Establishment, anti-Establishment or non-Establishment?

By Jill Segger
March 20, 2017

'Establishment' is a conveniently fluid phrase in our current political and social culture. When Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks can claim to be anti-establishment, you have to wonder what meaning might be attached to that which they are apparently opposing.

Even if we stand aside from the opportunistic deceit of posers in gold-lined lifts, from the shabby greed for honours, influence and adulation, questions remain to be asked as to the perceptions of establishment held by, say, a bishop, a general, a cabinet minister. How do they differ from those of people struggling on benefits or low pay, and searching for affordable housing or secure employment?

Whether establishment is utilised as a measure of aspiration or as a banner signalling resentment and discontent, it is equally a snare.

It is surely more exacting to follow the path of 'non-establishment', to refuse to use the lure of vain illusion as a lever and to deny it any power of leverage over one's own spirit and conscience. The path to justice with integrity demands vigilance. We are all subject to insecurities, to prejudices, to the ambition which leaves its compass and map at home.

Last week, a reading from our Advices and Queries crystallised that challenge for me: “Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ”. There is a small stumble here – 'Christ' is a title – and Friends generally shun titles. But the spirit of Jesus, the man with a genius for God, is one of paradox and inversions. The meek and the mourners are blessed; the other cheek is to be offered to the one who wounds you, the first shall be last and the newcomer to the field of work is paid the same wage as the one who has toiled daylong.

This is not a prescription for victimhood. It is a call to recognise a kind of via negativa – a journey defined by what it is not according to the mores of the smart and savvy; a refusal to allow our minds and hearts to be colonised by the values of empire and auctoritas. Establishment comes in many guises and one of the most seductive is the prestige which comes from the approval of one's peers.

It's a struggle. But let us not be fooled by those who would recruit us to conformity of any kind. Freedom from false categories is both the clearing of the doors of perception and the gate into the Commonwealth of Heaven.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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