As the 2008 U.S. presidential race begins to take off; and as the war in Iraq continues to churn out death and suffering on a massive scale (even threatening to expand into Iran); and as dozens of other issues—global warming, immigration, the culture wars, etc.—vie for our attention and concern, the need could not be greater for an Integral approach to politics.

Beyond liberal and conservative, beyond left and right, Integral Politics offers a comprehensive framework for understanding our current problems and conflicts—and thus provides the possibility of acting more effectively to resolve them. This Integral framework, also called AQAL, is simply a map of perspectives. The quadrants refer to our individual, collective, interior, and exterior perspectives, while altitude indicates the level of development of any particular perspective.

Generally, the levels of consciousness described by “altitude” unfold from egocentric (“it’s all about me”) to ethnocentric (“it’s all about us”—i.e., tribe, nation, religion, identity group) to worldcentric (“it’s all about all of us”) to Kosmocentric (the entire Kosmos in all its dimensions and suchness) perspectives. Each level transcends, but also includes, the previous levels (see Figure 1). If we were to turn this into a political injunction, it might go something like this:

From an AQAL point of view, we are called to embrace the truth of as many perspectives as we can, as deeply as we can, while cutting through the falsity of partial and fragmented views, so that we may act, lead, or govern on behalf of the greatest depth for the greatest span of living beings.

This issue of Holons is devoted to an Integral look at politics, i.e., politics from an AQAL point of view. But AQAL is only a map—the territory is you, and us, and all of us… with all that we have in common, and all that we don’t. Holons presents a new way to experience the territory of your own awareness, as it resonates with the territory of the entire Kosmos. If you’d like to be part of the Integral conversation, please consider joining us in the Integral forums. This requires membership, which helps us keep running! Please join us and be part of the Integral unfolding.

Marco Morelli (Integral writer; co-author of forthcoming ILP Handbook)


Relevant news stories placed in 4 major perspectives or views that all people have.


Want to comment? Disagree? Why not go to the Holons forum and tell us what you think!

Featured Content

Integral In Iran—A Civilian Diplomacy Trip to Iran

Senior Integral Institute trainer and coach Terry Patten recently traveled to Iran as part of a U.S.-based civilian diplomacy delegation. Holons News asked him to blog about his experiences and integral observations from inside this nation that’s making headlines. Below is an excerpt from his blog, Integral in Iran, which offers an unprecedented look at Iran from an Integral perspective.

February 27, 2007
A Little Background…

I resisted it at first.

I already have very meaningful work teaching and writing and coaching people in living a more conscious integral life, particularly helping them deepen in Integral Life Practice. I teach meditation, shadow work, exercise, taking meta-perspectives, and understanding Integral theory. I work with truly amazing individuals in the process of doing this. It’s not like I needed to find “relevance” in my work, after all….

But I found myself feeling called to go to Iran. Why? I don’t have special expertise in Middle Eastern languages, culture, politics, or religion. I’m not even a conventional political activist.

Why should I be going to Iran?

Iran is a very interesting place. It’s the most highly educated populace in the Middle East; a place of tremendous intellectual and spiritual ferment, with 60%+ of its college students women; more bloggers per capita (some argue) than anywhere else in the world (Farsi is said to be the 3rd most used language on the web after English and Mandarin!); and the the political and spiritual center of the most mystical (and sometimes fanatical form) of Islam, Shia Islam—also home to many practicing Sufis. Persia also produced Rumi (who they call Molavi) and Hafez, two great mystical realizers and also two of my very favorite poets of all time. It has a unique form of government—part theocracy and part democratic republic, peopled by vigorous intellectual and political debate. And many fear Iran and the US are currently on a collision course toward war….


The Audacity of Hope:
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

By Barack Obama
~ Guest Editorial by Marco Morelli

[Like all guest editorials, this essay does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ken Wilber or Integral Institute.]

Barack Obama is like the iPod of American politics. There’s something new and cool and user-friendly about him—something that captures the political zeitgeist with its sleek aesthetics and intuitive design. Obama launched onto the national scene with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The Audacity of Hope expands upon the themes of that speech, in effect laying the intellectual groundwork for his presidential campaign.

The Audacity of Hope is a remarkable book on many levels. First (and significantly to me, as a writer), it’s a beautifully written book. For example, Obama describes the experience of attending Rosa Parks’ funeral—a soaring symbol of racial reconciliation that he contrasts with an ugly reminder of enduring inequalities:

And yet, as I sat and listened to the former President [Clinton] and the procession of speakers that followed, my mind kept wandering back to the scenes of devastation that had dominated the news just two months earlier, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was submerged. I recalled images of teenage mothers weeping or cursing in front the New Orleans Superdome, the listless infants hoisted to their hips, and old women in wheelchairs, heads lolled back from the heat, their withered legs exposed under soiled dresses. I thought about the news footage of a solitary body someone had laid beside a wall, motionless beneath the flimsy dignity of a blanket; and the scenes of shirtless young men in sagging pants, their legs churning through the dark waters, their arms draped with whatever goods they had managed to grab from nearby stores, the spark of chaos in their eyes.

“Listless infants hoisted to their hips.” “The flimsy dignity of a blanket.” “The spark of chaos in their eyes.” A poetic sensibility pervades The Audacity of Hope. Obama describes the loneliness of living in Washington D.C., away from his wife and daughters, in terms of “aching for the warmth of their hugs and the sweet smell of their skin.” I love the sensuality of that last image, evoking the longing of a man for the simple touch of his wife and children.

But a poet does not a president necessarily make. Beauty and goodness must be grounded in truth. The real significance of The Audacity of Hope lies in the vision it presents for American politics. Obama seems headed toward an integrative vision. His peculiar gift is an ability to take multiple perspectives and weave them together into a coherent and compelling whole. His book articulates a post-postmodern meta-narrative about American identity and our role in a complex world.

Obama’s overall style is neither exclusively left nor right, neither liberal nor conservative in a traditional sense (although of course he’s a Democrat, and thus generally leans to the left). I would argue that he’s on his way to being integral—or at least integral enough to be a promising candidate—attempting to combine the best elements of both sides within a larger whole. For instance, he upholds the need for government to create opportunity (a typically liberal, exterior value), along with the imperative that individuals exercise personal responsibility (a typically conservative, interior value).

Likewise, he champions the cause of individual freedom (for instance, in his support of reproduction rights), while emphasizing the desperate need for communal and “family” values (although he doesn’t believe that government should enforce, but only encourage them).

(Students of Integral Theory will notice the 4 quadrants: interior, exterior, individual, and collective; and the acknowledgment of amber, orange, and green altitude concerns. However, there are some ways that Obama is not integral:

  • He doesn’t explicitly use an integral framework, whether AQAL or any other, which would give him a more comprehensive handle on our overall situation.
  • He doesn’t acknowledge levels or waves of development; he seems to integrate amber, orange, and green values, but he doesn’t discuss a developmental arc toward greater adequacy.
  • He doesn’t recognize the role of states and stages of consciousness in religious and spiritual experience.
  • He doesn’t include mysticism or radical emptiness….)


AQAL Journal: Integral Politics—A Spiritual Third Way

by Gregory Wilpert

In this time of ideological upheaval, when the old ideologies of left and right, of socialism, liberalism, and conservatism, no longer capture the political imagination as they once did, new political visions are required. Some have tried to formulate a “third way” between social democracy and conservatism. Others have proposed a more spiritually-oriented approach to transcend left and right. In what follows, I will present another vision, Integral Politics, based on Integral Theory.

What is a Third Way?
Historically, third ways have usually cropped up when people found the existing two dominant political ideologies lacking. In the nineteenth century, socialism originally emerged as a third way between conservatism and classical liberalism (also known as free market capitalism). Later, in the twentieth century, social democracy developed as a third way between socialism and conservatism/free market capitalism. In this time of “exhausted utopian energies,” 2 where classical, nation-state based social democracy no longer appears to function in the context of a globalized society, it is no surprise that a number of politicians and theorists, such as the Democratic Party’s Democratic Leadership Council and Tony Blair’s New Labor party, have proposed a third way between social democratic and neo-liberal programs themselves. But rather than truly transcending the existing belief systems, too often the new program becomes the ideological center between the two dominant ideologies. Such a centrist third way is actually a compromise rather than a new political theory that overcomes the old ideologies by providing lasting answers to unresolved social problems.

A true third way for the twenty-first century should transcend beyond the preceding ideologies. Integral Politics offers this possibility. By mapping the relationship of all major existing ideologies to each other and by clearly presenting a new approach to politics, one that integrates the best of each and transcends their shortcomings, Integral Politics presents a true alternative to politics as usual….