In contrast with my typical postings that relate to some aspect of economic or health policy, this one aims much higher. In this piece, I cite the words of Orthodox Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, to illuminate a set of values and principles needed to transcend the moral and political chaos that presently envelops American society.
On November 7th, 2020, Rabbi Sacks passed away from cancer. The American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) blog post in his memory really intrigues me. That posting highlights the 2017 AEI Irving Kristol award that was given to Rabbi Sacks as well as the address he gave at the annual AEI dinner when he accepted the award. (Rabbi Sacks address starts at 15:30.) In case the labels Orthodox rabbi and American Enterprise Institute ring your “guilt by association” buttons, read the November 8th article in the British newspaper The Guardian, known for its “progressive” views.
In order to encourage you to listen to the inspiring words of Rabbi Sacks linked in the above video, consider the following sample of his thoughts.
We’ve seen the emergence of what I call a politics of anger. We have seen the culture of competitive victimhood. We have seen the emergence of identity politics based on smaller and smaller identities of ethnicity and gender. We’ve seen the new politics of grievance. We’ve seen the silencing of free speech in our universities in the name of safe spaces.
Instead of a culture of freedom and responsibility, we have a culture of grievances that are always someone else’s responsibility. Because we no longer share a moral code that allows us, in Isaiah’s words, to reason together, in its place has come something called emotivism, which says, I know I’m right because I feel it. And as for those who disagree, we will shout down or ban all those dissenting voices because we each have a right not to feel we’re wrong.
We need people willing to stand up and say, rich and poor alike, we all have collective responsibility for the common good. And we need a culture of responsibility, not one of victimhood, because if you define yourself as a victim, you can never be free. We have to have people to have the courage to get up and say that earned self-respect counts for more than unearned self-esteem. And we have to say the fundamental truth that is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible and of American politics that the state exists to serve the people. The people don’t exist to serve the state.
For those who prefer a shorter talk, listen to Sacks’ Ted Talk delivered in April 2017 which has the theme: “We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.”