Kenarchy – New Hope for the Political Left

Michael Sheen wrote a brilliant article in the New Statesman this last week (, asking some serious questions of the Labour Party. Here is my personal view about where new hope can be found for the political left (not that labour necessarily represent that anymore…..)

The Ring of Power

I’m currently reading Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings to my eldest son. We have just finished that part in ‘The Two Towers’ in which Gandalf has returned to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli at the turning of the tide. He makes this awesome statement about Sauron the dark lord:

‘That we should wish to cast him down and have NOONE in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the ring (of power) itself has not entered into his darkest dream.’

There are still the stirrings of revolution in many nations. But revolution that is based on violence and only replaces one form of dominant power with another sort of hierarchical dominance is no revolution at all.

Kenarchy is about the emptying out of power. It comes from an understanding that the politics of Jesus were about emptying out power and utterly transforming it. Leadership is not only to be kenotic (that is poured out for others), it is to be kenarchic (that is emptied out) so that we begin to understand that the lowest place is the highest place. We begin to understand that level playing fields are the order of the day. We are not looking for new political parties, but a new politics, that is a new way of relating to one another. We are not looking for new economic regulations, but a new economics. We are not searching for peace maintained through violence but a genuine love of one another, including the love of our ‘enemies’ that transforms how we live together as humanity.

William T Cavanaugh gives a radical reinterpretation of the christian eucharist in the light of this. We live in a divided world in which the ‘powers’ crush and break the multitude. When Jesus breaks bread and gives it away, he is not looking to form an exclusive club. He is, rather inviting us to partake of this kind of givenness, to embrace brokenness in the face of violence and to find that this way of life-poured-out-love finds hope in resurrection. As we eat the bread, we receive life, we become life and we give life as we share with others. The bread is given and is available to all who will receive it. Our barriers are broken down, our borders and our flags lose their relevance. We become part of this trans-local body that only exists to bring life, love and peace. There is no politics (way of doing life) that is more radical than this.

The nation state project holds power at the centre. It uses the components of money, law and control through violence to do this. I believe that as we build relationally in our localities we can find new ways of being. This is happening on a vast scale already and many stories are emerging of alternative ways of being that provide a different narrative to the dominant (economic and political) one of our day.

Healthcare Politics 2b

2b) I do believe “all knowledge is relational”. On a completely separate tack, I am passionate to see the hierarchy created by knowledge within the NHS broken down. The managment restructuring within the NHS had some great potential to create a more level paying field. But it has amazed me to see the CCG’s in England created with a dominance from doctors, only one nurse on the panel and no other therapists…..

Within general practice, it is rare to find practices where all the partners are not doctors, or if there are others, it is usually senior nurses or practice mangers. There are some exciting models where all members of a practice are partners (Bolton/Tower Hamlets in East London). Such models break down the hierarchies of money and knowledge as power and recognise the amazing contributions and to be made from across a team. Not only so, but data from these places indicates high staff morale, high patient satisfaction rates and good clinical results – a pretty awesome combination! This can work in hospital settings also and gives the hospital team and potentially the wider community the chance to participate in their workplace/heath service more holistically. It brings the possibility of participatory budgeting to the fore which is really exciting model for budgeting and corporate financial responsibility.

To flip power on its head and make it that which allows the mountains to be made low and the valleys to be raised up is at the very heart of kenarchy. Level playing fields – make for a better game!