The Major and Minor Scales of Integral Politics

Ken Wilber Cognitive, Ethical, Perspectives, Politics, The Ken Show, Values, Video, Worldviews 3 Comments

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Ken Wilber and Corey deVos take an in-depth look at the “major and minor scales” of integral politics — an inventory of the most critical elements, polarities, and patterns of self-organization that are at play within all of the major political systems across the world, from the rise of civilization to today.


These major and minor scales were first presented in Ken’s eBook, Integral Politics: Its Essential Ingredients, available to download for free.

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Each of these major and minor scales exert their influence at all times, but one or two of them often come to the forefront during any given election. The media usually doesn’t know what to do with these multiple drives and polarities, because they are usually locked into the oversimplified “left versus right” frame, and anything resembling “depth” or “nuance” becomes lost in the noise of identity politics, paid propaganda, and true-but-partial partisanship.

We live at a time when an overabundance of low-fidelity information results in a radical oversimplification of our own views, values, and deeply-held political narratives, reducing the incredibly complex machinery of our political system into a winner-take-all gladiatorial contest between opposing tribes and factions. It’s become politics-as-sport, where allegiance to one’s team outweighs our allegiance to a vibrant and fully functioning society. The political pendulum becomes a partisan wrecking ball, where each side is only concerned with demolishing and dismantling the successes of the other.

This discussion, along with Ken’s eBook, will help you bring more discernment and sophistication to your own political views, as well as to those around you. You will gain a far more comprehensive understanding of the issues, policies, and candidates that affect your life, allowing you to more easily identify and include the important partial truths within each of our major political parties and movements. It will also help you to escape the ethnocentric gravity pulling you to identify exclusively with only one side of the street or the other, and avoid the lazy cynicism of false equivalence and simplistic “both sides are the same” narratives.

“Feeling these dimensions and wishing to place them into political action is what generates a political theoria and praxis. However, consciously or unconsciously focusing on only a few of its elements—just a few quadrants to the exclusion of others, or just one level to the exclusion of others, etc.—generates a partial politics, exclusionary and brutalizing in its nature and means.”Ken Wilber, Integral Politics: Its Essential Ingredients
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#1: Internal/External

“If we are to pick one of the three axes that has most often and consistently been identified with the Left/Right axis, it is the internalist/externalist one. Virtually all schools of the Left—including new Left and old Left and everything in between— believe in some form of external causation of human suffering. Whatever happens to you, it is not your fault! It is society’s fault. How to cure that is another thing. But the cause is clear to the Left: it is bad nurture, not bad nature, that causes human suffering. Likewise, both old and new Right both believe in the fundamentally interior cause of human suffering, from family values to the work ethic, or lack thereof. Thus, if we have to pick only one, we say that the Left is externalist and the Right is internalist.” —Ken Wilber

#2: Individual/Collective

“[An Integral approach to politics] therefore suggests that neither individual nor collective is primary; there is simply an occasion, and that occasion has both individual and social dimensions, both of which are equiprimordial, neither of which can be reduced to the other or elevated above the other. Therefore, any political theory that wishes to accord with the actual architecture of reality—or simply the nature of present experience— needs to harmoniously balance both individual and collective, private autonomy and public autonomy, subjective and intersubjective, and not ignore either of those, or try to reduce it to the other or use it to trump the other.” —Ken Wilber

#3: Transformation/Translation (progressive/conservative)

“A healthy holon is faced with two basic choices: upward transformation, driven by Eros, or healthy translation, driven by Agape. Hence, the transformation/translation axis in healthy practice is essentially the same as the progressive/conservative axis, and, when used in that sense, we call both of them the third major axis.” —Ken Wilber

#4: Altitude (levels and lines)

“Each holon possesses those three major axes (internalist/externalist, individualist/collectivist, progressive/conservative), but, as always, all of those exist only at a particular altitude, so it is necessary to specify the altitude of any political idea or movement, in both its theoria and its praxis. What level does it spring from? What level does it serve? This is the levels scale (#4, or the fourth and last major scale we use). This scale is very important, because the most basic values of a political movement (not its only values, just its most fundamental values) will be set by its altitude—after all, one can be amber progressive, orange progressive, green progressive, turquoise progressive, etc. Or one can be amber conservative, orange conservative, green conservative, etc. Likewise, one can be amber collectivist, orange collectivist, green collectivist, etc. Or amber externalist, orange externalist, green externalist, and so on. Being a collectivist or a conservative or a progressive, and so forth, usually pales in significance to its altitude, although all of them are important and necessary for an Integral indexing.” —Ken Wilber



#1: Lines (e.g. “walk” and “talk”)

“For a finer analysis of altitude, we look not just at the general level of a political theory or movement, but what developmental levels in what developmental lines? In particular, what level does it talk (the cognitive line)? And what level does it walk (the self line, or the center of gravity, COG)? And in both of those lines, what level does it come from, and what level of constituency does it actually address—i.e., what is not only the theorist’s but the masses’ center of gravity?” —Ken Wilber

#2: Agency/Communion

“Translation (i.e. the third major scale) itself can emphasize agency or communion, both of which fall under the Agape drive at any given level, which is the drive to conserve and preserve that level (and its lower-level constituents) using healthy translation, or agency-and-communion at that level.” —Ken Wilber

#3: Progression/Regression

“If a holon actually changes levels (and doesn’t just reach up or reach down—but moves up or moves down), that transformative change can be either progressive or regressive in character. Normal progression, or upward transformation, is driven by healthy Eros (unhealthy Eros is repression, or Phobos, i.e., driven essentially by fear), while regression, or downward movement, is driven by unhealthy Agape, or Thanatos (i.e., the dissolution/death drive), so the Eros/Thanatos opposition gives us the minor scale known as the progression/regression scale).” —Ken Wilber

#4: Stage/Stations

“How many levels of consciousness does a political theory authentically address? It does no good to say that I am taking the whole Spectrum into account if I cannot tell you exactly how to let red be red and amber be amber and orange be orange and green be green—and still govern from turquoise. Without cracking that nut, there is no Integral. As noted, adults will stop their development at any number of stages—there will always be red adults and green adults and indigo adults—and that is their right. At any point in history, the political ideal is to let each stage be itself, and govern from the highest reasonably available at any given time.” —Ken Wilber

#5: Regulator (governing system)

“Another minor scale that is sometimes important and can be included is the role of the Governor or Regulator, which every social holon possesses (this scale runs from nonexistent anarchist to minimalist Guardian to maximalist State; this is the Regulator scale, and we usually present it as minimalist/maximalist Regulator). This scale often overlaps, but is nonetheless distinct from, the (#2) individualist/collectivist axis (i.e., while it is true that many collectivists are State interventionists, some collectivists wish to achieve collectivism via means other than State intervention, such as naturalism or local communitarianism). Although minimalist/maximalist is often enfolded in the individualist/collectivist axis because of their frequent overlap, this is nonetheless an independent variable.” —Ken Wilber


These major and minor scales were first presented in Ken’s eBook, Integral Politics: Its Essential Ingredients, available to download for free.

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Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for frank frank says:

    In one of the recent Integral LIfe videos on Integral Politics Wilber refers to his use, in Up from Eden (1981), of the terms “internalist” and “externalist” for the two basic political orientations. He adds that a short while after publication of this book Time magazine published a feature article using the same dichotomoy.

    The suggestion here is that he was the first to introduce it and it ended up in a nation-wide publication shortly after he had published it.

    I think I have located the article in the Times archive here, it was published in 1983:


    By GADDIS SMITH - MARCH 27, 1983

    However, the article seems to use these terms in a totally different context and meaning.

    Wilber’s use of these terms is that externalists see the causes of suffering in the structures of society that oppress; and internatlists see these causes in character and individual effort to improve your lfe. (See Up from Eden , Chapter 19, “Republicans, Democrats and Mystics”)

    This Times article covers the two different types of US foreign policy, and uses “externalist” for those who see the enemy abroad, while “internalists” see the enemy within the US borders.

    Seems to me to be a totally different use of these terms. Especially in this quote, the meaning is completely opposite to Wilber’s intended use:

    The externalists are usually but not always those in power and their supporters.
    Internalists are almost always critics of those in power and of their policies.

    In Wilber’s model, externalists are Democrats, who usualy oppose vested interests and internalists are Republicans, who usually believe in authority and individual effort.

    Is this the correct Times article or is there any other?

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