The author defines threefolding as a holistic approach to world governance, reflecting the different kinds of interaction between the three realms of society and the key institutions representing them (corporations, state, and civil society). The different stages of threefolding are established on the basis of the actors' different stances and mutual interactions, categorized according to their visions of the world as "Jihad" (religious fundamentalists), "McWorld" (materialistic neoliberals) and "Civitas" (humanists and spiritualists). The first two types are totalitarian whereas the third is pluralistic. The author proposes three phases of threefolding, "de facto", "conscious," and "advanced", which differ in terms of the degree of organization among the 3 realms. Perlas considers "advanced threefolding" as a necessary stage for transforming the world and saving it from its current governance path, which leads to totalitarian destruction or absolute control over society. Threefolding is not in its complete manifestation when it first appears in social life. There are different kinds of threefolding and there are different stages through which authentic threefolding will have to pass. Threefolding, like a human being, goes through the stages of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and therefore the actual concrete manifestations of threefolding can vary with time and place, depending on the actual conditions of social life. According to this analogy, "advanced threefolding" (adult phase) will have to first go through two earlier phases: "de facto threefolding" (childhood phase) and "conscious threefolding" (adolescent phase).
De facto threefolding occurs when one of the three global institutional powers asserts its autonomy and defends its realm from perceived or real invasions from the two other powers and realms of society. In recent history, de facto threefolding initiatives have come almost exclusively from civil society. In de facto threefolding, civil society is in a critical, and often "rejectionist" mode. The battle of Seattle is one of the best examples of de facto threefolding.
Conscious threefolding results when the three institutional powers recognize that society has three realms and that they themselves are the three key institutions of these three social realms. In conscious threefolding, the three key institutions are aware that they have consciously entered into a social process that mobilizes the unique perspectives, strengths, resources and capacities of the cultural, political, and economic realms of society. The three key institutions know that in conscious threefolding, they place their respective talents toward the pursuit of comprehensive sustainable development, balancing the economic and political, and cultural, social, ecological, human, and spiritual imperatives of development.
In conscious threefolding, civil society is in a critical engagement mode. The Philippine Agenda 21 (PA21) is exemplary of conscious threefolding at work. PA21 articulates a conscious threefolding image of society and has an understanding of the three key institutions of society and the realms from which they are acting. Civitas in the Philippines, through its civil society, convinced the McWorld government of the Philippines to officially adopt PA21 as its framework of sustainable development for the country.
Advanced threefolding is the adult phase of threefolding viewed from a developmental or evolutionary perspective. In advanced threefolding, mutual trust and respect are established and institutionalized, something that still has to be continuously worked for in conscious threefolding. In advanced threefolding, the substance of the different realms represented by the three key institutions is so well understood that creative, albeit radical new initiatives start to increasingly determine the substance of the threefolding process.
For example, in conscious threefolding, many aspects of McWorld neoliberal economics will still be active in the debates on threefolding substance. And the same will be true with many conventional approaches to governance. In advanced threefolding, only true empirical discoveries of neoliberal economics will be retained, and these will be placed within the context of an economics of solidarity or associative economics, and not an economics of competition. Thus the concept of an open market will be retained, but price and profits as signals for economic decision making will be removed from their central position. Instead, price and profits will be among the considerations for economic associations as they try to ensure that the human needs of all are adequately satisfied by the economic system.