Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has been getting all exercised about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent speech to the Trades Union Congress about the evils of the “gig economy”. The main reason for this seems to be his belief that the Church of England, which the Archbishop…archbishops, can’t justify its role as an official state Church whose views should be listened to in the Year of Our Lord 2018. However, I don’t propose to waste your time on that debate, as it’s really boring, nor on the gig economy, as it’s the annoying buzzword of the year and I understand about as much about economics as your pet cat anyway.
No, the real joy of this article is the headline and introductory blurb, which is so hilariously flawed in its logic, I can only assume it was written by someone at The Guardian who hates Simon Jenkins and wants to make him look foolish.
“God aside, for whom does Justin Welby speak? Even if you agree with the archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of the gig economy, he has inappropriate power in a secular country.”
OK, let’s leave to one side the obvious point that, if you believe in God, speaking on His behalf is pretty much all the justification you need to pronounce on anything. That involves at least three assumptions that far more intelligent people than me have written many more words on than I want to and still not proved (there is a God, that God is the God of Christianity, the Church of England’s version of Christianity is the true one).
No, the real weakness of that assertion comes if you reverse it and apply it to the person who, in theory, wrote it. “Himself aside, for whom does Simon Jenkins speak? Even if you agree with his criticism of the archbishop of Canterbury, he has inappropriate power in a country where 95% of the population probably don’t even know who he is, even though he is quite well-known and has been on the telly and everything.”
You might well quibble at the assertion that Simon Jenkins has power, and you’d probably have a point. He can say all kinds of stuff, but it isn’t as if, in reality, he can make anyone do anything. But then, in reality, much the same is true of Archbishop Welby, who can denounce how the economy works all he likes, but can’t do a damn thing about it. He can, however, get more publicity for his views than the average person, and Jenkins seems to greatly dislike this, in spite of the fact that he has much the same ability himself, and with about as much or as little justification.
Jenkins makes much of only 15% of the British population professing Anglicanism, but do 15% of them read The Guardian or even browse its website? Not, of course, that every Guardian reader would necessarily agree with his opinions anyway. For that matter, only 23.2% of employees in the UK are trade union members, which probably means the TUC itself isn’t in much of a stronger position than the C of E, given that not everyone in the population is an employee. Does he think the TUC’s views on issues should go unreported too?
On a deeper level, if you take Jenkins’ argument to its logical conclusion, it undermines completely the authority of absolutely anyone to claim to speak for absolutely anyone besides themselves (and whoever chooses to agree with them). Even political leaders who are selected through formal processes that are meant to give that popular sanction very rarely truly get it (how many fair elections actually result in the majority of the population – not just those who voted – electing someone?). And that’s just to select them for a job.
It isn’t as if, once elected, politicians are required to keep constantly checking back on whether their individual policies or opinions actually have majority support. And most kinds of leaders or influential people don’t even bother with that level of consultation before they make their decisions or speak their mind. The truth is, no-one should be able to claim to speak for you in the way that all kinds of people routinely do – not politicians, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, not Simon Jenkins, and not me. The idea that there is something called “authority” that legitimises all these people doing that is a myth. There’s no such thing as authority, just different kinds of power, based on different kinds of coercion of other people.
So, congratulations, Simon. You thought you were denouncing an Archbishop, but you ended up denouncing yourself, and, effectively, the whole way society currently works. Your arguments justify anarchism, and I’m off down to the nearest barricade to raise the red-and-black flag over it and throw Molotov cocktails at the police.
Well, either that, or off down YouTube to watch amusing videos of cats – you decide which, readers!