on 12 July 2001
Dr. Sacks has done a spectacular analysis as to what happens to a society that strays away from the family, the community and its religious practices. The author uses the Bible, very effectively to trace the origin of the family as a covenant and compares the difference between this model and the Hobbesian model. Yet, Dr. Sacks is not at all negative, he exhorts us to return the social community,in which the family, neighbors and religious institutions form the foundation and the strength of the community.The community will therefore, be wealthy, (as the author describes) in social capital. This is a very well written book not to be read quickly but to ponder and analyse every thought. I recommend highly to any reader concerned to remeber how we began where we are and where we want to go.
This is 'early' Jonathan Sacks. It contains the seeds of what he focuses on in greater depths in his subsequent books. This book deals with 'liberalism' versus 'libertarianism' and champions the former over the latter. It's more philosophical and academic than his later works.
I like the ideas, but his analysis of what's wrong in society pre-dates the rise of social media, and the emergence of the blogosphere. Sacks is socially conservative, but when divorce was difficult men and women endured much misery, and before homosexuality was legalised, there was also much misery. I like his traditional values, and I like the Jewish way. I'm not convinced that organised religion is going to make much of a comeback.
Fortunately 15 years later we can also watch Lord Sacks preach on YouTube.
on 7 April 2002
Dr Sacks, acutely aware of the weaknesses of contemporary society, sets out to explore how we might 'shape up better'. Like his former Reith lectures the heart of the debate into which he so humanely and calmly takes us is one, no less than, the re-moralisation of language. He manages this without ever falling into a moralising, strident unpleasantness.
Initially i thought this book was simply going to be a critique of the lapse of liberalism into a debased sub-species called libertarianism and his avowed wish to replace it with communitarianism. Put thus the eyes could easily glaze over for there is no mention here of the moral elements that Sacks teases out of the social-political mix. Politics is never mentioned just as politics and given the vunerable minority status of Jews this is not just to be expected but welcomed absolutely. Somewhat confusingly, to the set of prejudices of this reader, Sacks does not want ,minimal gov. nor the fuller version he calls welfare liberalism. While he may not be successful at stamping out what form the new politics should be taking (he notes the present day is transitionary) - this may be rather a naive and deterministic way of looking at the social process anyway - what he does manage , brilliantly, is to show us how we might first of all reacquaint ourselves with our due humanity!
What does this mean? First, let me say that Sacks , in his prefacatory remarks, this is not a religious book , for which he has 'had to disrobe himself'. Actually, despite the lack of concentration on any specific ritualised or dogmatic view of Judaism, this is a deeply religious work. It reminds me of the Quaker (Christian) philosopher writings of j. Macmurray, the reinstatement of the interpersonal, as against the impersonality of individualism. This theme for Sacks too, would to this reader, appear to be the book's central theme. The finding of 'fellow-feeling', honour, security, and mutuality in the proper interstices of the individual/society/state mix.
Heartingly, after reading a not dissimilar work, Melanie Philips 'all must win prizes', contra Philips, Sack's does not invoke a moral wrath at contemporary failures to live the good life. As Sacks puts it, because we do not have the benefit of hindsight; because moral ideas take generations to come about; that we will make mistakes. Furthermore, that moral lanuage is only ever held with great inarticulacy. ie. we only partially codify the rules by which we behave, whilst we poke around in semi-darkness with sticks , such that the moral life can never come quite into focus. That does not prevent a brave , tireless, Dr sacks from making such a striking book - ironically enough, given his articuate use of language.