Our modern use of the word politics has become as thoroughly debased and misunderstood as the practice it is commonly used to describe – seeking and wielding power over others for personal gain. On the scale of public opinion, politicians rank somewhere "between prostitutes and used-car-salesmen". The whole business of politics is considered as far from its Socratic roots in philosophy and "cultivating virtue" as one can get. To move out of this dead end, for Herman, we need to retrace our steps to find a way forward. If we go back two and a half thousand years to Ancient Greece, we can find the origin of the word politics in the Greek polis – the self-governing, autonomous, democratic city state – where "politics" simply referred to the affairs of the polis, and as the concern of all, it was regarded as the most ennobling and meaningful of all human activities. Hence we have drawn on such for our integral polity.

Herman, then, uses the word politics in the original, inclusive sense, to mean the universal human struggle, individually and collectively, to seek and to live the best possible life. Political philosophy can then be reconnected to its original Socratic intention as the search for the "the good life". This has two primary aspects. On the one hand, there is what Socrates called "the improvement of one's soul", or what we loosely understand as personal growth, since the Greek word for soul is psyche, from which we get our psychology. On the other hand, there is the improvement of one's society. Traditionally, this sort of Socratic knowledge was called wisdom. By contrast, in today's universities,

"political philosophy" refers to an obscure sub-speciality within the discipline of political science. So here, for Herman, is our central failing. Our system is set up so that political and economic decisions that are made according to the conviction that if individuals, organizations and nations follow self-interest, the "invisible hand of the market" will automatically convert selfishness into the best possible outcome for the largest number. We have created a political culture that has eliminated in principle the need for the individual to consider and take responsibility for the good of the whole. We have abandoned the truth quest in public life.


Looking back then over the past two hundred thousand years of human existence, we can identify three increasingly sudden leaps in human self-understanding – three revolutionary discontinuities in our way of being. The initial “primal revolution" was associated with fire-making and the appearance of language and symbolic culture. With this leap into the realm of imagination and self-awareness came an expanded arena of freedom, creativity and choice; with choice came the reality of good and bad choices. The evolutionary trajectory had produced a species – homo sapiens – which had entered the realm of morality with the question "what is the best way to live?" In compact bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers this question was constantly addressed in the everyday flow of discussion and storytelling. All participated in the life of the self-sufficient, more or less egalitarian community, where the political economy was based on simple reciprocity, co-operation, caring and sharing, as was intimated by Chancellor Williams in what constituted Africa (see Chapter 3). All had some direct experience of the social and cosmological whole.

Around ten thousand years ago, agricultural civilization started walking out wilderness. Ground was held, ploughed, seeded, irrigated, harvested and defended. The initial domestication of wild plants and cereals was most probably the achievement of the woman-as-gatherer and her plant wisdom. The first Neolithic civilizations on old Europe were, as far as we know, correspondingly peaceful and egalitarian in nature and goddess-worshipping societies. Over time agricultural civilization made possible growth in population, which was accompanied by an increasing division of labour, specialization in knowledge, and more sharply defined hierarchies of wealth and power. Hunters became soldiers, shamans became priests, and captives became slaves who built the fortifications and monumental architecture that defined cities. Warrior societies became more patriarchal, and the power and influence of women declined. Religious and political wisdom passed into the hands of scribes, bureaucrats and professionals.

The most recent leap in human awareness has been accomplished through industrial capitalism, inspired and guided by the political philosophy of liberalism, which advocated freeing the rational self-interested individual from the constraints of religion, tradition and arbitrary government. Liberalism helped liberate the individual from a calcified and corrupt feudalism. It produced the astonishing understandings of modern science and its near miraculous technology. But this revolution, for Herman, has deformed crucial dimensions of what it means to be human – in particular, the organic connection to other humans and to the larger world of nature form which our humanity emerged. We face a situation where humanity has become almost godlike in its technological prowess but demonic on how it directs that power.

Arguably, then, today we are on the cusp of a "fourth revolution" in human selfconsciousness. Thanks to science and critical scholarship we have a depth understanding of all three revolutions that no previous generation could have hoped for. We are in a position to recognize the enduring but partial truths of each and to integrate their wisdom in a higher, more inclusive syntheses. Such an understanding would join together what has been fragmented; it would integrate the earth-based wisdom of primal societies, which sustained humanity for nine-tenths of the time we have been human, with the achievements of classical civilizations and the past 400 years of science and industrial capitalism. It would bring us into a fuller and more creative partnership with the evolving earth community through, in our terms, an integral polity, lodged, in Herman's terms, within a future primal consciousness.


Future Primal then presents a model of what Herman calls "the truth quest" as an archetypal dynamic of the human search for order, which itself becomes the core of a new political practice The model is comprised of four interconnected elements, these being:

• participation in a democratic community (our "South"),

• the construction of a big picture of our shared reality (our "East"),

• honest face-to-face discussion (our "North"), and

• self-understanding of the searching growing individual (our "West").

Together, these constitute a four-part structure that can be represented graphically (see Figure 16.1) as a mandala, with four quadrants. The mandala is also, appropriately enough, the oldest and most universal symbol of order, representing the relationship of the searching individual to the cosmos. Since the model seems to express an archetypal structure of the search for order that is rooted in the primal human condition – the autonomous creative individual, in face-to-face community, embedded in nature – we find it reappearing at those creative moments of transition in history where one order is collapsing, a new one is emerging, and the big questions resurface.

This is the situation, for Herman, in which we find ourselves today. This means the vision of Future Primal differs from past paradigms of politics in recognizing that the ongoing search itself – the primal truth quest – needs to be at the centre of the new politics. How then did our contemporary world come to this point?

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >