An institution which is for everyone is really for no-one. We should not apply universal standards of ‘inclusion’ and ‘discrimination’ to organisations without regard to their particular purposes.
What do the Church of England’s ordaining women priests, and London clubs’ relaxing their dress codes, have in common? They are both examples of the same problem: they take a peculiar institution and tidy away its peculiarity in the name of rationalisation, or ‘inclusivity’. Why might this be a bad idea?
The typical argument for relaxing rules for members of clubs and organisations is that the new rules are more ‘rational’ than the old. Casual clothing is more rational in members’ clubs, since men do not wear ties in their free time anymore; and the purpose of a club is to help members kill their free time. Ordaining women is more rational because women are just as good at leading ritual therapy as men, and organising ritual therapy is the purpose of the Church of England. Here’s the problem: these are terrible descriptions of the purposes of these institutions. But they are the kind of description a rational outsider would give when asked.
In Pride and Prejudice, the progressive rationalist Caroline Bingley argues that “conversation”, rather than sweaty, noisy dancing, should be the main event at balls, since balls are there to help people network, and conversation is better for that. “Much more rational, I dare say”, her brother replies, “but it would not be near so much like a ball”.
Whatever success balls had in helping strangers get to know each other, they did this thanks to their peculiar nature – and that nature was not the result of thoughtful people designing an event to help people get to know each other, based on their abstract reasoning. Balls developed by ‘accident’.
In other words, re-designing institutions according to universal criteria – inclusivity, efficiency, equality – is fine only when reformers understand that their reforms will fundamentally change the nature of those institutions. Since we don’t typically understand how an institution grew to be successful, this is risky.
For an institution to have an identity, a special purpose of any kind, is inevitably discriminatory. There’s no sense in its devoting resources – man-hours, space, funds – to those who don’t want the explicit goods it offers, or can’t benefit from them. This point extends to those who oppose those goods. There might also be features of the institution which allow it to secure implicit goods, which those running the institution struggle to articulate to ‘surveyors’ on the outside who want to decide the rules of those institutions. And there will be people who can’t benefit from those implicit goods, and so it makes sense for the institution to be able to ‘discriminate against’ them, too.
Consider our easy case – the Regency balls familiar from Jane Austen. It makes no sense to invite Mr Bingley’s sister to one, or for her to complain if she attends. Here are some more easy examples: Job Centres should be able to discriminate against the employed when deciding whose cases to handle. Schools should be able to discriminate against adults who want to enrol as pupils. We have different institutions for remedial learning for adults. Let’s press the principle: a primary purpose of a Scout troop is to instil discipline and patriotism in children, so not only should it be able to say adults can’t become scouts, but it might also justly exclude the children of parents who are libertines and anarchists and will frustrate the organization’s goals.
All of this is “exclusionary” and “discriminatory”. It’s exclusionary to reserve the Sacrament to Catholics in communion with the Bishop of Rome. It’s discriminatory to turn away folks in bathing suits from a nudist beach.
The Church of England has made itself a hard case through centuries of “Erastianism” – parasitic reliance on state power in pursuit of sectarian theological goals. The parasite has survived by evolving into a symbiote, and so the ‘Church’ of England has been transformed by legal precedent into the UK government’s Department of Ritual Therapy, even while a minority among its leaders continue to insist that it is really a Protestant sect or a national branch of the Catholic Church. So whatever criteria we use to work out who should manage, be served by, and belong in a nationalised industry, there’s a case those criteria also apply to the Church of England.
Ask someone from the Church of England’s Communications Office what Anglicanism is and you’ll get an answer with as much Scripture in it as the works of Cicero. Its identity, its peculiar purpose which other institutions can’t achieve, has been forgotten: the Church can’t honestly and clearly say “this is who we are, this is what we believe, and this is what we do – if you don’t like it, that’s your problem”. This is why the Church of England’s pews are empty.
Last year, before I decided to return to England’s old religion, my father and I visited Manchester Cathedral for Evensong. Evensong is the primary weekly act of worship for Anglicans. When the service was due to begin, out of the presbytery and into the choir came a clergyman and a layman who began the service. Evening Prayer was attended – in the strict sense of the word – by a total of six people, while many times that number continued walk around, up and down and across the nave and elsewhere, to gawp at the Cathedral-cum-museum and the peculiar people sitting down doing and saying peculiar things.
Is there a better synecdoche for the modern, inclusive Church of England? An unwillingness to eject non-worshippers or to ask them to conduct themselves appropriately is an unwillingness to exclude and to discriminate in the manner necessary to devote the building and its human resources to the institution’s peculiar purpose. It has become a municipal museum, because it has adopted standards of inclusion appropriate to a municipal museum.
Could this practice be one of the reasons behind the collapse of the Conservative and Labour Party memberships, and the disillusionment with mainstream politics? The Labour Party has actively sought to ‘include’ non-socialists, and no longer concerns itself with the interests of the working class. The Conservative Party’s inclusiveness drive means that it is now a champion of progressivism rather than a means to resist its Comtean excesses. When those of conviction do support either party, their leaders resist them as “dinosaurs” and “entryists”. The only plausible motivation for supporting either party along the lines of which their leaderships approve is naked political ambition: the desire to manage the electorate in one’s own interests.
Keir Martland reads History at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
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