Individual Sovereignty: A Prerequisite for an Integral Society
Individual sovereignty is a prerequisite of an integral society. Integral society begins with people who have an integral consciousness that transcends the self, respects the rights of others, and understands the nature of social institutions in a complex integral society. Individual sovereignty, nurtured by the Protestant reformation and significantly on display in early American society, reveals self-responsibility, self-direction, and self-sufficiency. Such people do not need to rely on the patronage of feudal lords or governments. Such people can sustain democracy by designing good laws and governance structures and supporting them financially.
These social conditions existed widely at the time of the US founding. While there were wealthy aristocrats and slaves comprising 25% of the population in 1790, the majority of people were self-sufficient farmers, tradesmen, and businessmen. These people had personal sovereignty and provided the demographic basis for democracy. It was this group of people who pushed to abolish slavery.
Individual sovereignty refers to self-ownership. In the cultural sphere, this means ownership of one’s conscience, ideas, words, and behavior. In the governance sphere, this means ownership of one’s life and body. In the economic sphere, this means ownership of property. While the middle-class is often discussed in terms of annual income, self-sufficiency is a better indicator of individual sovereignty, as people on farms raising their own food need less cash than people in cities.
The legal foundation for personal sovereignty is the right to life, liberty, and property. This was stated by John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government, written between 1679 and 16891John Locke, Two Treatises of Government: A Critical Edition with Introduction, ed. Peter Laslett (New York, A Mentor Book, 1960). The United States Declaration of Independence (1776) declared “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” as the foundation for a free society. However, the right to “property” was clearly stated in the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution:
…nor shall any person … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.Amendement 5, Section 12https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fifth_amendment
The US Constitution only provides the opportunity for personal sovereignty. Just having a right does not make one a sovereign. Personal sovereignty requires responsibility, knowledge, and skills that can make the legal opportunity real. Parents, schools, and communities can help nurture those requisites, but they can’t make one successful. Each individual is ultimately accountable for their own life.
The Rise of Individual Sovereignty in the Renaissance and Reformation Culture
In the feudalistic society after the collapse of the Roman Empire, people’s consciousness was shaped by elites. The Church was sovereign over one’s spiritual life and the State over one’s physical life. The Church told people what to believe and how to behave to earn eternal salvation. The State told people where to live and what they could own. One’s soul was owned by the Church and one’s body by the State. Many feudal elites felt they were taking care of the masses just fine. Many kings in those days, believed like many elites today that people could “own nothing and be happy.”3This view is held by some advocating the “Great Reset.”3https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2016/11/10/shopping-i-cant-really-remember-what-that-is-or-how-differently-well-live-in-2030/4https://m.facebook.com/watch/?v=10153920524981479&_rdr But happiness is based on the possibility of upward mobility. To improve one’s lot in feudal society, one had “to marry the handsome prince,” or earn the favor of the king. Independent thought was considered heresy and punishable by death. Disloyalty to the political ruler was also punishable by death. Heretics were burned at the stake or slaughtered by the sword. Individual sovereignty was a threat to both the church and the kings in the feudal world.
The rise of independent city-states and trade routes to Asia in the Middle Ages led to some decentralization of power and the opportunity for some peasants to move to cities and engage in trade. Private banking and businesses stimulated new independent wealth creation and innovation and learning. This decentralized political sovereignty and enabled some independent economic sovereignty led to the Renaissance. But the Church still claimed sovereignty over the entire West in the cultural sphere. This was changed by Protestantism. Martin Luther, a religious scholar in Saxony, was appalled by the opulence and debauchery he witnessed among the Church elite on his visit to Rome. He was angry that indulgences paid by impoverished peasants went to support this behavior. After wrestling with his conscience, in 1517 he posted 95 theses on the reform of the Church, directly challenging the authority of the hierarchy in Rome. Calvin, Zwingli, and others followed in breaking away from Rome. After the Catholic Church resisted reform, Luther taught people were ultimately accountable to God and did not need the Church as an intermediary.
The invention of the printing press for mass production of books and widespread reading enabled everyone to study the Bible and other writings. The general population was freed from relying on the elites who had controlled knowledge, and those elites were no longer able to prevent the intellectual sovereignty of individuals. The Catholic Church was pushed to address these social changes and initiated reform with the Council of Trent (1548-1563) and a Counterreformation that designated official books and improved literacy among priests and the membership. One could compare this to the corporate media fighting back against the open knowledge available on the internet today. But it was too late for the church to retain control of knowledge. Protestantism and humanism had freed too many minds and consciences from institutional control. Consciousness had transcended “herd mentality.”5In the developmental language of Spiral Dynamics, consciousness had moved from the red to the blue and orange level, where “consciousness escapes from herd mentality.” Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995.) Ken Wilber discussed this theory in explaining his own A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality (Boston: Shambala, 2001), pp. 7-10. In free and Protestant states political and economic development followed.
Individual Sovereignty as the Foundation for Political Democracy
Those at lower levels of consciousness, who have escaped herd mentality but remain self-focused, will try to use other people, governments, and other social institutions for personal benefit. Examples are criminal gangs, feudal tyrants, and even the Church Luther had unmasked. While zealous Protestant Reformers criticized the corruption of elites, most who formed new churches retained a top-down institutional structure and persecuted their heretics. The Puritans burned “witches,” at the stake and outcast heretics like Roger Williams. However, because Protestant culture emphasized self-responsibility and individual sovereignty, a feudal social structure was unsuited for the freedom this required. Democracy is the logical conclusion of individual sovereignty.
Democracy requires a level of social consciousness that transcends groupthink6Groupthink is a term coined by Irving L. Janis in the study of the behavior of government elites when, in a closed group, develop a form of herd mentality. Irving L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972). Herd mentality, or groupthink, is not confined to the less educated but makes victims of political elites who abandon critical thinking. through reason and critical thinking. This is the level of science, where universal laws and principles are sought. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is considered the founder of modern philosophy and critical thinking. John Locke (1632-1704),7https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/In his Second Treatise on Government, applied rational thinking to conclude that individual sovereignty requires the right to life, liberty, and property. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)8https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/ sought to find a way of preserving human freedom in a world where human beings are increasingly interdependent. In The Social Contract, he explored constructing political institutions that allow for the co-existence of free and equal citizens in a community where they themselves are sovereign. These philosophers, in addition to Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and David Hume shaped an intellectual environment In which the US Founders could draft a constitution for a “more perfect union.” Ken Wilber considers them achieving a “second-tier consciousness,”9Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything, pp.13-16. with the ability to think holistically and integrate the horizontal and vertical dimensions of natural rights, individual sovereignty, and state governance.
The US Declaration of Independence and the Constitution reflect the integral thinking of the time. This was the foundation of the US Republican form of Democracy based on individual rights with checks and balances on state power. However, only a small percentage of the population had reached that level of consciousness.10Wilber believed about 20 percent of the population was at the red level and perhaps 40 percent at the blue, ibid., pp. 9-10. Parents and religious leaders would have to provide the spiritual nourishment required to “keep the Republic.”11One story has Benjamin Franklin telling a woman, “we have given you a Republic if you can keep it.” Franklin also reportedly told his daughter that she needed spiritual nourishment every week, but she could attend any church or synagogue.
Although Immanuel Kant lived in the following century, the principles of the US Constitution embody the essence of his “categorical imperative,” a rational form of the Golden Rule,12“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Matthew (7:12) in which one is morally required to act in ways that do not harm others or use them as a means to your own end:
“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
“So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end and never as only a means.”Encyclopedia Britannica, “Categorial Imperative.”
Individual Sovereignty as the Foundation for Economic Democracy
Full individual sovereignty requires cultural, political, and economic sovereignty: Sovereign individuals must be self-governing, have the political freedom to pursue their ends, and have the economic property necessary for self-sustenance. The foundation of this individual sovereignty is the right to life, liberty, and property, but its achievement requires equal opportunity to succeed.
Giving everyone equal access to resources has not been as easy as giving each person a vote.13While having a vote does not guarantee equal access to power if moneyed interests, political parties, and other lobbyists are allowed to intervene, with governance structures that only allow legislation by the consent of the governed that is checked by sound principles of liberal democracy can provide everyone equal access to political power. At the time of the US Founding this may have been more possible than any time in modern history since the frontier provided available land that gave everyone who wanted to work an opportunity to be self-sufficient.14See, Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” 1893. If one did not have a shop, a business, a trade, or successful employment for sustenance, one could always obtain land and grow food to feed oneself. In an environment, where everyone works for their own livelihood and does not live off of slave labor, factory workers, or inherited wealth, the basic economic laws of Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) applied.15Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, ed. Andrew Skinner (NY: Penguin Books, 1970).
The American frontier was an anomaly in modern history that did not exist in Europe, although it provided a safety valve for “surplus populations” unable to get land or work in Europe. The opportunity for self-sufficiency is one of the strongest motivators for young people and new families desiring to secure a stable life for themselves. More than 80% of the American population being self-sufficient made a democracy based on sovereign individuals possible. Aristotle had argued 2500 years ago that,
An agricultural population makes the best demos; so that it is possible to make a democracy anywhere where the population subsists on agriculture or stock-raising and pastures… They do not lack the necessities. So they do not covet others possessions. They find more satisfaction in working the land than in the duties of government…Aristotle, The Politics, trans. and ed. T.A. Sinclair (NY: Penguin Classic, 1962), Book VI, Chapter 4.
Thomas Jefferson, who agreed with Aristotle on this point, wrote to James Madison saying:
I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as theyare chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there are vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, 20 December, 178716Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton University Press, 1958), vol. 12, p. 442.
Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 530 million acres (1803) greatly expanded the amount of land for farming and was undoubtedly inspired by his agrarian political philosophy. But by 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner published his frontier thesis,17Turner, op. cit. the vacant lands were largely filled and people began piling upon one another in cities.
Fortunately, a new economic frontier was made possible by science and technology: industrialization. Through collective production with specialization of labor and machines, industrialization, including agricultural industrialization, widespread employment of middle-class citizens and widespread individual economic sovereignty remained possible. However, unlike family farms and businesses, the ownership of industrial enterprises was not democratic. Rather, it was based on a form of economic feudalism funded by elite control of the new money supply.18“New Money in an Integral Economy: From Economic Feudalism to Economy Democracy,” Integral Society blog.
Karl Marx called this system “capitalism,” although the problem with the system was neither “private ownership,” nor the accumulation of capital but the feudalistic method in which this was accomplished. The concentration of the ownership of the new money for capital investment came through banks by fractional reserve banking and the creation of fiat money. This system was further corrupted when backed by governments, which used their power of taxation to pass their debt created by fiat onto taxpayers. This created the system often called crony capitalism that began in earnest with the bailout of the Bank of England by parliament in 1696. In the US, this corrupt feudalistic economic system was officially installed with the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.19Ibid. Marx’s critique of this system and his desire to see economic democracy was extremely powerful because of the economic inequalities that existed. Unfortunately, he did not propose a way to distribute the private ownership of industry or capital to all citizens but proposed a retrograde form of ownership by a political party and the state that would acquire industry through an act of theft, destroying rather than improving productive forces. This led to colossal economic failures.
People are not motivated to work for someone else’s goals, they want to control their own lives. In feudal society, serfs worked for a feudal lord and his goals. In communist society, they work for the goals of the party, and the party elite is a group of people replacing the role of the feudal lord. These people live very good lives, while the workers have to accept what they are given. In the Soviet Union, and in China before the reforms under Deng Xiaoping20Deng Xiaoping, the resulting economy was state feudalism. The economic production under such systems is abysmal. Deng’s reforms (1978-1985) supported individual economic sovereignty and decentralization, while the communist party retained political sovereignty. These reforms incentivized production and led to massive economic growth under a mixed system of state and private capitalism that is still officially referred to as a socialist market economy. It enabled a rising lower middle class in terms of economic self-sufficiency so that over 50 percent of the population had been lifted out of poverty by 2018.
The current Western “capitalism” and the Chinese socialist market economy both suffer from aspects of economic feudalism. This is because they do not provide equal economic opportunity. In the West, economic opportunity is unequal because of the way new money entering in the system goes to elites who are already wealthy, making the rich richer, particularly bankers and financial industries. In China, this also happens but with a larger share going to the government than financial companies, because the government owns a majority share in financial industries. In an economic democracy, any new money pumped into the system should be distributed equally to all citizens, rather than controlled by bankers and government officials.
Individual sovereignty involves personal freedom and ownership in the three social spheres: culture, politics, and economy. In the West, coming out of the “Dark Ages” of agricultural feudalism has involved a thousand-year process from the Renaissance to the present. First came individual sovereignty in the cultural sphere with the Reformation, where people became personally accountable for their life. This created the opportunity for political democracy, where a consensus of the people, rather than the dictates of a ruler became possible. This is most prominently represented in the legal structure created by the US Constitution. Finally, economic sovereignty and democracy existed most highly in the United States in the early 19th century, when personal businesses and the availability of land to homestead provided economic opportunity for all. However, the existence of slavery limited that sovereignty to about 80 percent of the population.
Economy democracy has not existed either in the “capitalist” economic system where elites control the money supply and appropriate much of the new money for themselves or in communist systems where state feudalism exists. Marxists saw the inequality of contemporary capitalism, but rather than moving to economic democracy, they moved backward to party-led feudalism. Real economic democracy would provide equal access to ownership of property by all people. This means equal access to natural resources through a fairly refereed market system. It also means equal access to capital for production in corporate and industrial enterprises. This is discussed in detail in the chapter “New Money in an Integral Economy: From Economic Feudalism to Economic Democracy.”
Democratic society in the three social spheres is not an integral society, although it is a foundation for an integral society. Individual soveignty is in all three spheres is a major step in the evolution of integral society. An integral society also involves a social consciousness and understanding of human institutions in each of the social spheres; their purposes, their limits, and the nature of their interrelationships.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom Gordon!