Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
ELZA S. MAALOUF is a Lebanese-American futurist, theorist, author and public speaker. She is one of the foremost experts on the memetics of the Middle East who pioneered the use of the Value Systems framework and Integral Theory in Middle Eastern politics and business. She is the author of Emerge!: The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East.

Evolutionary Democracy and The Future of the Middle East

Elza S. Maalouf


The Middle East is going through the same rites of passage that the West went through, until our collective consciousness was raised to believe in the power of institutions not war.

When the Athenian philosophers introduced the concept of democracy over 2500 years ago, no one could have predicted it will become the dominant model by which the world is governed today. While the “rule of the people” has served some cultures well, it has also been distorted and manipulated by many rulers and elected officials. Historically, the Ottomans are known to have created some of the very first models for effective governance yet today, the majority of their former territories seem to be ruled by brutal men. The United States is thought of as the best functioning modern-day democracy, yet it's political process seems to have supplanted the rule of the people in favor of the rule of corporations. While the social democracies of Western Europe claim to have the most representative model, their failure to integrate their large migrant population is a clear sign that something is amiss. Would the approach to the issue of governance back then be different knowing how human intelligence and cultural complexity has evolved over the last 25 centuries? Would “the rule of the people” still be the central theme of democracy after witnessing the political and economic paralysis that has gripped the West in recent years and after seeing the results of the one-person, one-vote system that descended Iraq into a civil war, brought to power the brutal regimes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza?

An Evolutionary Approach to Governance

Elza S. Maalouf
Elza S. Maalouf (Wikipedia)

Since democracy was introduced in Greek city-states the human journey has come a long way. Research shows that human and cultures evolve to higher levels of existence along their journey. In some cases certain societies add more complexity while others become averse to progress. This suggests that modes of governance should be designed to fit the needs of the culture, and a more stratified approach might lead to more effective governing structures. While many of our human values and business practices have evolved, we continue to use a simple linear model for governance in a world that has become extraordinarily complex. In order to govern effectively there has to be a shift in thinking that places democracy on an evolutionary track that takes into account the different levels of human and cultural development. This is what I call in my book Emerge! the Functional Democracy model.

In addition to some social psychology and conflict resolutions concepts that I developed in my fieldwork in the Middle East, I use the value systems model that was developed by Dr. Clare Graves and my associate Dr. Don E. Beck to bring clarity to evolutionary governance. The combined framework proposes that each culture has the potential to evolve into eight known levels of human existence, producing six distinct structures for governance. Each level transcends and includes the previous system and becomes more resilient in order to answer to higher levels of consciousness among the voters. Here are the six systems that define the Functional Democracy Model:

  1. The Benevolent Monarchy - This form of governance is the appropriate fit for tribalistic cultures and ones emerging into the heroic stages of cultural development. The monarch, the tribal leader, or what we call in the Levant Za'eem - is the historic caretaker of the land and the people. The assumption is that he or she will always take care of his/her subjects. This is apparent today in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, the Emirates and Morocco in a modernized form. The important thing to remember is that it is a form of governance that works for that unique culture.
  2. The Ordered Autocracy - This system of governance is appropriate for cultures experiencing feudalistic and egocentric stages of development. This represents the genesis of nation formation. This is what's next for the Middle East. It is what is appropriate for the culture that is transitioning from the power of the Individual Ego to the Power of the Institution. Historically this has been the toughest transition for cultures in general. The most successful leader of a modern-day Ordered Autocracy is Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore who was involved in its politics for five decades. He took a band of tribes who spoke four different languages with many religious backgrounds, brought them under one constitution and one language. The fear in Singapore is that you'd better not drive through a red light or you'll spend the night in jail. Governance has to be this tough at this stage of development in order for the average person to understand the power of the rule of Law and its consequences. Once a solid layer of Institutions is built, more complex values of a culture will emerge naturally and become sustainable.
    Another example is Egypt. The Egyptian army represents that Ordered Autocracy that is needed to firmly establish institutions. Although the West thinks it denies people some of their rights, it's far better than the Muslim Brotherhood that wanted to reign for 500 years. Historically the army is loved by the Egyptian people. The current president Al Sisi, declared some of the most ambitious development plans in Egypt's modern history: creating 15 Industrial cities in the country, shoring up Egypt's agricultural sector, tourism and its infrastructure. This is how a culture transitions to the right Institutions that prepare it for a two-party and eventually a multi-party democracy. Respect for Institutions is the foundation on which more complex levels of Democracy are built.
  3. The Two-Party or Multiparty Democracy - The system represents the majority or the supermajority of the voters through the one-person one-vote process. This form of governance is only appropriate for cultures who believe in the power of institutions and the rule of law. The two-Party system is the one that we have in the United States and what's next for us is a multi-party system where the supermajority of the voters are represented, not just 50% plus one vote. Still, in the absence of a common goal both the two-party and the multi-party systems still run the risk that the winners can govern in a non-inclusive manner, leaving out the voices of as many as 49% of the electorate.
  4. The Social Democracy - Common in advanced homogenous cultures with similar worldviews on work, human rights and social programs. Coalition Governments form to provide for the common needs and the values of the voter. This is a system that is popular in Europe. It is empowered by egalitarian values where everyone's voice is heard and the goals of governing are clear. It believes that government intervention is good since it restrains the free market in an effort to redistribute resources to benefit the lower classes. However, a Social Democracy that invites immigrants without integrating them well into their values, can become a breeding ground for radical views. The emergence of far right parties in places like Holland, Norway and France are a symptom of the extremes of this system.
  5. The Functional Democracy - Integrates the full spectrum of all the previous models. This is a distributed intelligence model that examines what works best for the society as its superordinate priority. It integrates the healthy expressions of all the previous levels into the appropriate form of governance that fits the unique needs of the culture. This is the first level of what we call “ the being tier, or the Magnificence of Existence levels.” We determine the needs of that culture by profiling its memetic content and its value systems. If a culture is primarily tribalistic, a Benevolent Monarchy is the best form of governance. If it is rebelling like the Middle East, an Ordered Autocracy like the one in Egypt is the best fit. If it's in the middle of huge gridlock, and some of its institutions cease to function properly like what we have in Washington, the solutions could be a mix of Multi-party Democracy and Social Democracy with a common social goal that answers to the super majority of the voter not just to 50% plus one vote and antagonizes the other 49%, and definitely not one that answers so narrowly to special interests.
    This is a functional system where the priority lies in a representative government that serves the modern needs of every culture and subculture within it. Examples of Functional Democracy is what we're beginning to see in Scandinavian countries. They're now leaning to the right to integrate issues of immigration and their own differences, while maintaining the standard of care for all. It's also appearing in Western Intelligent Cities, like New York and London. This is a distributed intelligence model that will manifest in global metropolitan cities and advanced city-states first before it becomes a culture wide phenomenon. In hindsight, this will be the model that prepares the world for a true “rule of the people” envisioned in Athens as a city-state long ago, but with the emerging cultural complexity that will make it sustainable.
  6. The Holonic Democracy - Global governance through self-organizing principles where the smallest part is identical to the whole. This system will not emerge for few centuries, but might be accelerated through significant environmental and man-made disasters. Should human consciousness evolve to this level of existence, it will be the attainment of that Utopian human state the Greek philosophers spoke of so fondly. But sadly, based on the human journey since, the purpose of this system will not be a result of the natural unfoldment of conscious, but to ensure the survival of the human species.

Making Sense of Middle Eastern Chaos

In order to put political dysfunction in the Middle East in perspective, I frame the issues through concepts I developed in my fieldwork in combination with the Value Systems framework and Functional Democracy framework. This provides an eye-opening account of how different cultures require different governing systems. Our work identifies areas where the development of the culture is arrested. We then work with local observers who know the political and cultural history and have insider information on the causes that prevent progress from taking place. We call these people the Indigenous Intelligence Experts (IIEs). In my decade long work with Dr. Beck on a project called the Build Palestine Initiative, it was these experts who came together in a Nation Building Summit to outline the development challenges of their future state, which later became the blueprint for Prime Minister Fayyad in preparation for Palestinian statehood. In short, it is the Indigenous Intelligence that made all that possible.

Our involvement, along with the science behind the Value Systems framework has shown that the Middle East is transitioning through the toughest phase of the human experience. It is the upshift from a place where power lies in the Individual clan leader (Al-Za'eem) to a place where power is vested in the Institution. While the influence of Al Qaeda has been marginalized, ISIL, a far deadlier and more organized group has appeared. Syria continues to disintegrate and refugees keep overwhelming the neighboring countries. As sad as this reality is, the Middle East is going through the same rites of passage that the West went through, until our collective consciousness was raised to believe in the power of institutions not war.

For the next century the Middle East will be defined by its emergence into the nation-states stage of cultural development. The transition into this phase will be further complicated by several factors that I detail in the book:

  • The tribe's allegiance to clan leaders who hold nepotistic power for many generations and are not afraid to use brutal power against moderate voices.
  • The sudden appearance of oil which propagated the fallacy of wealth in the hands of the few as the ultimate symbol of modernity, which led to a culture-wide sense of entitlement and complacency.
  • The failure of Arab Nationalism as a non-indigenous concept that was articulated by Arab philosophers who studied in the west, but placed their ideologies in the hands of military leaders who quickly turned into dictators.

Although the task ahead is formidable the West still has a critical role to play. A passive policy towards the region will embolden Russia, China and Iran to further destabilize the region and arrest its emergence to higher values. Under this framework, engagement with the region has to evolve as well and show a different manifestation of power. There has to be a paradigm shift from military intervention to building the region's human capacities. This is the next frontier that will shape global politics for decades to come. Whether this can still be considered an evolution of the original model of democracy remains unknown. One thing is clear: the future of geopolitics requires far deeper understanding of the values that motivate cultures and the different governance models needed to put each country on a sustainable pathway.

Functional Democracy Chart
Click here to enlarge

Comment Form is loading comments...