The Baby and the Bathwater: Saving Liberalism

Originally published at:

In this episode of The Ken Show we explore five themes near and dear to the liberal heart — tolerance, nonviolence, power, privilege, and gender — celebrating the healthy aspects of each that we want to include in a more integral embrace, while weeding out the unhealthy regressive narratives that most of these have devolved into.

Ken describes in his e-book the four forces of politics being
Eros (liberalism | matter ↑ spirit | creativity) Agape (conservatism | spirit ↓ matter | existing structures )
External (← left | democrat | collectivism) Internal (→ the right | republican | individualism)

So, your title, being “Saving Liberalism”, if it takes these fundamental forces into account, doesn’t really make sense, because in actuality we live in a world that is driven by liberalism.

If the world were not liberal, we would not have cell phones.

Liberalism looks to the future and creativity to solve problems where conservatism looks to the past, and structures that already exist to solve problems.
Where, “the left” looks to collectivism and external structures like law and governance, and “the right” looks to individualism, and morals, values, and rights to solve problems.

A better title might be “From Post Modern to Integral”, just because it describes what you are getting at in a way that is clearer.

What happens to left liberals after post-modernism? A great question to ask.

What happens is that the individual begins to see that people are separated by types and stages, and that differences are not always malicious choices, but rather just the way people are built, and the level at which they understand.
When this is seen, an interest in the other side develops. The left/liberal begins to appear to shift to the right, and, shift towards conservatism. To the right/conservative, the opposite happens. It is counter-intuitive because, one would think that the most liberal/left person in the world would be the most inclusive. However, the most inclusive person would be the most centered. Perhaps that misunderstanding is the real flaw of “liberalism” or post-modern leftists, being that they don’t see “inclusive” means everyone and everything, including growth-hierarchies, and, even including giving and receiving violence. Complexity overload… computer … failing… to…

Thanks for the feedback Kensho. Titles are always tricky. You really need to thread a lot of needles — they need to be descriptive (adequately conveying what the piece is about), lyrical (aesthetically pleasing and rolls off the tongue), provocative (competes for your attention), and novel (differentiates itself from the hundreds of other pieces of content on the site). It also needs to appeal to an audience that is already familiar with integral metatheory, as well as to an audience that is completely new to this work. That’s a lot to pack into such a short phrase, again and again, piece after piece, week after week!

For this one, I knew that the main title had to be “The Baby and the Bathwater”, because that is exactly what we were trying to do here — include the healthy versions and negate the unhealthy versions. As for the “Saving Liberalism” part, that was a bit tougher. As Ken mentions in the talk, the language can be a bit challenging here. For example, people often collapse “liberals”, “progressives”, and even “democrats” when talking about either the people, the ideas, or the values coming from the political left. (You added yet another wrinkle in your response: liberalism as an evolutionary drive.)

And as Ken also mentions, in many cases “the left” is actually behaving in anti-liberal ways, even while signaling liberal virtues and using liberal-sounding language, which in turn damages the legitimacy of “liberalism” as a political philosophy, and thereby mutes it as an evolutionary force.

So in that sense, liberalism is the baby that we are trying to save here. And we’re trying to save it by calling out its unhealthy and un-liberal red/amber versions, identifying its healthy orange/green versions, and also pointing the way to a far more integral version.

Put differently, we are trying to create tools to help people on the left “clean up” their politics, wherever they may be developmentally, while also encouraging them “grow up” into a more integral enactment of their politics.

Which is why I think your title suggestion, “From Postmodern to Integral”, while certainly being the undercurrent of our discussion (hell, that describes 90% of the stuff on this site!) I also think may be just a little bit too narrow. We certainly want a more integral politics, that much is clear. But having a more integral politics also means that we are trying to help people be as healthy as they can be, exactly as they are, no matter what stage they are currently standing upon. We don’t want to eliminate green expressions of liberalism, we want to make green liberalism healthy again, while also building a bridge to a more integral future.

So yeah, those were some the needles I was trying to thread here. I hope it helps relieve whatever dissonance you may have felt with the title. Thanks again for the feedback Kensho. :slight_smile:


The language I like to use for holding the Left to greater accountability is “if the dalai lama and a 15 year old steal a car together and then go joyriding and wreck it, who is more responsible?”

If the question in each debate is “who is right” we get binary answers, but if the question is “who is more evolved?” then no matter what they answer, you can say “well then that’s who is at greater fault and has greater responsibility.” And I’ve used it the other way, too: if someone says the libs suck, I say “of course they do they are the grownups in this whole situation so it’s absolutely all their fault.” It’s wordplay, but it can shift ppl into three-dimensional models of thinking, and linking responsibility to greater capacities is something people at every level of development can grasp.


This is just a point about a very small detail, but I’m interested: At 28:40 on Part 1, Ken mentions again his point about free speech and the fact that some factions of green are actually not so fond of that, while it’s the conservatives who now defend it. It’s an interesting point and one he repeats often.
As someone who has lived half his life in central Europe and half in the US, I am somewhat struck though, by how the implication always seems to be that–naturally–“free speech” (as usually understood in the way that it is understood in the US) is something that is an overriding good that should not be challenged.

Well, as you probably know, most Western European countries do not have this overriding concern for free speech and do put some limitations on it. For example:

Nazi propaganda is outlawed in Germany
There are laws against character assassination and libel (which put more of the burden of proof on the person making the alleged libelous statement)
Advertisers are not free to make up any kind of lie in order to manipulate people
Contributions to political parties and causes are much more regulated and bribery does not need such a stringent/impossible proof of tit for tat (if it looks and quacks like a duck…)

I think one can argue about limitations to “free speech” without being unreasonable and a priori an illiberal person. I think it exists on a spectrum, just like the other political dualities, so masterfully pointed out by Ken an Corey in their last video series. (In the US “free speech” seems to be a bit of a “sacred cow”)

Wondering what others think, and especially Corey and Ken.


I share some of your questioning about the “sacred cow” of free speech in the U.S., Mbohu. This would be a good topic for a Ken Show, or a portion thereof, reviewing some of Wilber’s post-truth material, but more specifically focusing on freedom of speech. While I understand how green relativism opened the door to the post-truth era we’re living in, I’m more interested in how the 1st Amendment’s “government shall not abridge freedom of speech” in the U.S. might be contributing to so much lying.

Public bald-faced lying particularly by the current president is but one example of how the right to free speech in the U.S. is exploited and abused. While public lying by political leaders is mainly, I think, a character/moral issue (on the part of the leader and anyone who doesn’t protest it to some degree), and perhaps also a mental health issue, it to me seems enabled by that nearly all-inclusive right to free speech.

On the other hand, I do appreciate how ‘politically correct’ speech is an unnecessary constraint, an ‘evil’ in itself, so to speak. But there is something in-between strait-jackets and sprawling mean and false blubbering, and perhaps Western Europe has found some of it,

The U.S.'s identity seems intertwined with raucous character and “pushing the limits” and while there are benefits to that, there are tiresome troubles too. More troubles these days perhaps, than benefits.


Well put. The interview is fantastic.

Your Karl Popper quote that you added in the beginning of the interview… right on the money.

Perhaps “from post-modernism to integral” is too narrow. But, what would be the most precise way of putting it?

The word “liberalism” seems to be the problematic factor, because, it does have so many connotations (as discussed in the interview). Is there another way to both signal and attract “the left / liberally minded folk” into the conversation, while using evolved and sharpened rhetoric?

In the most general sense, liberal seems to mean someone who is more anti war, and for social cohesion programs… leveling the playing field, and bringing the bottom up. In essence it’s someone who loves humanity, and wants to see a peaceful world. And, why should that be defined using language that is riddled with connotation? Perhaps new political parties need to be made.

The problem with green in general is that, there is little precision. The linguistic territory is like a mine field, and Green left has an absolutistic allergy to anything that does not define itself as “liberalism”. Green left mistakes teal left, for red right.

The philosophical ideas expressed in this community are the world’s most cutting edge mental models, and do have an effect on that which is downstream. It is the headwaters of conversation. And so, there is an opportunity to create the memes, rhetoric, and mental models of the future.

1 Like

I guess that function of the title of a piece is not to act as a summary/encapsulation of the piece but more as a notification of what to expect.

With free speech, I think there needs to be distinction (which the right tends not to make), and that is the consequences that come from speaking freely in a way that is detrimental to society at large (ie, the Nazi Propaganda example).

Where the ethnocentric right (Blue/Amber) falls down is they can’t do the nuance; they believe speech should be free no matter what, because their authority (the Constitution) says so. However, were you to ask the framers, I’m pretty sure they would say “Yes, speech should be free, but not without consequence.” Remember, they were building a guiding document based on their experience as a colony of England, where dissenting speech was strictly forbidden.

And this is actually true today in the United States. Ever go to a new therapist? If they’re doing their job, they will tell you that if you make a threat against the President, they have to report you to law enforcement. So, that’s an instance where, while your speech is “free,” the consequences of using that speech are not.

I typically liken the libertarian viewpoints on this to a musician who wants to play jazz without learning music theory. The reason jazz is so beautiful is expressly because of the limits placed upon it. Music can’t be music without rules, and that translates to society as a whole. My general sense is that libertarianism is a direct result of the flatlanding that happened with Orange and Green, where because “everything is true,” they now think they should be able to do whatever they want, because that makes them more free. The contrary is the case, just like in jazz; if a musician were able to play anything they wanted in a jazz ensemble, not following the rules set out in music theory, it wouldn’t be jazz. It would be chaos. And so within the framework of jazz, one is actually more free, from a bird’s eye view, than they are if they don’t adhere to the limits placed upon them, even though at the personal I view, they may be annoyed that they have to stay in the key of F.

I think that’s where the Integral path can be of value, as we should be able to see and rationally explain the value in limitations and rules where Orange and Green cannot.


I like your comparison to Jazz! :wink: But as far as this particular quote is concerned: Well, that just shows that there are very few specific cases where speech is also not “free” in the sense that most Americans (not just Libertarians) usually interpret it.
In principle there is really no difference at all between speech being “not free” and “not free of consequences”, otherwise we could just as easily say that speech was free in the Soviet Republic. Sure, you could say whatever you wanted, you would just be put in prison as a consequence of it.

The way I interpret free speech in America is that there should be no limitation (and essentially no forced consequence) put on it BY THE STATE. That does not mean there won’t be consequences in other sectors of society–for example you may be fired from your (non government) job, etc.

I remember seeing a video of Ken, and it sounded like he also very much subscribed to that idea, as if it was self-evident. Here is a video of another American simply not comprehending how some European countries see this differently, assuming they must be evil:

Now the specific example in that video (which comes from my home country) may be one where I’m not certain on which side I’d be, but the fascinating thing to me is exactly that: Most American intellectuals seem to think there is absolutely no doubt on which side one HAS to be.

In America this goes so far as to legally protect what would anywhere else be considered bribery, because when you give money to someone, who then expresses an opinion or fights for a cause, you are essentially financing “speech” and therefore this must be protected (Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen’s United)

On a note closer to Integral Philosophy: I find that to say “free speech has to be guaranteed” always and out of principle, with no limitations, goes against another saying of Ken’s: “Thoughts are Things” (and therefore “words are things”) meaning they are actions that have effects in the world. If they are such then it would stand to reason that they also would have to fall under the limitations of: They can be freely used AS LONG AS they do not infringe upon other’s rights for liberty, life, happiness, etc.

On the other hand, it is certainly also a slippery slope, once you allow any limitations on “free speech”, but isn’t that the case with anything?
Maybe one could say: We should have a very strong bias towards free speech–in the absence of extremely strong circumstances that argue for some limitations of free speech we should always lean towards protecting it–but to believe in it as a principle that cannot be challenged seems to lead to all kinds of strange extremes as well. (certainly: “my feelings are hurt” does not seem like a strong enough argument to limit any kind of speech)

Context, as always is crucial. In a consensual sexual relationship a graphic description of what actions a partner is about to take may be the spice that makes the sexual congress utterly enjoyable. The very same words said in exactly the same manner by a rapist to their victim may be an aggravating factor. The very same words said in a film may give rise to discussions as to whether they add or detract from the piece of art. If a child is subject to the same words, who protects the child? Should the perpetrator who has caused distress and upset to the child be subject to sanction by the state and if so, by which arm of the state?
Now St Augustine said something along the lines that every lie is a sin. Which takes priority the right to free speech or the prohibition against sinning?
Can free speech exist on its own or can it only have any meaning when contained within the notion of a right to free speech?
The above is a chaotic scattergun approach/reply to the thoughts raised above. We can bring a little order to the conversation by taking an integral perspective. We need a common understanding of the Kosmic co-ordinates to make progress. For example, when we’re discussing a particular phrase used, am I opposing this example of free speech because it was said so loudly I’ve gone deaf, or am I opposing it because its contents are predicated upon my subservience and my right to liberty supersedes their right to free speech?

Andrew, that sounds like you accept the premise that–where freedom of speech is concerned–there is room for a case by case examination and that laws around (curtailing) freedom of speech can and must take other factors into account.
That is pretty much what I’m saying.

The sense I often get, though, in the US, is that the simple mention of “freedom of speech” invalidates all other arguments and that there should never be ANY limitation of it. The sense seems to be, that taking any other factors into account, when freedom of speech is concerned, somehow is a danger to democracy itself.

Can’t speak for the US, never having been there but your point is well made, In one sense it’s sheer laziness. If the right to free speech is absolute then no thought is needed as no gainsaying is allowed. So no chance for any growth in that part of society.