Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times
By Dan Clendenin
Jonathan Sacks, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (New York: Hachette, 2020), 366pp.
It is now a commonplace that we live in divided times. Our politics are bitterly partisan. Public discourse is often toxic in our “cancel culture.” Important thinkers have even argued that liberal democracy is in peril. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tracks numerous symptoms of our Zeitgeist as they express themselves in popular culture — identity politics, social media, the rise of victimhood and the demand for “safe spaces,” the breakdown of family life, the rise of drug use, the loss of a shared moral code, the rise of relativism, and, his most important point, the elevation of self-interest over the common good. There are strict limits to what market economics and state power can offer us; only a moral society is a truly free and sustainable society.
“Can we restore what has been lost?,” he asks at the end of his book. In short, and despite his cultural critique, yes. He insists that his book “is not a work of cultural pessimism,” and that he “prefers hope.” To live a moral life and to care for the common good is, in fact, “our default mode.” Yes, we compete, but we were also made to cooperate and to care for each other. All humanity shares a universal moral code. The key is to move from “I” to “We.” When we “turn outward and concern ourselves with the welfare of others no less than with our own, we begin to change the world in the only way we can, one act at a time, one day at a time, one life at a time.”
Jonathan Sacks (born 1948) is an international religious leader, the author of over thirty books, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom (1991 to 2013), a member of the British parliament, and the recipient of the 2016 Templeton Prize. I especially appreciated one of his previous books, Not in God’s Name; Confronting Religious Violence (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), 305pp.
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com
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