to talk about sub-Saharan Africa in general, and Rwanda as a special case with the recent genocide. From an integral perspective we can see—and I’m generalizing here—that there are people in sub-Saharan Africa who have achieved modern and postmodern levels of consciousness. There is also plenty of traditional consciousness. But it seems, and I don’t claim to be an expert, that the majority of the individuals in this region have a center of gravity that is still centered in tribal or warrior consciousness. So what the integral worldview would prescribe in sub-Saharan Africa for recalcitrant forms of tribal and warrior consciousness is healthy doses of traditional consciousness. And that’s not only for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole; it’s the next step for Rwanda, in particular. Any form of traditional consciousness that would be acceptable to both Tutsi and Hutu would be the most ideal form—whether it’s Christian or Islamic or Buddhist. Any will do, as long as it’s healthy and can be accepted by both ethnic groups. So then it makes sense that traditional consciousness, especially in the form of Anglican Protestant Christianity, is proving extremely successful. It’s being adopted and seeming to have a positive effect—despite all the negatives we associate with evangelical Christianity here in the developed world. Healthy forms of traditional consciousness can join the two racial groups into one ethnic identity. That would be an important next step for them, so they can develop a healthy sense of public virtue that can eventually generate its own form of native modernism, as we’ve seen in some successful situations around the world.

So with Rwanda, we can see hope; we can see them recovering from this outrageous holocaust. But from a cultural and psychological perspective, this is a deep and gaping wound that’s going to go on setting them back for generations. There have recently been quite a few magazine articles about a process of cultural and psychological healing that was developed by German psychologist Bert Hellinger. The Hellinger Work, as it’s called, has been extremely effective with holocaust survivors. Some kind of ongoing work like that on a national basis in Rwanda would be important to help heal those wounds, which are carried on for generations. We need this kind of work, not only as a stopgap to prevent further genocide but as an important crutch to help these levels of traditional consciousness take hold so that they don’t continually collapse back into warrior levels. When you have an understanding of the internal universe from an integral perspective, you can see how important such measures would be.

WIE: What about democracy? Integral politics would seem to suggest that democracy is hardly a one-size-fits-all cure for a dysfunctional political culture.

McINTOSH: You can’t thrust democracy on a population that hasn’t achieved a corresponding level of cultural evolution if you want that democracy to be functional. Rwanda is pretraditional to a large extent. So the next stage for them is unlikely to be a democratically elected government. I would like to see it, and if they can pull it off, great. I hope they prove me wrong. But when we recognize that these stages of consciousness go with certain types of political organization, we can see that a dictatorship, hopefully a benign one, or some kind of predemocratic rule is probably inevitable, if not appropriate.

But the way to make sure that it’s appropriate in cases like this would be if we had some kind of international authority that could say, “We understand that you’re not ready for democracy, but the dictator is still subject to international global law and could be arrested if there are human rights violations or if the money of the country is stolen or if there is genocide or ethnic cleansing.” It would help to allow these earlier stages to exist as they must, but in moderated forms, so the worst abuses that have characterized these levels of consciousness are not repeated.

The Future of Russia

WIE: I wanted to ask you about the current situation in Russia. There is a lot of concern in the West about the lack of true democracy in Russia today. After the collapse of the Soviet system, there was an effort to create a modernist economy in Russia, one that failed quite badly. The country seemed to be slipping into an almost tribalistic governing structure with these oligarchs becoming more and more powerful. There is a lot of legitimate frustration with Putin right now, but there is also more internal stability. So what does integral consciousness have to say about the future of Russia?

McINTOSH: First of all, we can’t hold Russia to the standards of a postmodern democracy when they’re not there from a historical point of view. I think what we can do is respect them and give them space, because if any people have demonstrated an ability to resist any outside imposition, it’s certainly the Russians! We want to help Russia in ways that are appropriate and respectful of its national autonomy. One of the ways we can do that is to recognize that the reason Russia is struggling to develop a functional modernism is because it is still lacking an appropriately functional form of traditional consciousness. We have the Russian Orthodox Church, but the society never became fully traditional, although the Church was once the functioning traditional structure. Communism then completely swept that away and became a replacement form of traditional culture. Now communism has been swept away, and all the loyalties and all the higher purpose of the workers’ paradise are gone, leaving hardly any structures of traditional consciousness in place at all. So the inevitable collapse back into warrior consciousness was predictable.

So how do we sponsor the development of healthy traditional consciousness within Russia? I’m not sure. It would be good to consult some experts on the Russian culture to give us more insight into this. Communism is not a desirable option. The Eastern Orthodox Church does seem to be functioning as a decent platform for modernism in places like Greece. Greece isn’t France, but it’s certainly got a modernist economy and a functional democracy. That is testimony to the fact that their form of traditional consciousness will sustain functional modernism, that it provides enough public virtue for it to not collapse back into a kind of kleptocracy, a corrupt structure.

So perhaps over time, the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia can be nurtured and restored so that it does create good citizenship and a sense of ethnic solidarity among the people, and then it can begin to serve as a foundation for functional modernism. But the Eastern Orthodox Church was founded in Greece and has historical roots in Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. It was more of a transplant in Russia and was never as strong there. An alternative might be a form of Russian patriotism. Nationalism and patriotism can shape forms of healthy traditional consciousness, although the morality brought with a religious form of traditional consciousness is often far more potent than one that is merely based on national solidarity.

The problem is not dissimilar to the problems with modernism in Latin America. We can see that the Catholic Church in Latin America is not creating a successful enough level of traditional consciousness to keep corruption from continually decimating the economy. Modernism keeps collapsing in these countries because of corruption—and not just because of the people who are taking the bribes, but the people who are tolerating the bribes, tolerating the system. It’s like, “Oh well, the guys are corrupt, but what can we do?” There’s corruption in modernist countries, too, but people won’t stand for it, at least not for long.

Healthy forms of traditional consciousness are generally not on the radar screen of the modernists and postmodernists who want to help the world get better, yet from an integral perspective, this is where we need to start. We need to go back down to those levels of culture and begin there. The pattern of evolution is so instructive; it’s like a road map for exactly what we need to do to make the world a better place. We need a vertical perspective because one size does not fit all when the world’s development is spread out across the last two thousand years of history.

Life in a Balkanized World

WIE: One of the issues we are confronting today is how to satisfy the many ethnic groups around the world and their desire for self-determination. As empires have fallen and colonialism has ended, there is a great desire for more autonomy on the part of different ethnic groups that have been subjugated for so long. It can cause a lot of instability in regard to existing national boundaries and political structures—whether it’s the Kurds in Turkey or the Basques in Spain or the Croats in the Balkans. So how does an integral worldview begin to deal with this difficult issue of self-determination?

McINTOSH: The integral worldview recognizes that the de facto nation-state structure of most of the world today has, in some places, been inappropriately imposed on populations. One of the things that makes the integral vision of a world federation different from the type that has been proposed before is the idea of simultaneously pushing power down and pushing power up. In other words, with an integral world government, we push power up by creating a supranational political organization. And then simultaneously we push power down where we need to by allowing the more naturally existing political groups to consolidate and rule themselves.

Pushing power down means that we would allow some countries to become Balkanized, if you will, allowing them to scale back in history to a time when they had all these different ethnic identities. It allows those ethnic groups to be empowered, to be a bunch of tiny little countries, miniature national identities, miniature linguistic identities. They can go back to the level at which they are stable, go back to the level at which they have authentic evolutionary development. It’s only when you force countries into forms of political organization that they haven’t grown up into naturally that these forms are unstable. So when we see instability in the world, what we need to do is push power down to the level at which it exists naturally—the level to which it has developed in terms of consciousness. Then we can let it stabilize at that level and gain some autonomy and political authority, but we do it within the larger context of a supranational legal structure that can help preserve human rights within these smaller structures. Then gradually they can grow up to the point where they can become a nation-state on their own. But trying to force fit these populations into forms of political organization that they haven’t yet evolved into is never going to work. We see this in Iraq and in other parts of the world. The Turks, for example, are afraid of the Kurds having power pushed down to them because then maybe Turkey will have to defend the integrity of its national border from a new Kurdistan. But if there were an overarching global political organization that would secure peace among the Kurds and Turks, the Turks would be less defensive about the Kurds.

WIE: So in order to grant more autonomy to these ethnic groups, we also need a larger meta-organization that can help oversee the process?

McINTOSH: Yes, you can’t push power down unless you have pushed enough power up. The example that I use is the European Union. The formation of the EU allowed power to be pushed down to Scotland, for example. England originally consolidated Scotland and Wales as a way of making it competitive with France and Spain. But recently Scotland has achieved more independence from England, and England didn’t have to hold onto it because with the EU it was no longer just a nation-state competing against other European states. Power had been pushed up, so it could then be pushed down. The same thing has happened with Spain and Catalonia. The EU has reduced the competitive pressures between the nation-states within the union in a way that’s allowed the substates that exist within them to be given more autonomy.

Part of what keeps nation-states clinging to every piece of territory that they’ve managed to accumulate through their history is that they don’t want to be competitively disadvantaged by having territorial disintegration. But a certain degree of territorial divestment can be healthy and appropriate, and that can occur when the competitive pressures are reduced by an overarching governing system that provides more security. That dynamic could happen at a global level if we had a functional world federation.