Matthew Dallman has recently written on conservativism and integral. Here’s the money quote:
…much of what I perceive as the integral worldview has to do with stewardship, respect for the institutions that foster development (including religious institutions and religious practice), the necessity of clear thinking and reasoned debate, and a rebirth of interest in history through a planet-centric moral lens, this all has the sounds of conservatism, to me. And it importantly suggests that “integral conservatism” isn’t quite right (as in, “integral conservatism” and “integral liberalism”, two sides of the integral coin). Rather, I see conservatism as the overall ethos of integral, within which there are preferences, dispositions, and types of variation. Integral, as I now see it, offers new kind of conservatism, one that is planet-centric, concerned for the health and development of all peoples, and is able to diagnose and see through the wads of false reasoning presented falsely in the name of “post conventional”.
CJ Smith offers some important criticism of Dallman’s post here. Like Smith, I’m not inclined to say that the word that best describes the “overall ethos of integral” is “conservative.” My impression in reading Dallman’s post is that he somehow came up with a list of attributes (respect for institutions, the need for rigorous debate, a rebirth of interest in history, etc.), proclaimed that the items on the list are important both to integral and to conservativism, and therefore concluded that the essential ethos of integral and conservativism is virtually identical. There’s some truth in there, and I certainly have no qualms with any of the items in the list as being linked to some degree with integral thinking, but it hardly proves an identity between integral and conservativism. One could just as easily come up with an alternate list of attributes and argue that integral is really liberalism or Marxism or something else entirely.
One important truth about Dallman’s point that I see is that the development of consciousness from the pluralistic stage to the integral stage involves an expansion of consciousness that frequently includes ownership of all that has been previously hidden, repressed, and denied about relativistic pluralism. For most people, this means that they may get a healthy dose of religion, conservative philosophy, and respect for the institutions of society… whether they want to, or not. And if they’re deeply ingrained in the left-leaning pluralistic variety of thinking, they’re probably going to need to take a hard right turn. (On the other hand, some rationalist-stageconservatives may find something of value in integral philosophy, and so they use its intellectual edifice to try to turn the tables on the left. However, they may be limiting their own development. They can hardly transcend that which they have not yet fully embraced. They need to take, not merely a left turn, but a U-turn.)
I have other objections to calling conservativism the guiding ethos of integral as well. As I and others have previously argued (here among other places), the essence of an integral approach to politics is something that must be described as a methodological pluralism. Practical change is supported on the basis of divergent rationales grounded in an overarching moral and spiritual framework of values, even rationales that appear to be logically incoherent and practically inconsistent. For example, it’s possible to argue for gay marriage on the basis of (1) classical liberal tolerance, (2) a positive view of gay marriage as benefiting the common good and welfare of a communitarian society, (3) supported by Bible ethics, properly understood, and (4) the common sense view that if I want it and it doesn’t hurt anybody else, I should have it. The integral approach isn’t to say that some of these arguments are right or wrong, good or bad, so much as it is to identify them when they take form, coordinate their beneficial impacts in society, and mitigate their deleterious effects. When it comes to politics, I understand integral methodological pluralism to demand tolerance for, if not outright advocacy of, a variety of different and sometimes contradictory approaches (not unlike the way some politicians skillfully address different values and use different language before different audiences).
Therefore, in light of this framework of understanding, I would respond to Dallman by saying that to specify the dominant ethos of integral in language that privileges the values of a particular first-tier value sphere (in this case, the traditionalist/rationalist set) is not a good idea, even if there are important truths that are illuminated by so doing. Why privilege, say, the notion that integral places a value on institutions as bearers of development (quite true) over say, the notion that integral places a value on transforming institutions to bring their values into harmony with worldcentric over ethnocentric concerns. Stressing the former makes integral sound conservative, while emphasizing the latter makes integral sound progressive. Perhaps this is a case where it really is important to say that integral can certainly be made out to sound very different depending on the context, and for what it’s worth that’s the curse and blessing of our predicament.
Speaking of conservativism, there’s an interesting new opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Hart. Hart sets forth a conservative manifesto or “my assessment of the ideas held in balance in the American Conservative Mind today.” Among these are his unusual notions of a new role for religion in the conservative mind:
Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion–repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms. What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy…
Now it would be a mistake to equate Hart’s essay with conservativism as such. But it strikes me as an important representation not of integralism or proto-integralism (as Dallman might hold), but instead as a striking alternative to integralism. In its nostalgic yearning for a discredited Thomism, and in its typically dramatic MacIntyrianfashion, it seeks to return our political discourse to premodern forms. Instead of looking at Christian revelation as of a piece with the best trans-rational revelations of all the world religions, it seeks to privilege one tradition’s mythic heritage as definitive. (It puts God in a box circumscribed by medieval metaphysics updated for the times, presumably with a papal imprimatur.)
Hart’s is a sort of thinking that can be quite intellectually rigorous. But no thank you. Integral provides an alternative to this sort of conservativism, a world philosophy grounded in spiritual evolution and the mystical core of the world’s wisdom traditions. Our worldviews can probably benefit greatly from mutual dialogue. And in the spirit of integral methodological pluralism, there’s no reason why we should not encourage conservative neo-Thomists to pursue their quixotic quest for a new metaphysics based on Christ’s resurrection. The Thomists’ work in developing a new metaphysics could have salutary consequences that they, and we, cannot anticipate in advance.
It would be foolish to try to deny that Spirit could be expressing itself among conservatives, even when their ideas sometimes strike some of us as off base. But let’s be very careful when defining the integral ethos in sweeping generalizations. To tie the emerging philosophy too closely to conservativism or any other intellectual or political movement is inaccurate, unwise and unnecessary.