The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.
You have two main agents in this world-saving drama: 1. the metamodern aristocracy and 2. the process-oriented party, both described in The Listening Society. The metamodern aristocracy is the transnational networks of people who understand and embody the Metamodern value meme (and the symbol-stage Metamodern G). They also happen to have the time, energy and resources available to commit themselves more or less fulltime to working for a more conscious society. They play a key role in affecting the arts, academia, media, global institutions, political discourses and industries in a metamodern direction—whether or not they explicitly think of themselves as “metamodernists” in my terms.
You can spot metamodern aristocrats among some leading people and some less noticeable “garden gnomes” (folks who stay in the background and quietly lift a great and complex burden, largely unbeknownst to most) within the process-oriented parties that are beginning to crop up in the Nordic countries.[i] The metamodern aristocracy has a relatively clear understanding of the developmental map and the attractors ahead of us. They combine high cognitive complexity with inner depth and are relatively psychologically and physically functional and healthy. But such people remain rare. It’s simply unlikely for them to emerge in great numbers in any given society.
Metamodern aristocrats play key roles and plant the seeds. But most of political metamodernism must be brought into being by wider movements. Such movements don’t necessarily have to be very large in terms of numbers of participants, but they have to be strong enough to be able to meaningfully participate in the political arena.
And that’s where the process-oriented political party comes in; its role is to be a vehicle for infecting the whole political spectrum with the metamodern virus. The process-oriented party gathers wider ranges of people from the triple-H population (hipsters, hackers and hippies) and what I have called “the yoga bourgeoisie”, and it acts to slowly but surely spread metamodern structures throughout the political system.
Here’s how it works.
The process-oriented party pries its way into the conventional spectrum somehow; this can happen in any number of ways: by taking over key positions within centrist or center-right or center-left parties; by taking the initiative within green movements, for example The Alternative in Denmark; by riding on a wave of radical newcomers such as the pirates (as in the Pirate Party in places like Germany, Iceland, Sweden or the Czech Republic) or feminists—or simply by forming its own party structure when the time is ready (the only example I know of being a small thing called “The Initiative” in Sweden). It is more difficult to imagine this thing happening from the basis of a classical Left party, a hardliner libertarian party, or a nationalist anti-immigration party. Somehow, the process-oriented party must be able to draw upon an accumulation of cultural capital (innovation, creativity, ability to manage relationships and draw attention, command over status symbols and so forth) and hence the interests and worldviews of the triple-H populations and what is sometimes called “the creative class”. You need to be able to build upon the dominant ideology of Green Social Liberalism and work your way towards some version of a Green Social Liberalism 2.0.
We have some basic elements of process-oriented politics in France’s En Marche under Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s Five Star Movement and Spain’s Podemos—but they all lack a clearly metamodern political foundation (such as an underlying theory as presented in Nordic Ideology) and none of them act within the space of a sufficiently high value meme population. Hence, they can only be premonitions of the metamodern process-oriented party and its emergence as a transnational network at the center of the emerging global polity.
So first, the process-oriented party pries its way into politics wherever it can. From there on, it begins to transform public democratic discourse by taking the moral and rhetorical high-ground in terms of how to treat others’ arguments, how they stick to rules of relative transparency and how they commit to ideals of co-development. As we saw in The Listening Society, co-development means you take a transpersonal, dialectical, and developmental view on politics: If you get the best possible processes for debate, dialogue and deliberation, you get the best possible politics, even as people have conflicting interests and values. It also engages more people more deeply by more systematically trying out ways for setting up meetings, idea workshops, feedback processes, deliberations and all the rest of it—hence building a versatile platform for citizen engagement.
It is hard work to get co-development right, but if you do this as your top priority, you eventually hit a nerve in every functional late-modern democratic society and the process-oriented party gains a central position.
The process-oriented party focuses primarily on the political process and on keeping very high standards of behavior. That doesn’t win mass votes and quick landslide elections, but it makes it become the most trusted and respected of all parties—or, seen differently, the least hated by all other positions on the spectrum. It does not maximize quantitative success (number of votes), but becomes part and parcel of the most central nodes of society—respected by public actors, industries and civil society.
The party branches out, working within these different categories. It gets to the center of the network of power and it keeps up very high standards of behavioral conduct, having solidarity with the perspectives of others.
“The center of the network of power”, aye? What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that political metamodernism takes a “centrist” position. It means, because it has solidarity will all other perspectives and the people who embody them, and their partial truths—and because it works deliberately to co-develop transpartially with all of them, and because it attracts higher average cognitive stage folks who are more able to do so—political metamodernism has the shortest average distance to all other positions. It is closer to socialism than the conservatives, closer to conservatism than the ecologists, closer to ecologism than the libertarians, closer to liberalism than the social democrats, and even closer to the political fringes than the center and vice versa. It is not the most popular of positions, but it is the least hated. It is thus, in a sense, the opposite of cheap-scoring populism—and yet it can approach and deal with populism more easily than does conventional centrism and liberalism. Populism sounds exciting but is boring in terms of its potentials. Co-developmental politics sounds boring, even goes out of its way to look harmless, but it is truly radical and transformative.
So the question is not to have one strong relation or alliance. It is to have many weak ties, and to compete by having the most such weak ties. In network terms, you thereby reach the highest centrality; you are more connected than all the other positions. And as you have co-developmental ties and processes with all other positions, you also gain higher “gravity”, i.e. you pull them a little more than they pull you, not least because you always have more contacts to draw upon.
The centrality and gravity of power is most concentrated to “bridges” in the network. And as metamodernism is itself often an expression of reintegrations of the three spheres of life that modernity differentiated—the professional, the political and the personal—this also means that the people it attracts are more likely to have contacts across various economic, political and cultural spheres of life. This also facilitates the concentration of power into the hands of political metamodernism.
Who would vote for such a party? In the Appendix in Nordic Ideology under the section titled “Too Dumb for Complex Societies?” you can read how IQ scores tend to line up neatly along the axis of the value memes represented by the political parties. If a co-developmental party shows up, the same pattern will show: You will get the smartest and highest stage constituency, and you will integrate them in a more multidimensional manner, meaning that your metamodern movement gains a disproportionately large degree of agency in politics, media, public discourse, industries, academia and civil society.
And it can and will attract people with higher cultural capital, which is itself taking an increasingly dominant position within society and the economy. You get the triple-H population and creative class on your side, combined with the higher stage populations.
Ideally, such a process-oriented party should be able to balance the “liberal” minds with the “conservative” ones in terms of what people are attracted to. As you may know, it has been shown and widely discussed during the last ten years or so, that people’s personalities are at least partly genetically determined. Personality types have different biological blueprints, gearing the levels of sensitivity to negative emotions, the degree of empathy, one’s orderliness and so forth. And these different blueprints turn out to be strong predictors of people being leftwing “liberals” or rightwing “conservatives”. Liberal minds tend to really dislike unfairness and restraints to personal freedom and creativity, whereas conservative minds tend to really dislike disorder, crime, cheating and loafing, wastefulness, and so forth. Liberal is high openness on the Big Five personality scale, and conservative is high conscientiousness. This has been said by more people the last ten years than I could name, perhaps most famously by Jonathan Haidt.
So even if you can see a good ten points of average IQ difference between the UK Greens and nationalists,[ii] for example, this doesn’t mean that being more conservative in terms of personality is in itself correlated with being less intelligent; in fact, there have been many studies to suggest there is no significant difference. The essential thing to do is to marry the high stage conservatives to the high stage liberals. This isn’t so easy to do, as the “triple-H populations” from where you draw the members and whose interests you represent often have very liberal minds, which skews the recruitment and alienates the conservative types. But orderliness and creativity fit together; they need each other—especially in metamodern politics. If you get this mix right, you will have a very powerful potion.
What do you do with that power? You introduce “stealable” ideas, and do so by “show it, don’t tell it”. You start advancing the six new forms of politics, one by one. First, you say you want to revitalize democracy (as En Marche, Five Stars, Podemos, Pirates and others have already been doing, only without much of a theory behind it or a larger perspective), showing everyone that Democratization Politics is a thing. As this is a powerful and competitive idea in late modern societies with semi-bankrupted political party systems, others will follow suit. Some of the Green, centrist and leftwing parties will steal your ideas and find their own twist on them, which is fine. Then you go on to Gemeinschaft Politics—and others will try to steal it, such as social democrats, center-right conservatives or even nationalists who seek to revive obsolete forms of social integration. Once the other parties have stolen this idea and compete about having the best Gemeinschaft Politics, the process will have taken hold in society… at which point you introduce Existential Politics, only to see it stolen by Christian democrats or equivalents, making it their hallmark.
Then Emancipation Politics, and libertarians rejoice at their new-found weapons. Then Empirical Politics, and serious governing parties take after. And then you introduce Politics of Theory, and you assert your own position at the center of society’s deliberation about its own fundamental assumptions about itself and reality, forcing all other parties to deepen their discussions about what they really believe and why, and deepening their deliberation with the process-oriented party.
Other parties will steal not only your policies, but also your co-developmental party structures, and hence their political culture will shift and collective intelligence of governance will increase across the board.
You will then have introduced all the six processes into the political spectrum as a whole, and from there on, the six forces will be competing with each other and the process-oriented party will be at the center of this dialectical development, at the heart of the master pattern. The metamodern political program will have infected all of society with its political virus; it’s a benevolent hostile take-over. And the listening society grows slowly from these forces pushing against one another: We will find a thousand new empirically sound and affordable ways of advancing people’s inner development, their relations and empowerment as citizens.
More Sinister Plots
Once all of these processes are in place, we are on our way to cultivating a listening society; this society will be much more efficient at spurring (in)dividual development and increasing collective intelligence, and hence it will be highly competitive in the world economy. It will have an easier time attracting some of the highest value meme populations, gathering more cultural and economic capital than other regions. Because that’s what all of these processes do; they improve people’s lives and their relations in profound and far-reaching ways.
To make metamodern politics happen, you don’t have to ask nicely. You just have to outcompete the crude politics of modern society, on its own terms. Hence, other regions of the world will need to compete by trying to copy some of the processes—and this embodied know-how of metamodern society will in itself become an important export.
These processes naturally require decades to play out and properly affect and saturate society. Hence only people who will be able to work for decades long projects will be truly motivated to seriously partake in the development. The modern welfare state took a good 80 years to build, cultivate and refine. The listening society might take just as long.
According to the late adult development psychologist and organizational theorist Elliot Jacques, people have different “time spans of discretion”, i.e. the longest timeframe for a task they can undertake independently, without supervision. High stage folks tend to have longer inner time horizons, at least if we believe Jacques. So we will see a lot of high-stage folks involved in the process-oriented party, and the recruitment base will grow as society becomes better at generating conditions for such people to emerge. And from there on you have a new society, one that is able to resolve what today’s society cannot, and voilà—relative utopia. And yes, that does include a world “saved” and oceans of human and animal suffering and degradation being prevented and a few ecstatic dances and prances at the highest reaches of human freedom.
You see it? There’s an attractor point here; a bunch of interrelated processes that potentially reinforce and resonate with each other in a new way, a way that is different from modern society. And yet they are highly competitive—not in the short run, but in the long run.
In the introduction to The Listening Society I half-joked that the metamodern aristocracy must “take over the world”? Now you see it; now you see our sinister plot. So it’s true—just in a very abstracted and “informed naivety” kind of way.
The good news is it doesn’t even require you to do anything evil. All you do is act very politely and be super-nice to your political “opponents” and co-develop the political realm. Learn from them, listen, really try their arguments out and work on getting a more solid grounding for your own. If you fail to act transpartially and co-developmentally, you wreck the plan. You can even be entirely transparent about the whole “hostile take-over” plan!
In some ways all of this is more than a little byzantine and Leninist: the elaborate plot of a small vanguard, and so on. But on the other hand it is entirely non-violent, requires no coups, no lies, no deceptions, no hypocrisy, no manipulation, no low blows in debates. It requires highly ethical and impeccable behavior, and honesty about one’s own will to (transpersonal) power. That’s all.
Why do you get to be part of this? I suppose some of the answer lies in the fact that you actually chewed your way through some twenty odd chapters on pretty dense theory—and theory means “seeing”. Now you see where we’re going, or at least where I believe we are. If you can coordinate this stuff with your own life, I guess you’re part of the journey—in a big or small way.
So now you have a map and a plan to travel it. For certain, this is a sketchy plan that only works in countries relatively similar to the Nordic ones, and you will need to adjust and change the plan as you go along—co-develop it, that is.
But it certainly is better than no plan at all, don’t you think? And you haven’t heard such a plan anywhere else, have you? That’s the metamodern mindset for you: informed naivety, putting a proto-synthesis out and taking it from there. A sound plan, or a minimally un-sound plan—or perhaps even a sinister plot—that needs to be revised, is better than no plan at all. Take the plan, use it, and revise it.
That is, ultimately, what must be done.
In late modern societies you can actually see all of the six new forms of politics cropping up already in different miniscule shapes and forms, like little fungi in the forest. If you know where to look, you can spot them.
Because each of the new forms of politics is an attractor point, they are also low-hanging fruits; i.e. people are likely to come up with ideas that point in these directions and start projects here and there. Hence you get a constant simmering as these micro movements come and go at an accelerating pace.
The reason the micro movements can only ever remain small but promising projects at the fringes of society is that they are all based on only one of the six forms of politics. They all lack a metamodern political theory to back them up, and they all work without ze Master Pattern. In other words, they are all left to play according to the rules and limitations set by the surrounding modern society. They don’t have a plan and a roadmap so as to hack their way past these limitations, and hence they cannot gain real power, even if some of them have good ideas.
A minority of the micro movements do, admittedly, have a hold of two of the new forms of politics, but that is still quite insufficient. What the micro movements can do, however, and which is exceedingly important, is to more generally prepare the ground for political metamodernism to emerge. When they do their projects that never really take off, at least they gather invaluable experience for their participants, and at least they spread some early versions of metamodern ideas. They don’t simmer in vain; they simmer with potential for a new society. They are a set of complex forces that can be harnessed and coordinated by the activists of political metamodernism.
Let’s give some descriptions and examples of such micro movements. If you’ve been in and around grassroots activism and political or civil society startups, you will have noticed them around—perhaps you will even have joined or started one of them. Once you see the pattern, you will be able to spot them and see how they fit into the larger master pattern.
Democratization Politics has been recognized as a potential by all of those little political parties and civil society groups who seek to radicalize democratic governance. Wikipedia counts 38 of them worldwide at the time of writing; Sweden has three. You will notice all the direct democracy parties, often with creative ideas about how power could be more equally distributed; far from all of them support the idea of a crude direct democracy. There are also a bunch of innovative IT companies working to strengthen democracy by means of online communication, as I mentioned earlier, and there are people working very eagerly with methods for democratizing organizations.
Gemeinschaft Politics is prevalent among the many volunteering-based groups of civil society—and some professionals within public social work —who work to create “meeting places”, “melting pots” for the cultural integration of immigrants, dialogue clubs for common issues, fora for dealing with cultural traumas, and so forth. These groups understand you can work with Gemeinschaft itself, with community itself, and that you can repair it, upgrade it, create new social settings and do relational maintenance. In terms of political parties, you have the Swedish Feminist Party, which deals specifically and primarily with issues of identity politics, and hence with finding ways to develop everyday relations between people.
Existential Politics in rudimentary forms exists within a lot of spiritual circles, even with spiritual political parties such as Die Violetten in Germany (started 2001, some 700 members), Enhet (“Unity”) in Sweden, Integrale Politik in Switzerland, Partij voor Mens en Spirit (Party for Human and Spirit) in the Netherlands. You have these little gatherings in other countries as well. They emphasize the importance of spiritual and inner development, but do so of course without the larger metamodern framework. They also tend to be linked to peace movements. Millenarianism, magical thinking and what I in Book One called “the magic residual” are rampant here—and I mean rampant. And game denial reaches extreme levels. These groups generally attract what I have called “light pomos”, people high on depth and state but low on complexity and code. So know that this force exists, but don’t get too cozy with these folks; they tend to be nice guys in the not so flattering sense. Besides these New Age inspired groups, you have movements like Syntheism, and to some extent the Burning Man Festival community, which seek to explore and co-create new forms of spirituality and existential development. Also, you see civil sphere movements here and there for philosophy and/or meditation in schools, which is promising.
Emancipation Politics, or an early form thereof, exists within the pirate parties, as these specifically guard the rights and integrity of (in)dividuals vis-à-vis governments and big corporations. They fight against excessive surveillance, creepy control and for personal informational security. You are probably familiar with the axis of political thinking dominant among hackers and Silicon Valley people: libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism and transhumanism. All of these share a libertarian ethos and are in some way on to what could be called Emancipation Politics in the metamodern sense.
Empirical Politics shows up among all those science and “evidence based politics” parties. You have one of them in the UK (established in 2010 by quantum physicist and science writer Michael Brooks), one in Australia, there have been beginnings of such parties in Sweden, there is a Partei der Vernuft (“Party of Reason”) in Germany from 2009—and I am certain there are more of them around. On a more promising note, within the legal profession and academia you have the strand called “therapeutic jurisprudence” seeking to find empirical support for desirable outcomes for the legal justice system, which is also arguably a kind of Empirical Politics.
The only thing we have to struggle a bit to find as a micro movement is Politics of Theory—and this shouldn’t surprise us as it is the most abstract and least intuitive of the six new forms. (It was also the one I thought of last. If it weren’t for semiotics I would have missed it.) And yet, it is the most distinctly metamodern form of politics. You can find it in networks and think tanks which have as their explicit goal to change the meta-narrative of society. Except for my own work at Metamoderna, I can think of two such contexts: the Ekskäret Foundation in Sweden (they have a private island where they gather people to talk about the future of society) and Perspectiva in the UK (they, especially the UK chess Grand Master Jonathan Rowson, write about spirituality and personal development connected to e.g. climate crisis). Both of these are associated with the Swedish entrepreneur and author Tomas Björkman.
Anyway, now hopefully you can see these micro movements cropping up across society—with increasing frequency as they are all responses to attractor points ahead of us. I am sure you can add more examples. For instance, basic income movements tend to have significant overlaps with some of these, as does the Dutch animal rights party, Partij voor de Dieren. And then there are a bunch of interesting Green movements who have some common themes with these dimensions.
The micro movements show up with the greatest regularity, and in higher quality versions, around “progressive” countries such as the Nordic ones. And they do so in tandem with the shifting political landscapes of such societies where the receding classes and parties of modernity leave room for new and more deliberative and co-developmental politics to emerge. This is part of the structural emergence of the Nordic ideology.
The secret here is, of course, not to get stuck in the partial narratives of any of these micro movements—quite a few of them are steeped with glaringly incompetent folks on the fringes, so don’t gorge on the mushrooms. Rather, the secret is to be able to see them from the bird’s eye view offered by the master pattern. When you go ahead to introduce political metamodernism, others will try to reduce your project to one of the six dimensions and some will try to pin the failures of any of the micro movements onto you. Don’t let them distract you.
This, my dearest comrade, is non-linear politics. We’re not going from A to B in a straight line; we’re playing the field of potential to let things emerge. The task is to draw upon these micro movements and find ways to channel them and coordinate them—to play strategically to align all these forces with the emergence of a metamodern society.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.
[i]. The idea of garden gnomes I owe to the Swedish sociologist and organizational consultant Thomas Jordan who introduced the term hustomtar in a 2006 report in Swedish. I am not aware of any publications in larger languages on the topic.