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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).

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Integral Politics

Beyond Left and Right Paradigms

Frank Visser / ChatGPT

Me to ChatGPT:

  • Please write an essay on the integral approach to politics, which transcends the traditional left-right spectrum and embraces multiple perspectives.

Follow-up questions:

  • What is the history behind the Left and Right dimensions in politics?
  • Is there a psychological difference between Left and Right wing political orientations? Think of George Lakoff but also Ken Wilber who have theories about this.
  • While that is true, Wilber also makes a nice distinction between where the cause of suffering lies: outside oppression (Left) or inside suppression (Right), which needs to be transcended.
  • Could it be that today's Left can become tomorrow's Right, as development proceeds?
  • What is called Liberal or Left in the US would still be seen as conservative and Right in Europe. European Left would consist of socialism and environmentalism.
  • Usually in Europe liberal-Right aligns with conservative values and ecosocial-Left with progressive values, but there could be exceptions to this general trend.
  • Third Way politics has usually tried to combine the best of Left and Right. In the Netherlands cabinets have been formed by a coalition of both left and right parties. Usually this generated less enthusiasm ("too dull and rational") among the voters and this did not last long.
  • Does third way politics presuppose a developmental level that just isn't widely available in the population, be it in the US or in Europe?



Politics has long been divided along the left-right spectrum, with ideologies and policies often becoming a battleground of opposing views. However, the integral approach to politics offers an alternative perspective that transcends these traditional divisions. Integral politics seeks to embrace multiple perspectives, recognizing the complexity and interconnectivity of modern challenges. This essay explores the principles of integral politics, its benefits, and the potential it holds for addressing the pressing issues of our time.

Understanding Integral Politics

Integral politics is rooted in the integral theory, which was developed by philosopher Ken Wilber. This theory proposes a holistic framework that integrates various dimensions of human experience, including individual, cultural, and societal aspects. In the context of politics, integral thinking goes beyond the narrow confines of left and right ideologies, acknowledging that both perspectives offer valuable insights but are often limited in scope.

The integral approach to politics focuses on the interplay of various factors such as economics, culture, ecology, technology, and spirituality. It aims to find synergies between seemingly opposing ideas and incorporates them into a more comprehensive and balanced view of governance.

Principles of Integral Politics

Inclusivity and Pluralism: Integral politics values inclusivity and recognizes the importance of considering diverse perspectives and marginalized voices. It acknowledges that a comprehensive understanding of society requires embracing the richness of multiple viewpoints.

Beyond Polarization:

Integral politics seeks to move beyond polarization by promoting dialogue and cooperation among different ideologies. Instead of perpetuating divisive tactics, it encourages finding common ground and shared values for collective progress.

Holistic Decision-Making:

Integral politics takes into account various dimensions of human life and societal challenges. Policies are formulated by considering economic, social, environmental, and cultural impacts to achieve a more sustainable and balanced outcome.

Integral Leaders:

Integral politics calls for leaders who can integrate various perspectives, demonstrate empathy, and act for the collective good rather than pursuing narrow party agendas.

Benefits of Integral Politics

Tackling Complexity: The world's challenges today are interconnected and complex, ranging from climate change and economic inequality to social justice and technological disruptions. Integral politics offers a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to address these multifaceted issues.

Overcoming Gridlock:

Traditional left-right divisions often lead to political gridlock, hindering progress on critical matters. Integral politics encourages collaboration and compromise, increasing the potential for effective governance.

Social Cohesion:

By acknowledging and valuing diverse perspectives, integral politics fosters social cohesion and reduces the polarization that often plagues societies today.

Long-term Vision:

Integral politics emphasizes long-term thinking over short-term gains, focusing on sustainable policies that consider the well-being of future generations.

Potential for the Future

As the world faces complex challenges, integral politics holds the potential to offer innovative solutions and a new way of governing. By embracing multiple perspectives, integral approaches can address issues with greater depth and breadth, leading to more effective and inclusive policies.

However, the adoption of integral politics requires a significant shift in political thinking and culture. It calls for a willingness to move beyond ideological rigidity and engage in open dialogue, seeking common ground and shared values. Leaders must be willing to prioritize the greater good over narrow interests and work collaboratively for the betterment of society.


Integral politics presents a promising alternative to the traditional left-right paradigms that have dominated political discourse for centuries. By transcending narrow ideologies, embracing diversity, and promoting collaboration, integral politics offers a more comprehensive and effective approach to governance. Embracing this approach holds the potential to create a more just, sustainable, and inclusive world, addressing the pressing issues of our time in a holistic manner.

What is the history behind the Left and Right dimensions in politics?

The history of the left-right dimensions in politics can be traced back to the French Revolution in the late 18th century. During this period, as France underwent a radical transformation from an absolute monarchy to a republic, the National Assembly was divided over key issues, leading to the formation of two opposing groups on either side of the assembly hall. This spatial arrangement of seating, with supporters of the monarchy sitting to the right of the president and supporters of the revolution sitting to the left, gave birth to the terms "left" and "right" in the context of politics.

The Origin of the Left and Right Divide:
The National Assembly:

The French Revolution began in 1789, and as the political landscape shifted dramatically, the National Assembly was formed to discuss and enact new laws and policies. During the first meeting of the Estates-General, which was convened to address the financial crisis and grievances of the French population, members of the Assembly found themselves divided based on their political stances.

Political Factions:

On the right side of the president's chair, sat the conservative aristocrats and clergy who supported the monarchy and wanted to preserve the traditional social and political order. These individuals were known as "Royalists" or "Conservatives."

On the left side, sat the more radical revolutionaries who sought to challenge the monarchy, promote equality, and advance democratic ideals. They were known as "Jacobins" or "Radicals."

Key Moments in the Development of the Left-Right Spectrum:
The French Revolution:

The French Revolution was a defining moment in the history of the left-right divide. The tension between the opposing factions in the National Assembly marked the inception of the left and right as political descriptors, and it became an enduring framework for analyzing political ideologies.

The 19th Century:

In the 19th century, the left-right spectrum gained prominence across Europe as political movements and ideologies emerged and evolved. The Industrial Revolution brought about new socioeconomic challenges, and political debates revolved around issues such as workers' rights, labor conditions, and suffrage.

Socialism vs. Conservatism: Socialism vs. Conservatism:

The left came to be associated with socialist and progressive movements advocating for workers' rights, social equality, and democratic reforms. Meanwhile, the right was linked to conservative ideas, supporting the preservation of traditional institutions, hierarchies, and limited state intervention in the economy.

The 20th Century:

The left-right spectrum continued to shape politics throughout the 20th century. The rise of totalitarian ideologies like communism and fascism led to a more polarized political landscape. The left-wing was often associated with social democracy, while the right-wing encompassed various conservative and liberal movements.

Contemporary Politics:

In the modern era, the left-right divide remains a dominant framework for understanding political ideologies. However, the spectrum has expanded to include a broader range of perspectives, including centrism, libertarianism, environmentalism, and more.


The left-right divide in politics finds its roots in the tumultuous period of the French Revolution. From those early divisions in the National Assembly, the terms "left" and "right" have come to symbolize distinct political ideologies and continue to shape political discourse around the world. While the world has evolved significantly since the 18th century, the left-right spectrum remains a fundamental tool for understanding and analyzing political positions and trends.

Is there a psychological difference between Left and Right wing political orientations? Think of George Lakoff but also Ken Wilber who have theories about this.

Yes, both George Lakoff and Ken Wilber have put forth theories that explore the psychological differences between left and right-wing political orientations. While their approaches differ, they both emphasize the importance of understanding the underlying cognitive and psychological factors that shape individuals' political beliefs.

George Lakoff - Moral Foundations Theory:

George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and political scientist, introduced the Moral Foundations Theory to explain the psychological differences between liberals (left-wing) and conservatives (right-wing). According to Lakoff, our political beliefs are deeply rooted in our moral values and cognitive frames.

Lakoff identifies five moral foundations that guide human judgment and behavior:

a. Care/Harm: The degree to which one emphasizes compassion, empathy, and concern for others' welfare.

b. Fairness/Cheating: The emphasis on justice, equality, and reciprocity.

c. Loyalty/Betrayal: The importance placed on loyalty, allegiance, and group identity.

d. Authority/Subversion: The value of tradition, hierarchy, and respect for authority figures.

e. Sanctity/Degradation: The significance of purity, cleanliness, and avoiding degradation.

Liberals tend to prioritize the care and fairness foundations more strongly, leading them to support policies focused on social justice, equality, and inclusivity. Conservatives, on the other hand, often prioritize all five foundations more evenly, emphasizing traditional values, national loyalty, and maintaining social order.

Ken Wilber - Integral Theory:

Ken Wilber's Integral Theory offers a broader perspective on the psychological differences between left and right-wing political orientations. Integral Theory seeks to integrate various dimensions of human experience, including individual development, culture, and society. It recognizes that political beliefs are influenced by different stages of psychological and moral development.

Wilber's integral model includes multiple levels of consciousness and development, ranging from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric perspectives. Each stage influences how individuals perceive and approach political issues.

Conservatives, according to Wilber's theory, tend to be more rooted in traditional values and ethnocentric perspectives, emphasizing group identity and preserving social order. They may lean towards preserving established institutions and values, promoting law and order, and adhering to familiar cultural norms.

Liberals, on the other hand, often adopt more world-centric perspectives, emphasizing universal values, social justice, and a global outlook. They may prioritize collective well-being, social equality, and progressive policies aimed at addressing societal challenges.


Both George Lakoff's Moral Foundations Theory and Ken Wilber's Integral Theory offer valuable insights into the psychological differences between left and right-wing political orientations. Lakoff's focus on moral values helps explain the divergent priorities of liberals and conservatives, while Wilber's integral model highlights the influence of different stages of development on political beliefs. Understanding these psychological factors is crucial for fostering empathy, promoting dialogue, and finding common ground in the often polarized world of politics.

While that is true, Wilber also makes a nice distinction between where the cause of suffering lies: outside oppression (Left) or inside suppression (Right), which needs to be transcended.

You are absolutely right, and I apologize for not mentioning this crucial aspect of Ken Wilber's integral perspective on the left-right political orientations. In addition to his integral model that considers various levels of development, Wilber also makes a distinction between the left-leaning emphasis on external oppression and the right-leaning focus on internal suppression as the cause of suffering. This distinction adds depth to the understanding of psychological differences between the two political orientations.

Wilber's distinction can be summarized as follows:

Left-leaning (External Oppression):

The left-wing political orientation tends to focus on external factors as the primary cause of suffering and social issues. They emphasize the significance of systemic and structural inequalities that perpetuate injustice, discrimination, and marginalization. From the left-leaning perspective, social change and progress involve addressing these external oppressive systems and dismantling institutional barriers that prevent certain groups from achieving equality and well-being.

Right-leaning (Internal Suppression):

The right-wing political orientation, according to Wilber, places greater emphasis on internal factors as the root cause of suffering. They believe that individual responsibility, self-discipline, and adherence to traditional values are crucial for personal growth and societal harmony. From the right-leaning perspective, the focus is on cultivating personal virtues, maintaining social order, and upholding moral principles as the means to alleviate suffering and promote well-being.

Wilber's integral approach suggests that both left and right-wing perspectives offer valuable insights, and the way forward is to transcend these polarities and integrate the strengths of both orientations. He advocates for moving beyond the "either/or" mindset and adopting a "both/and" approach that acknowledges the interplay of external and internal factors in shaping society and individual well-being.

By recognizing that suffering can stem from both external oppression and internal suppression, Wilber's integral perspective opens the door to more holistic and comprehensive solutions to societal challenges. It encourages individuals and communities to work together in addressing complex issues and finding balanced approaches that promote both collective justice and personal growth.

In summary, Ken Wilber's integral approach to politics not only considers the stages of development but also highlights the distinction between left-leaning focus on external oppression and right-leaning emphasis on internal suppression. By transcending these divisions, his integral model seeks to foster a more inclusive and integrated approach to political discourse and action.

Could it be that today's Left can become tomorrow's Right, as development proceeds?

Yes, the idea that today's Left can become tomorrow's Right, or vice versa, is consistent with Ken Wilber's integral model and the concept of developmental stages. Wilber's integral theory acknowledges that individuals, cultures, and societies evolve through various stages of development, each characterized by distinct perspectives and values.

Developmental stages are not fixed, and individuals and societies can progress or regress along the continuum of consciousness. As people grow and expand their awareness, their political perspectives and beliefs may also evolve. This can lead to a shift in political affiliations and positions over time.

Here's how this process might unfold:

Developmental Growth:

As individuals progress through developmental stages, they may undergo significant changes in their worldview, beliefs, and values. For example, someone who was once aligned with left-wing ideologies focused on external oppression might evolve into a more complex worldview that takes into account internal factors and individual responsibility, leading them towards right-wing perspectives.

Contextual Changes:

Political shifts can also be influenced by historical, cultural, and societal changes. As the political landscape evolves and new challenges arise, individuals and parties may adapt their positions to address these emerging issues. What was considered progressive and left-wing in one era may be seen as conservative and right-wing in another, depending on the context.

Generational Differences:

Different generations may also bring about changes in political perspectives. Younger generations often challenge established norms and seek progressive solutions, while older generations may be more inclined to preserve traditional values and institutions. As the dominant generations change, so can the prevailing political orientations.

Spiral Dynamics:

Another influential model related to this concept is Spiral Dynamics, which is a theory of human development and cultural evolution. This model proposes that societies progress through stages of development, and different value systems emerge and recede in response to the challenges they face. In this framework, political orientations can be seen as expressions of these value systems, and they may shift as societies move through different stages.

It's important to note that individual and collective development is complex, and not everyone will experience the same shifts in their political perspectives. Additionally, political ideologies and parties often represent a mix of values from different developmental stages, making the landscape even more nuanced.

In conclusion, according to Ken Wilber's integral model and the concept of developmental stages, it is possible for today's Left to become tomorrow's Right, and vice versa, as individuals and societies evolve and respond to changing circumstances. This fluidity in political orientations emphasizes the importance of understanding the underlying factors that shape political beliefs and the need for a nuanced and holistic approach to politics.

What is called Liberal or Left in the US would still be seen as conservative and Right in Europe. European Left would consist of socialism and environmentalism.

You are correct that the terminologies "liberal" and "left" can have different meanings and connotations when comparing the political landscape in the United States with that in Europe. These differences stem from the unique historical, cultural, and ideological contexts that have shaped each region's political spectrum.

In the United States:

Liberal: In the United States, "liberal" typically refers to individuals or political groups that advocate for progressive values, such as individual rights, social equality, and government intervention in areas like healthcare, education, and environmental regulations. American liberals are often associated with the Democratic Party and can be considered part of the left-leaning spectrum.

Left: The American "left" encompasses a range of political positions, including liberals, social democrats, and even some democratic socialists. It generally advocates for social justice, civil liberties, and an active role for the government in addressing societal issues.

In Europe:

Liberal: In Europe, the term "liberal" is often associated with classical liberalism, which emphasizes free markets, limited government intervention, and individual freedoms. European liberals align more closely with what would be considered "economic conservatives" in the United States. They are generally pro-free trade, favor smaller government, and advocate for market-driven policies.

Left: The European "left" indeed tends to be more aligned with socialist and social democratic ideologies. European left-wing parties often advocate for progressive policies, workers' rights, income equality, and robust social safety nets. They may also place greater emphasis on environmentalism and sustainability.

It is essential to recognize that these generalizations may not fully capture the diversity within each political spectrum. Political landscapes can vary significantly within individual countries, and parties' positions can evolve over time.

Additionally, different countries' historical experiences, social structures, and policy priorities influence the specific focus of their left-wing parties. For example, some European countries have stronger social democratic traditions that are more focused on economic policies, while others may prioritize environmental concerns or other social issues.

In conclusion, the terms "liberal" and "left" can have varying meanings and interpretations across different regions, such as the United States and Europe. It's essential to consider the specific context and historical developments that have shaped each region's political spectrum to fully understand the nuances and differences in terminology and political ideologies.

Usually in Europe liberal-Right aligns with conservative values and ecosocial-Left with progressive values, but there could be exceptions to this general trend.

You are absolutely right, and I apologize for any oversimplification in my previous response. The alignment of political ideologies and labels can indeed vary across different European countries and regions, and there are exceptions to the general trends. European politics is characterized by diverse historical, cultural, and social contexts, leading to a wide range of political ideologies and party positions.

As you pointed out, in many European countries, there is a tendency for liberal-right parties to align with conservative values, emphasizing limited government intervention, individual liberties, and free-market policies. On the other hand, ecosocial-left parties often advocate for progressive values, such as social justice, environmental sustainability, and stronger social safety nets.

However, there are exceptions and complexities in this general trend, including:

Regional Differences:

Different regions within a country may have distinct political landscapes. For example, in some European nations, regions with strong environmental movements may see a convergence of environmentalism with left-wing ideologies.

Party Platforms:

Political parties' positions can evolve and change over time in response to social and political dynamics. Some parties may adapt their platforms to address emerging issues or appeal to a broader range of voters.

Coalition Governments:

In multi-party systems, coalition governments may form, necessitating cooperation between parties with different ideological orientations. This can lead to compromises and blending of policy positions.

Historical Context:

The historical legacy of individual countries can significantly influence their political landscape. Post-communist countries, for instance, may have unique left-wing movements shaped by their historical experiences.

Issue-Based Politics:

Certain issues, such as climate change, may transcend traditional left-right divisions, bringing together parties with varying ideological backgrounds under a shared concern.

In summary, European politics is characterized by a diverse and complex array of political ideologies and party positions. While there may be general trends in the alignment of liberal-right and ecosocial-left ideologies, there are also exceptions and variations that reflect the unique political contexts of each country and region. Understanding the specific historical, social, and cultural factors influencing European politics is essential for grasping the nuances and complexities of the continent's political landscape.

Third Way politics has usually tried to combine the best of Left and Right. In the Netherlands cabinets have been formed by a coalition of both left and right parties. Usually this generated less enthusiasm ("too dull and rational") among the voters and this did not last long.

You are correct in describing the Third Way politics as an attempt to combine elements from both left and right ideologies, seeking a more centrist and pragmatic approach to governance. The concept of Third Way emerged in the late 20th century as a response to the perceived limitations and ideological rigidity of traditional left and right politics. It gained prominence in several countries, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as a means to bridge the gap between the two dominant ideological camps.

The key features of Third Way politics include:


Third Way politics emphasizes practical and evidence-based policy solutions over strict adherence to ideological dogma. It seeks to address contemporary challenges by drawing on insights from both left and right perspectives.

Balancing Social Justice and Economic Growth:

Third Way advocates often argue that economic prosperity and social justice are not mutually exclusive. They strive to strike a balance between market-oriented economic policies and social welfare measures.

Emphasis on Social Inclusion:

Third Way politics focuses on inclusivity and social cohesion, aiming to reduce social inequalities and create a sense of belonging for all members of society.

Rejection of Ideological Extremes:

Third Way proponents criticize the perceived excesses of both left-wing collectivism and right-wing individualism. They believe that the most effective solutions lie in finding common ground and compromising between these extremes.

While Third Way politics has been embraced in some countries and has led to coalition governments that include both left and right-wing parties, it has also faced challenges and criticisms, as you mentioned:

Lack of Enthusiasm:

The centrist and pragmatic nature of Third Way politics can sometimes be seen as less inspiring or exciting to voters who are looking for bold and clear ideological positions.

Short-lived Coalitions:

The delicate balance required to sustain coalition governments that include parties from different ends of the political spectrum can lead to instability and difficulties in maintaining a cohesive agenda.

Policy Compromises:

Third Way policies may face criticism from both the left and the right for not fully aligning with their respective ideological positions, leading to dissatisfaction among some segments of the population.

Changing Political Context:

The effectiveness and popularity of Third Way politics can vary depending on the specific political climate and context of each country. As political landscapes evolve, the appeal of centrist approaches may wax and wane.

In conclusion, Third Way politics attempts to bridge the gap between left and right ideologies by offering a centrist and pragmatic approach to governance. While it has led to coalition governments in some countries, it has also faced challenges and criticisms. The success of Third Way politics depends on the ability to strike a balance between different policy priorities and maintain public support in a dynamic and ever-changing political landscape.

Does third way politics presuppose a developmental level that just isn't widely available in the population, be it in the US or in Europe?

The concept of Third Way politics does indeed presuppose a certain level of cognitive and developmental complexity in the population, as it aims to find a middle ground between conflicting ideological positions. It requires a level of openness to new ideas, tolerance for ambiguity, and the ability to think beyond rigid ideological boundaries.

In the framework of developmental models like Ken Wilber's integral theory or Spiral Dynamics, Third Way politics aligns with world-centric or higher stages of development. At these stages, individuals are more likely to embrace a broader, more inclusive perspective and exhibit a willingness to integrate diverse viewpoints.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that not everyone in the population operates at these higher stages of development. Human development is diverse and distributed along a spectrum, with people at different levels of consciousness and cognitive complexity.

As a result, Third Way politics may face challenges in gaining widespread appeal and understanding, particularly in societies where individuals primarily operate from earlier developmental stages. People at earlier stages may be more inclined towards black-and-white thinking, tribalism, and strong ideological adherence, making it difficult for them to fully appreciate the nuances and compromises involved in Third Way politics.

Furthermore, cultural, educational, and socio-economic factors can influence the prevalence of different developmental stages within a population. In societies with high levels of education, exposure to diverse perspectives, and a culture that encourages critical thinking, the potential for understanding and embracing Third Way politics may be more significant.

In contrast, in societies where education and access to information are limited, and where there is a strong emphasis on conforming to traditional norms and beliefs, the appeal of Third Way politics might be more limited.

Therefore, the success and acceptance of Third Way politics depend on various factors, including the level of cognitive development within a population, the quality of education and critical thinking, and the cultural and political context.

In conclusion, Third Way politics does presuppose a level of cognitive and developmental complexity that may not be universally available in the population. While it may resonate with individuals at higher stages of development who embrace a more integrative worldview, it may face challenges in gaining broad support in societies where people primarily operate from earlier developmental stages or are influenced by other cultural and contextual factors.

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