Reference: Citizenship Versus Transpartisanship

Tom Atlee


by Tom Atlee

What is “transpartisanship”?  In its most common usage, “transpartisan” seems to refer to partisans from across the political spectrum coming together in civil conversation.

I love the term, but find myself thinking of it as a transitional phenomenon.  A partisan is a strong (even militant) supporter of a party or position.  People assume, in this polarized age, that partisans can’t talk and work together.  Bringing opposing partisans into visibly creative civil conversation flies in the face of that widespread assumption, and thus serves to undermine the primary narrative of polarization.  However, it also has a dark side.  Bringing people together as partisans instead of as peer citizens may actually reinforce partisanship as a political reality.  I want to move beyond that, as I believe that parties and positions interfere with our ability to generate collective wisdom.  (See

Partisanship has a gift to offer to wise democracy.  Partisans invest the time and effort to thoroughly articulate the arguments and evidence for their perspective on each issue.  The problem with partisanship is that the partisans then use those articulations to fight each other and batter the public. The alternative is to use the gifts of partisans to help the mass of citizens move beyond partisanship.

An obvious way to do that is through citizen deliberative councils like Citizens Juries and Consensus Conferences.  (See  These councils bring together randomly selected citizens who may be Republicans or Democrats or whatever, but who aren’t chosen because of that (except perhaps as part of an effort at demographic balance that includes diverse demographic factors like race, gender, etc.).  They are not treated in any special way because of their political beliefs; they are simply peer citizens with the other citizens in the council.  They are given (a) a charge to come up with something that benefits their whole community or country (a mandate that lifts them above partisanship) and (b) access to briefing materials and experts who represent the full spectrum of opinion on the issue being deliberated.  In other words, the range of partisan viewpoints is represented by their diverse information sources and perspectives, rather than focusing on their positionality as partisan participants.  This approach reflects the ideal of citizens as people with common problems and hopes engaging in conversations that creatively utilize their diversity to discover something greater and better than they all came in the room with.

I wouldn’t call this transpartisan deliberation.  I’d call it citizen deliberation.

But the fact is we live in a partisan society.  Bipartisanship and transpartisanship are thus both necessary facets of a transition from domination (kings and dictators) to partisan adversarial democracy to shared co-creative citizenship.  It all fits.  I see transpartisanship as a vital doorway into another world that is truly and thoroughly beyond partisanship.  Someday, as enough of us walk through that door, we will let go of the door and leave behind partisanship altogether.  What will be left is a truly diverse “us” working together to make things better for each and all of us.

To paraphrase Rumi:  ”Out beyond Left and Right, Democrat and Republican, Libertarian and Communist, Anarchist and Communitarian… there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”



by Bruce Shuman

I’ve been hanging around transpartisan politics for several years now, and I’m pretty convinced that in its own way, this is where everything is going, for many reasons.

But we’ve got to get the definition straight.  In the Coffee Party we have been over this ground many times, and worked up detailed definitions and analysis.  Like Phil Mastrocola, I think “transpartisan” almost means something like “transcategorical” — or “beyond categories”. We meet in a place that is beyond categories — a place of conversation based on mutual respect and trust, where we listen to each other and we co-create solutions in a process that releases the innate creative power in every human being.

Language seems inherently “dualistic”: Everything gets divided up into “opposites” — hot and cold, high and low, etc. And out in the prevailing political meme, we use terms like “right and left” and “Republican and Democrat.”  These terms are not meaningless, but statistically they are very blurry and presumptive.

I saw this as a major point in Jon Stewart’s recent “Rally to Restore Sanity”:  This idea that we can rigidly divide human beings, or the American electorate, into a set of crisp mutually exclusive categories is just kind of silly. Maybe in a more primitive era there was a greater degree of truth in this simple notion. But today, human beings are “incredibly diverse” — meaning that the number of “simultaneous dimensions which describe their variation and individual differences” is very high.

People take incredibly diverse and complex political positions, in very unpredictable combinations. The notion that everybody who is against abortion is somehow in favor of Bush tax cuts is just foolish, and leads to complete misguided and freaky conclusions. So, for the people who insist on rigid simplistic categories, this gets described as a “divide” — “the right is splintered”. But for me, this is just kind of silly.

For me — the real root of the problem, and a tendency that I think we are in the process of shedding — is the tendency to lump people together in large mutually exclusive and badly defined categories — like “Republican” or “Democrat”. Yes, the system still forces us into those categories — but they are blinding and limiting, and millions of people are rebelling against them.

Alhough not everybody sees this clearly, lumping people together in large groups is really about saying something like — “a high percentage of this group share this statistical property”. And a hot issue like “racism” is a version of this. It’s bad category formation — “pre-judging” — and “prejudice” put people in categories based on bad analysis or a failure to see the particulars of individual differences. “Everybody with this racial characteristic is like this…”

So, the way I see it — where we are really headed — and the beautiful politics of the future that I think can emerge — is a politics that is absolutely sensitive to individual differences, a politics that makes no effort to lump large numbers of people into statistically crude bundles for the sake of convenient political marketing — for example, by stuffing them into the concept of a “political party”.

What I want to see emerge is a politics that absolutely recognizes and accommodates a fine-grained approach to individual differences, and does not lump anybody together with anybody else without explicit definition or personal choice.

You speak for yourself, you are a unique individual. You do not position yourself in a pre-fab category controlled by a self-serving marketing engine.

I suspect this analysis may need its own book.  But I think we’re heading for a politics that offers this high degree of freedom and self-expression to every voter and concerned citizen.

When such highly diverse independent and free people come into the public square to express their views on the thousands of issues that face us — they get to express those views in the precise dimensions of their own personal positions and beliefs, not constrained by the pre-fab assumptions of a static clustering organized by a marketing team.

When you speak as an individual, with your full diversity recognized and honored, you are essentially speaking as a transpartisan.

You have escaped the categorical boundaries set up by the marketing engines on the grounds that you are dumb and can be led by the nose. You are asserting that you are a free citizen and will make up your own mind.

And when millions of free citizens come into a political space to work out their differences and make the decisions that affect the collective future of everyone — we in the Coffee Party, as I understand it, want that process conducted at the highest degree of civility and excellence. We want informed decisions. We want to know everything about every issue — and if each of us cannot know those things, then we want trusted experts to help guide us. And because trust is so important in that context, we are setting up guidelines for trust.

All of this, in my opinion, is emerging.  We are in an amazing political time. The old categories are being utterly crushed by complexity and economic pressure. Millions of people are still reacting to this emerging transpartisan trend, and wishing that the old categories could still work. The media culture encourages adherence to the established ways — and yes, that is an empirically justifiable focus, because this still IS how things actually work.

Or “supposedly work”.

But millions of Americans DON’T think this system works.  They may not have studied semantics or category theory, but they know something is wrong. I think the Coffee Party has a powerful leadership opportunity to overthrow this despotic and ignorant and insensitive system of categories, and move into an entirely new era of fine-grained highly informed and enlightened decision-making that is not locked in little boxes created by self-serving power elites.

I see all this as very solid reasons for defending and advocating for a brilliant transpartisan future, fueled by a free-spirited electorate simultaneously waving the flags of “community” and “don’t tread on me” at the same time.

We move beyond all forms of “name-calling” — indeed, all forms of “labels” — and we meet as people — as free citizens of this nation and this planet — to convene and to collectively decide, in a brilliant new form of democracy, what We the People want to do with our lives…

(NOTE:  This essay was edited from a posting by Bruce Shuman on the Coffee Party’s online forum.)


If you wish to read more about the transpartisan perspective, I encourage you to read my “A personally transformative encounter of Left and Right” and the other co-intelligence articles on polarization at  See also which has links to the Transpartisan Alliance and Liberty Coalition, two leading transpartisan organizations. — Tom




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Dec 16

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