12/21 – Why Centrism Fails and How to Overcome Hyperpolarization

December 2020 / Feature Articles

Steve McIntosh

Website of Author Steve McIntosh, Integral Philosopher and Social  Entrepreneur

Among the many uses of integral philosophy, its most promising application is in the realm of politics. This is especially true of the hyperpolarized condition of politics in the U.S., where the growing intensity of America’s culture war now threatens the foundations of its democracy. Even though Donald Trump is no longer president, American culture and politics remain starkly and bitterly divided. Hyperpolarization, however, is not a problem that can be solved under America’s current cultural conditions. The only way to ameliorate this “wicked problem” is to effectively grow out of it. By pointing to achievable next steps for America’s cultural evolution, integral philosophy accordingly offers a realistic remedy for America’s political dysfunction. 

The idea that hyperpolarization can be overcome by fostering cultural evolution, however, is not among the options currently under consideration by mainstream experts and political commentators. Rather, those who lament the sad state of American democracy most often prescribe some version of centrism. Centrists contend that the straightforward solution to polarization is for politicians to “meet in the middle” and compromise for the greater good. These moderates argue that average Americans are not ideologically polarized, and that America’s governmental gridlock has been artificially created by social media, political parties, and structural obstacles to cooperation, such as congressional district gerrymandering, the outsized influence of hyper-partisans in primary elections, and America’s dysfunctional system of campaign finance. Overcoming these contributing causes, however, depends on the kind of bipartisan cooperation which is sorely lacking within America’s contemporary political condition.

In their attempts to find middle ground, centrists have outlined policy positions designed to appeal to both sides on a wide variety of issues, and they are encouraged by the growing number of voters who identify as independent. Yet if centrism is so politically desirable and potentially achievable, why does it continue to fail to succeed? Why are Americans more polarized now than at any time since the Civil War? It’s not as if this problem has only appeared recently; this contemporary version of hyper-partisan gridlock has been paralyzing American democracy for over twenty years.

Notwithstanding these concerns, I remain sympathetic to the laudable goals of centrism. Returning to a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, pragmatically focusing on getting things done, and rejecting ideological purity in favor of realistic moderation, are all seemingly reasonable prescriptions for ameliorating political polarization. But again, despite the logical appeal of these centrist remedies, even after decades of high-level advocacy for this approach, hyper-partisanship continues to increase.

History shows that a political culture of cooperative moderation is possible in America. The postwar period from 1945 until about 1968, known as the “liberal consensus,” was characterized by exemplary cooperation through which significant legislative achievements were accomplished. The cultural conditions that made this period of consensus possible, however, were disrupted (for good and bad) by the upheavals that began in the 1960s, and which have now permanently altered the cultural landscape of American politics. Since then, a significant portion of Americans have come to adopt a new set of values that are often opposed to the mainstream establishment values which once served as the foundation of America’s relative political solidarity. And this points to the conclusion that polarization is primarily a cultural problem that ultimately requires a cultural solution.

The Problem with Centrism

The problem with contemporary political centrism is that it remains rooted in a worldview that is in the process of being superseded by the progress of history. While this mainstream worldview (usually called “modernity” or “modernism”) continues to constitute the cultural center of gravity for most of the American electorate, it can no longer serve as a stable center. It is being increasingly pulled apart on both sides by competing moral systems—a cultural tug of war between the enduring values of the traditional worldview that preceded modernity, and the emerging values of the progressive postmodern worldview that now seeks to transcend the culture of modernity.

Modernist values include scientific rationality, economic prosperity, meritocracy, and individual liberty. These values, which originally emerged during the Enlightenment, provide many of the core principles on which the American nation was founded. And these mainstream values will undoubtedly continue to guide a significant segment of American society well into the future. But as I argue in this article, modernity’s former power to engender loyalty and foster political solidarity is being eroded by a growing number of citizens who question many of modernity’s deeply held assumptions about economic growth and what it means to succeed and live a good life. These cultural developments are therefore disrupting the old center of American politics and creating the need for a larger container—a “post-progressive,” or “integral,” or “metamodern” political outlook that can integrate a wider spectrum of values, and thereby restore the minimum degree of social solidarity and political cooperation necessary for a functional democracy.

As I discuss in greater detail in my 2020 book Developmental Politics—How America Can Grow Into a Better Version of Itself, throughout American history the modernist worldview has had to contend with the older and distinct worldview most often referred to as “traditionalism.” Yet while traditionalists have often stood in opposition to modernity’s progress on issues such as civil rights, women’s rights, immigration policy, and the separation of church and state, by the time of the postwar liberal consensus, modernism and traditionalism had reached something of a cultural truce. Under this tacit cultural agreement, the political contest between liberals and conservatives was effectively constrained by the socially conservative, traditionalist morality defined by America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. But as noted, beginning in the 1960s a third major worldview has emerged in American culture. This progressive postmodern worldview, which I will refer to as “progressivism,”1 is now supplanting traditionalism’s moral authority, and vying to become the new moral authority for the modernist mainstream.

This cultural contest for the moral soul of modernity, which has been waged between progressives and socially conservative traditionalists for the last fifty years, may seem to place modernism squarely in the center. But as the political and cultural power of traditionalism wanes, and progressivism continues to gain ground, the old modernist center has lost the ideological gravity necessary to garner the allegiance of voters within America’s increasingly divergent cultural landscape.

As the events of 2020 demonstrate, passion for change is roiling American politics. But as centrist proponents themselves sometimes admit, centrism’s largest deficiency is its inability to generate much passion for its positions, or to otherwise resist the pull of passionate partisans from one side or the other.2 Centrism’s commendable emphasis on moderation makes it relativistic in its very constitution—the center is defined by the relative middle of the left and the right. Yet as “the middle” continues to shift, centrist positions become increasingly untenable. As progressive political commentator George Lakoff writes:

There is no middle in American politics. There are moderates, but there is no ideology of the moderate, no single ideology that all moderates agree on. A moderate conservative has some progressive positions on issues, though they vary from person to person. Similarly, a moderate progressive has some conservative positions on issues, again varying from person to person. In short, moderates have both political moral worldviews, but mostly use one of them.3

This conclusion is borne out by social science research which shows that despite the large number of voters who now register as independent, most independents reliably lean to one side or the other, and are actually more partisan than the least politically engaged members of either the Democratic or Republican parties.4

The political philosophy of centrism is thus unable to overcome polarization because its cultural foundations are no longer strong enough to pull voters into the moderate middle. Attempts to promote a vibrant “third way” or an ideologically potent “radical center” include carefully worked out policy recommendations and sophisticated issue positions. But as commentator Mark Satin writes, centrism has “no animating passion … and there’s never been a social movement without an animating passion. [Centrists] have given us plenty of beef—but where’s the juice?”5

The Disrupting Influence of Progressivism

During America’s historical liberal consensus, the left and the right were better able to effectively work together because most of the electorate shared the same basic worldview of modernism, which as mentioned, was in a temporarily stable truce with traditionalism. Then as now, modernism was fairly evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. Yet unlike now, modernism’s moral system was supplied primarily by the traditional worldview. Within this cultural accord between modernism and traditionalism, strong nationalistic patriotism flourished. It was this strong sense of non-ironic patriotism that provided the underpinning consensus that justified moderation and cooperation for the greater good of the country. In other words, prior to the rise of contemporary progressivism, modernism’s political center was rooted in a stable cultural agreement that rarely questioned the moral legitimacy of American society. And this made political compromise and bipartisan cooperation much easier to achieve than it is today.

But then as progressivism emerged as a political  and cultural force in the late sixties and early seventies, the left evolved. While old school socialist progressives played a small part in American politics throughout the twentieth century, this new countercultural left offered a fresh kind of progressive politics that seemed more attractive, more liberating, and more fun than older forms of leftism. By the nineties, this progressive demographic had grown beyond its countercultural roots to comprise approximately twenty-percent of the US electorate.6 But despite its growing numbers, by 2000 its political influence was largely limited to playing the spoiler role through its support of Ralph Nader’s candidacy; without whom George W. Bush would not have become president. Now, however, as the millennial generation has come of age, the near-success of a thoroughly progressive candidate like Bernie Sanders demonstrates that progressivism is a political force that is gaining ground.

While most progressives share some of the liberal values of the mainstream Democratic party, they also diverge from liberal moderates on issues such as the political priority of equity and social justice, the importance of environmental protection, the proper role of the military, the desirability of economic globalization, and the extent to which the government should redistribute wealth. But beyond liberal and progressive disagreements on specific issues and policies, there is a larger cultural difference that goes to the heart of centrism’s decreasing ideological viability: Most progressives are highly suspicious of nationalism and patriotism. As conservative historian George Nash observes, there has been a “rise in recent years of a post-national, even anti-national, sensibility among our progressive elites and young people steeped in multiculturalism.”7

Progressives espouse a worldcentric morality that seeks to transcend the perceived limitations of both ethnocentric traditionalism and nationalistic modernity. The result is a noble desire to be in sympathy and solidarity with the oppressed and disadvantaged peoples of the world. And this global ethic leaves many progressives conflicted regarding their patriotism for America. Moreover, some of progressivism’s most ardent advocates unequivocally reject American patriotism; these radical progressives eschew national loyalty altogether and instead embrace what can be characterized as a kind of reverse patriotism.

Reverse patriotism, which consistently takes a dim view of America’s economic system and its role in international affairs, has now come to replace patriotism in the minds of those who are more ashamed of America’s misdeeds than they are proud of her national achievements. And in the same way that old-fashioned patriotism is ideologically potent—generating strong political will—reverse patriotism offers a similar yet opposite kind of righteous cause to believe in and sacrifice for.8

Within progressive culture there are many celebrated voices who view the American nation as something akin to a sinister criminal enterprise, and this has made old-fashioned patriotism seem “uncool,” or even loathsome, to many millennials. Even though most progressives still care about America and want to improve it, their vision of improvement often involves fundamentally changing or overthrowing the system. And this means that progressives usually have little interest in compromising with the modernist establishment or otherwise supporting centrist policy proposals. This general unwillingness to cooperate with the pragmatic establishment was seen, for example, in the progressive left’s rejection of Barack Obama’s leadership. Throughout his administration, Obama was frequently characterized as a betrayer within progressive political discourse, or otherwise condemned as a tool of corporate interests.

Nevertheless, from a developmental perspective, the ongoing rise of the progressive postmodern worldview as a cultural and political force is not entirely negative. Progressive activism has been commendably successful in increasing concern for the environment, and in reducing racism, sexism, and homophobia in America. And even for those who see progressivism as a misguided ideology and a threat to America’s future, there is still no denying that it continues to grow while traditionalism’s cultural authority and political power decreases.

Modernism is not the end of history. And the next historically significant worldview that will eventually come to supersede modernism must inevitably begin by pushing off against modernity’s shortcomings by staking out a position of cultural antithesis to the old mainstream establishment. Even though the emerging progressive worldview may still not be able to garner an electoral majority, its cultural influence alone is permanently changing America’s political landscape, and draining away the ideological legitimacy of the once vibrant modernist center.

While conservative rearguard defensive action against this cultural development may seem warranted to many, in most cases strongly condemning progressive culture only makes it more visible and attractive. Those who stridently rail against it can end up making it even more appealing as a cultural alternative to the increasingly unpopular mainstream establishment. 

Therefore, rather than resisting it, the best response to the cultural challenge of progressivism is to help progressives develop further by maturing beyond their position of rejectionistic antithesis toward a more synthetic cultural stance that can better appreciate the best of what has come before. Stated otherwise, the most effective remedy for progressivism’s “creative destruction” of the modernist center is to work for further cultural evolution by fostering the emergence of a post-progressive worldview that can better appreciate and use the positive values of all three of America’s existing major worldviews: traditionalism, modernism, and progressivism.

As evidenced by the growing ideological censorship in America’s universities, as progressivism gains political ground its demands often become more strident and radical. And as progressive culture accordingly becomes ever more antithetical to the mainstream, this increasingly exposes the inherent limitations of progressivism as a system of values. Although some progressives would like to completely supplant the values of traditionalism and modernism with their own set of values, progressive culture actually depends on the ongoing viability of modernity to maintain the kind of wealthy society that progressive culture requires for its own sustainability. Likewise, the culture of modernity in turn depends on the ongoing viability of traditional values such as fair play, decency, honesty, and sacrifice of self-interest for the greater good—values which keep modernism from becoming dysfunctionally corrupt.

From a post-progressive, developmental perspective, contemporary American culture can thus be seen as a kind of interdependent ecosystem in which ongoing regard for the value accomplishments of each of its major worldviews is necessary for the health and vitality of the cultural system as a whole. That is, to keep American society from stagnating or falling apart, Americans need to preserve the best of the past (by continuing to revere healthy traditional values), while simultaneously imagining a more just and inclusive future (by embracing the liberating potential of some of progressivism’s aspirations). While modernity did effectively integrate traditional values during the postwar liberal consensus, it has a much harder time integrating progressive values because of progressivism’s ingrained anti-modernist sensibilities. In short, the old “modernist thesis” cannot contain the coming “post-progressive synthesis” that our further cultural and political progress now requires.

A Pragmatic Method for Evolving American Culture—Increasing the Scope of What People Can Value

A post-progressive approach to politics involves working to overcome polarization by increasing the scope of what people are able to value. Enlarging voters’ horizon of perceived values involves the practice of recognizing how each of America’s competing value systems (shown in the figures below) stand for positive and enduring values that American society continues to need. And crucially, this practice of integrating diverse values also involves clearly seeing the shadow side of each of these value systems—shortcomings and pathologies that result from, and are directly tied to, that system’s positive values.

Figure 1 depicts a highly simplified mapping of America’s competing value frames arranged across the familiar left-right spectrum, with progressivism on the far left and traditionalism on the far right. Figure 1 also shows the multiple forms of political polarity that divide these positions. Although modernism generally consists of a singular, coherent worldview, figure 1 divides modernism into two distinct circles. This division of modernity reflects the fact that while progressives are almost all leftists, and traditionalists almost always side with the right, modernists are fairly evenly divided between the left and right wing of American politics.9

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Figure 1. The major worldviews of progressivism, modernism, and traditionalism arranged along the left-right political spectrum to show America’s four major political positions, including the polarities that exist across the spectrum and within each side

Building on this analysis, as shown below, figure 2 and figure 3 flesh out figure 1’s depiction of America’s four major political positions by outlining the positive values and accompanying pathologies of each of these value frames. Figure 2 charts the polarity of values on the right between modernity and traditionalism. And figure 3 charts the polarity of values of the left between modernity and progressivism.

For easy reference, the four positions mapped by these charts are given nicknames that summarize the primary concerns of each political perspective. In figure 2’s chart of the polarity within the American right, fiscally conservative and libertarian modernist concerns are summarized as “liberty values,” and socially conservative traditionalist concerns are summarized as “heritage values.” Likewise in figure 3’s chart of the polarity within the American left, liberal modernist concerns are summarized as “fairness values,” and progressive concerns are summarized as “caring values.”

Figure 2. Chart of the value polarity within the American right

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Figure 3. Chart of the value polarity within the American left

Most Americans hold some values from each of these political positions, but the state of America’s hyper-polarized political culture also reveals the extent to which these value systems are in competition and conflict with one another. Overcoming polarization at its cultural foundations accordingly involves helping each camp to see more of the virtue of the others. And this in turn involves the practice of distinguishing each value system’s positive values from its potential pathologies—teasing apart the dignities from the disasters.

Within America’s highly polarized cultural condition, most partisans can only see the downsides of the value systems they oppose. So the political practice of values integration begins by acknowledging the extent to which each political position continues to advance enduring values that are indispensable for American democracy. In other words, the work of overcoming hyperpolarization is founded on the realization that each of these major worldviews is making an ongoing and needed contribution to America’s overall cultural ecosystem.

Moreover, where values systems clash there can be found in that very conflict a kind of interdependence wherein the strengths of each side can serve to mitigate the potential downsides of the positions they oppose. For example, progressivism’s worldcentric morality provides a remedy for traditionalism’s bigoted nativism, and traditionalism’s patriotic loyalty can help counter progressivism’s radical anti-modernism.

This political practice of values integration—increasing the scope of what people can value—also seeks to avoid value relativism on one side, and value absolutism on the other. It does this by recognizing how each value system has arisen in history to solve a given set of problematic life conditions. And most of these problems are still acute. A post-progressive, developmental approach to politics therefore involves using the value solutions of each major system like tools in a policy toolbox. If the problem is economic stagnation, then “liberty values” (shown in figure 2) will help, and if the problem is a shrinking middle class, then liberal “fairness values” (shown in figure 3) can provide solutions. Unlike rigid partisans who are ideologically constrained from ever adopting the solutions of the other side, a post-progressive political perspective can employ a wider spectrum of remedial policies. For example, rather than seeing goals such as “smaller government” or “increased taxes” as universal solutions to be sought in almost all cases, a post-progressive perspective is free to use both of these opposing solutions depending on the circumstances.

Unlike modernist centrism, which seeks to contract values by “disempowering the wingnuts,” a post-progressive approach seeks to expand values. This integrative political perspective can better recognize why American democracy needs, and how it can use, not only the values of the moderate modernist center, but also the positive values of the outlying worldviews of both traditionalism and progressivism. While both of these outlying worldviews include destructive extremists, these worldviews are also the source of positive values that American culture requires for both its cultural sustainability, and its further evolution. It is thus by expanding the scope of what Americans can value through this integrative political practice—by increasing American culture’s “value metabolism”—that a post-progressive approach to politics can harness the ideological energy needed to better resist the strong lure which currently pulls voters into hyperpolarized, uncooperative camps.

The cultural solution to hyper-partisan polarization accordingly involves working to create a more inclusive agreement—a larger cultural container—that is sympathetic to both the nationalistic loyalties of traditional patriotism as well as the worldcentric, liberating aspirations of progressive postmodernism.

Examples of Values Integration Within Specific Political Issues

Beyond merely recognizing how different value systems are uniquely suited to solve discrete sets of problems, the practice of values integration also makes it possible to craft legislation and policy positions that have a better chance of being enacted. Gaining a clearer and deeper understanding of the bedrock of values that underlie American culture’s polarized political identities (shown in figures 2 and 3) facilitates the project of harmonizing and integrating these opposing values into specific political proposals. While trying to integrate the perceived political interests of all sides is often impossible, integrating the values of all sides, even if only partially, can lead to new forms of agreement.

A prime example of this kind of values integration is found in the issue of gay marriage. Advocacy for the right to marry has been the key to the larger success of the gay rights movement because the cause of gay marriage integrates important values from each of the four major value systems illustrated in figures 2 and 3: Gay marriage advances progressive caring values, liberal fairness values, modernist liberty values, and crucially, traditional heritage values. Traditionalists who otherwise object to “decadent homosexual lifestyles” find it much harder to resist calls for the basic right to make a family commitment through the institution of marriage. While perceived traditionalist interests are not included in the right for gays to marry, traditionalist values are included nonetheless. It was thus through values integration that this once-polarized issue has not only become law, it has also gained widespread social acceptance.

Another recent example of rapid political progress achieved by integrating values from across the spectrum, even in the face of a hyperpolarized political environment, is found in the issue of marijuana legalization. This once vilified botanical has now been decriminalized or legalized in 44 states, with more likely to follow.10 And like gay marriage, this issue has succeeded because it integrates the values of all four major categories. The cause of legal pot integrates caring values by decriminalizing the drug, it integrates fairness values by making a useful medicine available to those who need it, it integrates liberty values by ending morality-based prohibition, and again crucially, it also integrates the conservative values of federalism and subsidiarity, which seek to allow local populations to determine what’s best for their community when it comes to political issues such as prohibition.

Conversely, in the same way that the successful integration of values explains the recent success of issues such as gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, the lack of adequate values integration helps explain why other issues remain stuck.

The issue of climate change, for example, has yet to achieve political success because its advocates have failed to sufficiently integrate the values of the right side of the spectrum into their cause. As I discuss at length elsewhere,11 the strident anti-modernism of the progressive leaders of the climate change movement has produced strong resistance from those on the right, who would be less opposed to action on climate change if their values were better integrated into progressive policy proposals for this issue.

In their otherwise admirable efforts to preserve the environment, climate change activists often repudiate both modernist liberty values and the traditionalist heritage values that seek to protect the status quo. Conservative opposition to action on climate change, however, could be reduced by better integrating modernist concerns regarding the fragile ecology of markets, and the need to carefully consider the health of the economy in environmental policy decisions. Modernist values could also be integrated into this progressive cause by showing more interest in engaging the creative power of business, and by acknowledging that the gradual transition to sustainable forms of energy can be accomplished more readily by the private sector than by the Federal government.

In addition to climate change, the stuck issue of immigration could likewise move forward if the left’s values of fairness and caring were better combined with traditionalist heritage values (promoting immigrant assimilation) and the meritocratic values of fiscally conservative modernists (favoring immigrants with talent and resources).

In each of these examples, the process of integration requires more than simply combining values. As demonstrated by polarity theory,12 skillfully managing an interdependent system of values involves using the upsides of each pole to mitigate the downsides of its opposing pole. This process is illustrated by considering the interdependent polar relationship between globalism and nationalism, which provides the next example of values integration.

Globalization as an economic trend, and globalism as an ideal, both depend on the ongoing viability of nation-states. Nations provide the underlying political structures that make increasing globalization possible. And every nation requires a degree of nationalistic patriotism to maintain its existence as a sustainable political entity. So at this time in history at least, the continuing integration of the peoples of the world relies on healthy civic nationalism as a support structure. But not only does globalism depend on nationalism, individual nation-states also depend in turn on global cooperation and the smooth functioning of the global economy. Even beyond economic considerations, national citizens worldwide, and especially the young, are encouraged by the promise that continuing global integration will lead to the overall betterment of people everywhere. Aspirations for increasing global solidarity and worldcentric morality thus provide hope for the ongoing progress of humanity. Although the perceived interests of nationalism and globalism may often seem to be at odds, the reciprocally intertwined nature of these levels of political development confirms their relationship as an interdependent polar system.

Figure 4 below illustrates the interdependent polarity of nationalism and globalism, taking the same form as the polarity charts of bedrock values shown in figures 2 and 3 above. Yet even more than the bedrock values charts, this nationalism-globalism polarity chart clearly shows how the positive values of each pole provide an effective remedy for the pathologies of its polar counterpart.

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Figure 4. Chart of the value polarity between nationalism and globalism

Looking over figure 4’s polarity chart, notice how nationalism’s patriotic loyalty can help preserve the unique features of a nation’s traditions in the face of globalism’s cultural homogenization. Conversely, notice also how globalism’s commitment to free trade and international cooperation can counter nationalism’s predilection for a bellicose foreign policy. Other downward diagonal comparisons reveal additional ways that the positives of each pole provide remedies for the negatives of its opposite pole. As further examples, strong national governments can serve as a check on the power of multinational corporations, and a sense of global solidarity can counter nativism and xenophobia. All of the potential upsides and downsides of globalism and nationalism are obviously not included in this simple chart, but charting some of the positives and negatives side by side shows the interdependent relationship between these poles, as well as the benefits that can be realized through their effective integration.

These examples begin to show how the method of values integration can help Americans reconcile and use the full spectrum of political and social solutions that can be found within America’s overall cultural ecosystem.

Summary and Conclusion

American culture’s debilitating hyper-partisan polarization is a problem that must be overcome. Yet the most obvious solution of centrist compromise remains politically unviable. Contemporary centrist political perspectives lack the persuasive power to transcend polarization because their underpinning ideology of civic nationalism and patriotism—compromising for the good of the country—has been eroded by the rise of progressivism as a political force. While moderate centrism has always relied more on pragmatic reason than ideological passion, the modernist center is now being increasingly pulled apart on both sides by strongly ideological competing moral systems.

However, as the progressive postmodern worldview continues to gain political ground, this points to the potential for the rise of a post-progressive political perspective that can provide a more inclusive cultural container—one that can integrate and harmonize the full spectrum of positive American values. As outlined above, this post-progressive political position includes the new practice of values integration, which involves increasing the scope of what people can value. Moreover, this practice of values integration shows how even where perceived interests are seemingly irreconcilable, stuck issues can nevertheless move forward when the underlying values of opposing sides are carefully integrated into issue positions and policy proposals.

In the years ahead, the American political party that most effectively adopts this post-progressive political perspective will likely become the governing party. And if neither Democrats nor Republicans can embrace post-progressivism, this may give rise to a viable third party. Throughout American history third parties have consistently failed because they lacked the “ideological juice” necessary to garner loyalty and build political will. Now, however, the necessary value energy required for America’s political evolution is beginning to emerge through the promise of a more inclusive, post-progressive political position—one that can better integrate the full spectrum of American values and thereby achieve greater political cooperation.


1. While the term postmodern has been used in a more narrow sense to describe art movements or critical forms of academic discourse, this term is also used more broadly as a general description of the distinct cultural worldview that has emerged beyond modernism in many parts of the developed world. The label “progressive postmodern worldview” therefore uses the term “postmodern” in this larger sense. However, even though “postmodern” is frequently used as a general single-word label for this worldview, I prefer “progressive” as a single-word label because this term is now gaining wider acceptance, and because it is less confusing than the single term “postmodern.”

2. See e.g. John Avlon, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America. (Perseus Books Group 2010), pp. 1-3 and 238-39. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_centrism.

3. George Lakoff, “Why Trump?” (March 2, 2016) https://georgelakoff.com/2016/03/02/why- trump.

4. See e.g. The Pew Research Center’s 2016 report, “5 facts about America’s political independents” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/05/5- facts-about-americas-political-independents; and Alan I. Abramowitz, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump (Yale University Press, 2018). According to E.J. Dionne, “As Abramowitz shows, most people who identify as independents lean toward one party or the other. When it comes to casting ballots, ‘leaning independents as well as strong and weak party identifiers are voting more along party lines than at any time in the past half century.’” See also Klar and Krupnikov, “Swing Voters Exist. Here’s How to Scare Them Off (and How Not To)” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/opinion/midterms-inde- pendents-swing-voters-.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

5. See Mark Satin, “Where’s the Juice?: Review of Ted Halstead and Michael Lind’s The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics,” in The Responsive Community (Vol. 12, Issue 4, 2002) https://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/rcq/issues/12-4.pdf.

6. For social science research demonstrating the existence of the values-based worldviews of traditionalism, modernism, and progressivism see: Ronald Inglehart, Cultural Evolution: People’s Motivations are Changing, and Reshaping the World (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Christian Welzel, Freedom Rising: Human Empowerment and the Quest for Emancipation, (Cambridge University Press, 2013); Ronald Inglehart, Ed., Human Values and Social Change (New York: Brill, 2003); and Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (New York: Harmony Books, 2000). See also, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape” https:// hiddentribes.us/pdf/hidden_tribes_report.pdf

7. George Nash, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Then and Now” in The National Review (April 26, 2016). http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434548/conservative- intellectuals-george-nash?tmSBC4Ud0HH4HfZ4.01.

8. Notwithstanding some of their valid critiques, reverse patriotism can clearly be seen in the work of Howard Zinn, Nikole Hanna-Jones, Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone, Amy Goodman, and a host of similar leftist activists who are the political heroes of many progressives.

9. Despite the research cited in note 7 above, data on the current demographic size of America’s major worldviews is fairly scant, and ultimately difficult to research given that the same person can use a different cultural worldview in different circumstances. Nevertheless, as a point of clarification, the left-right split within American modernism is probably more like 55% liberal and 45% fiscally conservative, rather than a 50-50 split, as shown in figure 1. However, for purposes of graphical clarity and simplicity, this nuance is omitted. It should also be mentioned in this context that there are some traditionalists who remain registered Democrats, and there are even a few progressives who vote Republican. But these relatively small demographic segments have little current impact on American politics.

10.See: The Map of Marijuana Legality by State. https://disa.com/map-of-marijuana-legality-by-state

11. See: The Institute for Cultural Evolution’s “Campaign Plan for Climate Change Amelioration” (2013) http://www.culturalevolution.org/docs/ICE-Climate-Plan.pdf.

12. According to polarity theory, most positive values naturally cohere in complementary sets or polar pairs wherein each pole opposes, yet at the same time moderates and corrects, its polar counterpart. This unique reciprocal relationship is found in many familiar value polarities such as liberty-equality, real-ideal, and competition-cooperation. These interdependent polarities are permanently recurring conceptual and behavioral systems that are best approached as processes to be managed rather than as problems to be solved. And the best way to manage these positive-positive value systems is through an encompassing agreement or relational container that acknowledges the interdependence of the poles, thereby allowing each pole to true-up its counterpart in a ongoing recursive process that includes both challenge and support. For more on polarity theory see: Steve McIntosh, Developmental Politics—How America Can Grow Into a Better Version of Itself (Paragon House, 2020); Charles Johnston, Necessary Wisdom: Meeting the Challenge of a New Cultural Maturity (Ten Speed Press, 1991); Barry Johnson, Polarity Management (Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 1996); Charles M. Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars, Building Cross-Cultural Competence: How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values (Yale University Press, 2000); Charles Handy, The Age of Paradox (Harvard Business Review Press, 1995); Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron, Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organization and Management (Ballinger, 1988); Bob de Wit and Ron Meyer, Strategy: Process, Content, Context: an International Perspective (Cengage Learning Business Press, 1998); and Archie J. Baum, Philosophy: An Introduction (Wiley, 1953).

Steve McIntosh, J.D. is president of the Institute for Cultural Evolution think tank. He is author of the recent book: Developmental Politics—How America Can Grow Into a Better Version of Itself (Paragon House 2020), and coauthor of: Conscious Leadership—Elevating Humanity Through Business (Penguin 2020), with John Mackey and Carter Phipps. McIntosh is also author of three previous books on integral philosophy. Before becoming a writer and social entrepreneur, he had a variety of other successful careers, including founding the consumer products company Now & Zen, and practicing law with one of America’s largest firms. His innovative political thinking has been featured on NPR, USA Today, The Daily Beast, Real Clear Politics, The Hill, and in a wide variety of other media. McIntosh is a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, and the University of Southern California Business School. His author website is: www.stevemcintosh.com

One thought on “12/21 – Why Centrism Fails and How to Overcome Hyperpolarization

  1. Paul Gangwisch

    Steve, thank you for your clear insights and delineation of a process for depolarization. Again, thank you!


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