Classical liberal analyst James Lindsay has been offering a series of podcasts on the Hegelian roots of Marxism and its various hydra-headed offspring that front the Marxist counterrevolution against modernity. In this first of this series, “Hegel, Wokeness, and the Dialectical Faith of Leftism,” Lindsay does a deep dive into Hegel’s understanding of dialectics. It is important, he asserts, to have a robust appreciation of this concept, for it is “the operating system of leftists,” a “method of worship in a broad religious movement that started primarily with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,” dated from the publication of The Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807.
The familiar formula “thesis—antithesis—synthesis,” Lindsay says, is actually a Kantian formula; Hegel instead asserts the progression is “abstract—negative—concrete.” The emphasis on negation is the foundation for the Marxist’s love of relentless critique, for all abstract understandings of reality fall short of completeness and therefore are subject to “improvement” that will now be demonstrated as a concrete (and presumably dependable) emergence.
Informing this notion is the belief in the perfectibility of reality in general and humanity in particular—what we could call the utopian temptation. The universe is always becoming and therefore whatever we perceive and hypothesize as real is always transforming. There is nothing to which we can hold; we are victims of a process we can never control. But we are entitled to rebel against this inexorability and to do whatever we can to reverse it.
Integral theory, as a “both/and” proposition, holds that the universe both is and also is evolving. To use Ken Wilber’s term, Spirit is simultaneously immanent and transcendent. This insight should humble us immediately, for like all koans the seeming contradiction is impossible to understand conceptually. As Wilber forcefully demonstrates in The Marriage of Sense and the Soul, we must be open to a different science of understanding than is available to us at orange, the current leading edge of evolution.
The Integral Model makes room for the Hegelian thesis without embracing it as absolute Truth (which Hegel would no doubt decry). We examine it and the various resulting Marxist religions as versions of Spirit unfolding Itself—as are all inquiries into the nature of reality. Still, we start an integral analysis of Hegel’s thought and influence by noting that he is writing at the very beginning of the modern period in central Europe—i.e., in first tier culture. Whether Hegel himself had an integral perspective, surely most of those he influenced did not, emphatically including Marx.
Stage Emergence is Sloppy and Violent
My hypothesis is that all elements of the counterrevolution against modernity stem partially from the natural defense that each stage of consciousness necessarily has against emergence. From Amber’s perspective, modernity’s introduction of individual identity and sovereignty threatens its very existence. Individuality absolutely undermines the hegemony of the tribe, for if its individual members can make their own way for life, what purpose does the tribe serve?
This natural resistance to transcendence characterizes all first-tier stages, for as Wilber has pointed out, the prepersonal and personal levels can see neither the spectrum of consciousness as a whole nor their place in it.
It stands to reason that, as soon as modernity started gaining serious social momentum in the early 19th century, reaction would also set in. It turns out that this resistance finds its strength in the ever-present utopian fantasy that all humans entertain as a reaction to the certainty of individual death. The awareness of this apparently inexorable fact and the existential dread it engenders accompanies individual identity.
In amber tribal consciousness such dread is sublimated by the fact that the tribe seems to its members to be permanent. Yes, it is always under threat from other tribes, but the tribe—the locus of identity in amber—seems sturdy and durable. Premodern consciousness is characterized by, among other things, the sense that the world is always simply the way people find it. Time has no direction; it is seasonal and cyclical rather than progressive.
So we don’t encounter organized explorations of utopias—putative realms of permanent peace and enjoyment—until modernity begins to emerge. Thomas More, the author of the original Utopia, lived during the Tudor period of the early 16th century, when the first stirrings of orange were appearing in England and Holland.
All we have to do to appreciate the power of the utopian fantasy is to look within ourselves. How many of us, particularly those of us living in modern societies, still become easily disturbed when our preferences are thwarted? How many of us bring into our adulthood an unexamined template of what life is supposed to be and get petulant when people and events deviate from its presumptions? The template is our version of utopia, a world where all disruptions and hurts are dissolved. And who is to blame for any and all deviations from our desired state?
The fully autonomous human automatically takes responsibility for his emotional and mental expressions; the immature human blames outside people or circumstances for the disturbances of his expected equilibrium. The orange modern project, in effect, is the social production of mature human beings; thus the amber counterrevolution focuses on undermining in every possible way the dynamics that support this maturation process.
I have stated in other essays that we are still very much in the midst of the orange project, whose completion we can easily see is still far off. Since transcendence to the next stage requires an undetermined minimum of a critical mass of mature adults in orange, we are all best employed in working to support manifestation of the promises of modernity. This includes resisting the counterrevolution.
In his essential long essay “Trump and a Post-Truth World,” Wilber demonstrates how the cancerous Boomeritis variant of green (the putative next level of consciousness beyond orange) has thwarted the emergence of healthy green. This means that, contrary to the desires of many integralites, orange and not green is still the leading edge of the evolution of consciousness.
No matter how much it may resemble one, transcend-include-integrate is not a dialectic process. There is much more going on in Wilber’s insight about the process of evolution than a linear formula. Although Hegel may have worked with the hypothesis that Spirit continuously evolves in form and that the laws by which it does so transcend concurrent human understanding, he did little to clearly explain the implications. Likewise Wilber’s explications, while formally correct, are not always fully comprehended by those attracted by the integral idea.
The Disingenuousness of the Dialectical Method
I am not a Hegel expert, so I will not dwell much on his philosophy. Indeed, even his contemporaries who presumably studied his works or attended his lectures did not necessarily grasp the fullness of his thought. Indeed, the "young Hegelian" Marx rejected his understanding of Hegel's dialectic of Spirit in favor of his well-known "dialectical materialism."
But as Lindsay says, dialectics has become “the operating system of the Left,” and like the erroneous use of the word “capitalism” to name liberal economics, it has wormed its way into the political thought and language of the West. Many integralites fail to see this in their own writings and podcasts, and thus can confuse its place in the Integral Model.
I had a series of conversations with Jeff Salzman, host of the Daily Evolver podcast, a few years ago. He contacted me because he read some of my essays online and was shocked to find that a self-described political conservative might be able to grasp Wilber’s work. He was genuinely curious about how that might be. After some initially cordial conversations, he eventually turned dialectical on me—although I didn’t understand that at the time—and challenged me with a series of queries about how I would solve homelessness, ensure universal access to cheap health care, and other current leftwing concerns. I didn’t see—and I’m sure he didn’t either—that the source of his questioning was a belief in the absolute validity of the dialectical method. He sincerely believed that his were valid political questions, and couldn't understand my unwillingness to accept his premise.
For instance, thesis: people get sick. Antithesis: people cannot get the care that would alleviate their illness. Synthesis: it is necessary to create a system where all sick people get the care they need.
Note the subtle disingenuousness of the method. At first glance a reasonable person might say, who can disagree? This was precisely the way Salzman employed his “questions.” But why is this particular statement of the human condition absolutely accurate? The actual antithesis of “people get sick” is “people get well,” if we are willing to accept the Merriam-Webster definition: “the exact opposite of something or someone.” And what would be the synthesis of the two? Certainly not the imposition of one’s desired health care system.
Lindsay points out that the Marxist appropriation of the Hegelian dialectic is always directive, always driving toward “revolution” as the appropriate gateway to utopia. Because it is employed in the goal of fomenting the revolution, it is always twisted in the way I suggest above.
In my forthcoming book Creating Our World, I explore how the existential fear generated by the certainty of individual death gives rise to and supports the collective subconscious longing for utopia, for the defeat of death in the material world. This, I contend, is the underlying psychic force that makes utopian political schemes so attractive, even when they are proven to be impossible in rational and historical analysis. “I don’t want to die” is built into the fundamental dynamics of life; all living organisms are designed to resist decay and death, even though resistance is ultimately futile—at least from the perspective of the individual organism.
The Integral Model makes room for the fear of death without making it, as the utopian longing does, decisive. Thus it makes room for the utopian impulse, for dialectics, for Marxism, for the left and the right without privileging any of them.
At the transpersonal levels of consciousness, where identity has transcended individuality, we appreciate that everything that arises has its place. We note that which supports evolution along with that which harms or retards it. In the second-tier bands, identifying now as humanity as a whole and beyond, we are free to choose what encourages psychospiritual movement towards larger and deeper identities.
So we can note the existence of the Woke, of neo-Marxist policy prescriptions, including what Lindsay aptly calls “race Marxism,” of every variety of the opposition to modernity; these belong to us all, even as do the liberating gifts of orange. Integral always looks to see and feel how everything belongs.
At the same time, as we focus on the spectrum of consciousness as a whole, we work to resist the temptations to rely blindly on our first tier crutches. This is why Wilber rightly insists on the imperative of Shadow work, for if we cannot see our blind spots they will be in charge, keeping us rooted in the awful and sterile first tier food fight.