Yesterday’s midterm election results demonstrate that the United States continues to be divided and moving to the extremes of left and right. This widely shared analysis, I believe, is wrongheaded, because it looks at a 21st-century reality through a 20th-century lens (i.e., left vs. right). Instead, we are dealing with a profound axial shift that is redefining the coordinates of the political, economic, and cultural space.
By axial shift, I mean a new system of coordinates that shapes the intellectual discourse. The axial shift is not only at display here during the US midterms, but also around the world, as the recent election results in Brazil, Germany, and Italy, among other countries, demonstrate. In all these places, the main axis of political conflict is no longer primarily between left and right, as it was in the last century, but between open and closed.
And this shift is not limited to politics. The coordinates of the economic discourse are shifting from the old debate between more government vs. markets, to more GDP vs. well-being. A third axial shift concerns the educational system, where we see the debate of public vs. private shifting to memorizing old knowledge vs. whole child, whole systems learning through cultivating generative social fields.
These three axial shifts are replacing the traditional 20th-century public discourse with a new axis of conversation and thought that supports a new avenue for societal renewal. The campaign strategy of the Democratic Party during the 2018 midterms, as I explain below, is a clear example of missing a historic opportunity by looking at a new situation through an old lens.