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Rabbi Sacks in conversation with Prof Amy Chau on Morality (Chicago Humanities Festival)

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“If we care for the future of democracy, we must recover that sense of shared morality that binds us to one another,” writes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in his new book Morality. Sacks contends “we are living through a cultural climate change,” in which relying on competition-based institutions like the market and the state poses a threat to building a caring and compassionate society. Join Rabbi Sacks and Yale law professor Amy Chua for a conversation about restoring the common good in these divided times. This program is presented in partnership with The Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University.

TRANSCRIPT

 

David Shyovitz:

Welcome to the Chicago Humanities Festival, and today’s programme, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks on morality. My name is David Shyovitz, and I’m a professor of history at Northwestern University and the director of Northwestern’s Crown Family Centre for Jewish and Israel Studies. The Crown Family Centre is an academic hub for undergraduate and graduate education, faculty and student research, and accessible and engaging public programming. Our students, faculty members, and visiting scholars, study, teach and research Jewish history, Jewish philosophy and thought, Hebrew and Yiddish language and literature, Holocaust studies, and the history of politics and culture of the state of Israel. A core part of the centre’s mission is connecting our university community with the broader public community. And so we’re very proud to be serving as a presenting partner for this programme. You can learn more about the Crown Family Centre, our ongoing programming, by visiting www.jewish-studies.northwestern.edu. This week’s programmes with the Chicago Humanities Festival are presented with the support of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. You can learn more about upcoming conversations and help support these free events by going to www.ChicagoHumanities.org.

Now, it’s my honour to introduce today’s moderator, law professor and author Amy Chua, and of course, our presenter Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Rabbi Lord Sacks is an international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, who has been described by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales as ‘a light unto this nation’, and by former British prime minister, Tony Blair, as an intellectual giant. He served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations from 1991 to 2013, was knighted in 2005 and took his seat in the House of Lords in 2009. Rabbi Lord Sacks is the recipient of countless honours, including the 2016 Templeton Prize, which was awarded in recognition of his exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. He holds degrees from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he’s a recipient of 18 honorary degrees and is the author of over 30 books including, most recently, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, which was a best seller in the UK and has just appeared in print here in the United States.

Amy Chua is the John M. Duff Jr Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She graduated from Harvard College in Harvard Law School, where she was executive editor of the Harvard Law Review. After practising on Wall Street, she joined the Yale Law School faculty in 2001, and is a noted expert in the areas of foreign policy, globalisation and ethnic conflict. Professor Chua is the bestselling author of numerous award-winning books, including World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2002); Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance and Why they Fall (2007); and The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2013). Her 2011 memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was a runaway international bestseller and has been translated into 30 languages. Her latest book is Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Without any further ado, it’s a pleasure to welcome Professor Amy Chua and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Amy Chua:

Thank you so much, David, for that great introduction, and hello, Rabbi Lord Sacks. It is so wonderful to meet you semi in person! I am a huge admirer of your work and you, and I’m so excited and honoured to have this opportunity to chat with you about your truly incredible book. I could not put it down. It’s a tour de force, it’s brilliant and eye-opening and funny. Rabbi, it’s funny. And of course, just truly visionary, which I think makes it perfect for the theme of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival, which really is about re-imagining a new world, a new reality. And I think we all desperately feel we need to do that in this time of toxic politics and alienation and actual trauma. I feel like my students are walking around in trauma. So with that, welcome. I want to start, Rabbi, with your first chapter, which is on loneliness. I thought it was fascinating the way that you actually document the shift, empirically, starting in the mid 1960s from a kind of what you call a ‘We culture’ to really an ‘I culture’.

And then you show how this is related to what you call the ‘loneliness epidemic’ that we’re experiencing in the UK, the US, and also outside the West, which I also thought was interesting. And I got to tell you, I see this so strikingly in my students, you’re absolutely right. It’s different. When my students are… You offer statistics. I think you say 46% of Americans always or sometimes feel alone. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this, where you think we went wrong, how we can start to rebuild a sense of community, and including the role that religion and particularly Judaism has played in the past, and perhaps should play again.

Rabbi Sacks:

This thing is, that something happened in the 1960s, which I understand all too well, because I was there when it happened, in the room when it happened. Because somehow or other a generation arose, which said, “We are going to do things differently, we are going not to be bound by anyone else’s standards except our own.” They were following the existentialist, they were following that kind of tradition on the continent. But something happened that was unique, which is, in the 1960s, the older generation suddenly lost confidence and didn’t tell young people that they were making a mistake. And they lost confidence because they said to themselves, “Look, we brought about two World Wars. We are no role models for anyone. Let them do their thing and they will do better than we did.” And of course, if you remember being there, it was just an extraordinary thing because you had people like The Beatles going to meditate in India, John Lennon and George Harrison taking LSD the whole time. And they were in their inner world. It was a world of I, but it was supposed to be the universe.

And suddenly, all of a sudden, this idea that there are certain normative structures in society, suddenly disappeared. For instance, Elaine and I, just at the height of the lockdown, celebrated our golden wedding this summer.

Amy Chua:

Congratulations.

Rabbi Sacks:

You understand? We were quite young, she was 21, I was 22. We took it for granted. That’s what happens. You are going to make a life, you get married and you raise children and you create the structures of ‘We’: the marriage, the family, the community, and all of that. And somehow or other, our whole generation said, “I don’t need anyone else for my happiness. Follow your own bliss” As Timothy Leary of Harvard used to put it. And things kind of spun on from there because in the 1980s, people said the same thing about economics – Thatcherism, Reaganomics – let’s deregulate everything. Let self-interest generate economic growth. And I’m not critical of that, it did generate economic growth, but it also degenerated the sense of responsibility of owners of businesses to employees of businesses, and so on.

So one way or another, there was this extraordinary moment when the West lost its self-confidence after two World Wars and let the young people carry on with their blessing and said, “Look, we trust you to find something better.” I suppose that reached a height in The States in Woodstock. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden, that kind of stuff. And at the end of the day, the bill is a long time coming. But when the bill comes, it’s quite an expensive bill. In terms of broken marriages, in terms of fatherless children, in terms of completely atrophied communities, in terms of people who are just plain on their own. That is one of the reasons for the opioid crisis in The States, it’s one of the reasons for depression. We are now picking this up with teenagers. Teenage suicides suddenly went through the roof in 2013 and have stayed there ever since, largely because they are not meeting face to face anymore. They’re only meeting through the electronic screen. So it was done, as always, with the best of intentions, but it was subject to the law of unintended consequences.

Amy Chua:

Wonderful. So I want to come back to the role of social media. In my own work, I get asked about this all the time. But before that, Rabbi, one of my favourite chapters in the book, I thought it was so insightful. You talk about the rise of a self-help mentality and its limits. And again, I think you were so spot-on. This is a huge industry and it’s viewed as very positive. So I thought it was very refreshing to kind of get your take on it. I was thinking about how many people I know – this very narcissistic – they’ll go work out in a gym. They’ll go work out for three hours and they will come back and feel completely virtuous.

So, and I’m not knocking that either. I wish I could make myself do that. But I do think you pick up something. I mean, these books about… Even the way we teach our students now, it’s how you can help yourself. So if you could say a little bit more about that… And I was very struck by this line, if you could explain what you mean when you say, “Morality is precisely unself-help.” I thought that was very interesting.

Rabbi Sacks:

Yeah. I don’t know. It’s still painful to me, the story I tell him that chapter. It happened on my honeymoon. Should I tell this story?

Amy Chua:

Please, that’s what got me thinking about it. I had a similar experience, so that’s why it jumped out at me.

Rabbi Sacks:

It was a crazy thing. Elaine and I were in a little Italian coastal town called Paestum; lovely town with Roman ruins. It had a beautiful beach. It had a lovely sea and it was a glorious day. And I wanted to go out into the sea. The only trouble is my parents actually never taught me how to swim! And I can’t swim, but I could see people standing 400 feet out into the sea and they were only up to their knees. So I said to Elaine, “I’m going to paddle out 400 feet and I’ll only be up to my knees and then I’ll come back.” So I paddled out 400 feet. I was only up to my knees. I turned around, I started walking back and within 10 seconds, I found myself out of my depth.

There was no way I could swim to save myself. There was no one near me. The swimmers were somewhere else. And I remember when I went under for the fifth time, thinking two thoughts: number one, “What a way to begin a honeymoon!”; and number two, “What is the Italian for help?” Somebody must’ve seen me because somebody saw me, picked me up, dragged me on his shoulders, deposited me unconscious at Elaine’s feet. I still don’t know who it was. There’s somebody out there without whom I wouldn’t be alive. But I think to myself, that was the moment I discovered the limits of self-help.

Self-help is when you really need help, it’s when you are drowning and you lift your hand up and you wave and somebody takes hold of your hand and lifts you to safety. Or to use the other metaphor used by our Talmud, “A prisoner cannot release himself from prison.” You can’t cure your own depression. Somebody else needs to release you from that prison.

So what we have right now, right now, is an enormous number of people, certainly in Britain – I don’t know whether it’s true in America – who, because of the lockdown, because they’d been deprived of company, because they’ve hardly been out of their houses for months, they are in a state of acute depression. But many of them just don’t have that other person who will recognise their cry for help and just come round and help them. Because it needs somebody else to say, “Let’s go for a walk, let’s get the endorphins going.” And I feel really sad for people because we’ve gotten so used to thinking that in the last analysis we have to rely on ourselves. And actually in the last analysis, we really need to rely on someone else.

Amy Chua:

Well, that’s a perfect jumping point. Let’s talk about family. Reading your book, I kept thinking of all these parallels between Chinese immigrant families and Jewish immigrant families. So you have an incredibly powerful chapter about family and how that is being threatened. And thank you Rabbi for the funny shout out. In your book, you write, “Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother made many of us realise that Jewish mothers are signally out-done by their Chinese counterparts.”

I don’t think it’s actually true. You know what I think? I think it’s more generational. So what I mean is, if you think back to the way that Jewish immigrants behaved in this country, or perhaps the UK, in the 1920s and 1930s, when they were really fearful for survival, it’s amazing. I’ve seen a lot of books about this. They wanted their kids to be doctors and physicists. They had to get straight A’s. Education was the most important thing. You have to play the piano or violin.

I think it’s very, very similar. I don’t think Jews are out-done. I just think that it’s an immigrant pattern that once you get to the second generation, you take off a lot of pressure. Maybe you can be a poet, so I thought that was very interesting. But more to your new book, two lines in your book really struck me about family. The first is, you wrote, “The Jews became an intensely family-oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy.” So I wanted to ask you whether you’ve seen this changing specifically among Jews and is this feature at risk of being lost now?

Because, in China they’re having the same problem. There’s all this filial piety. And in China, they’re trying to legislate it. Like you must have filial piety else we’re going to throw you in jail. And the second line was relatedly, you wrote, “For a whole variety of reasons, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart.” So if you could elaborate on those two, especially because of our co-sponsors. I was very interested because I think a lot about Chinese families, Chinese immigrant families and the parallels in the Jewish community.

Rabbi Sacks:

I think Jews and Chinese are very, very similar in the following things. Number one, they love the family. Number two, they are passionate about education. Number three, they have a high regard for tradition. Number four, they take business and wealth creation very, very seriously. So I think all of those things bring us together. I first really discovered this, actually, I don’t know if it makes sense to you… When I was Chief Rabbi, I was Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth and that meant I was Chief Rabbi of Hong Kong.

So I was there in ’97 when the British handed it back to the Chinese and Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, handed over to the first Beijing appointee, Mr. Tung Chee-hwa. Tung Chee-hwa, I sat with, and he discussed this passion for the family that links us. And then he said, “Rabbi Sacks, I want to ask you something. Your people and my people have been around for a very long time. We’ve been around 5,000 years. Your people have been around, I think, 6,000 years. I want to know what did you do for the first thousand years before you had kosher Chinese takeaways?” And I said, “Mr. Tung, you know what we did for the first thousand years? We complained about the food. We had a big laugh about that. I think Judaism is built around the family. Our key rituals – above all Friday evening, the Sabbath – Pesach, Passover. These are things that are celebrated around the family table.

Amy Chua:

But a lot of people aren’t doing that anymore, right?

Rabbi Sacks:

Oh yeah, sure. No. I have to explain something, Amy. When I became Chief Rabbi in 1991, I realised, I’d been looking at this for a long time, that our community was becoming assimilated, less committed, less knowledgeable, less Jewish. And I said, “Well, if that’s going to happen, then that’s the end of Anglo Jewry. And I can’t let that happen.” So for the first five years, I campaigned non-stop for what I call ‘Jewish renewal’, which was basically intensifying Jewish education. And when I became chief Rabbi, we had 25% of Jewish children at Jewish day schools, and when I left, we had 70%. So we had the most educated, knowledgeable and committed generation of young Jews ever in the entire 350 year history of Anglo Jewry. Whether that can be done in America, I don’t know, and I doubt it, but we did it in Britain. We really did.

And one of the things that happened was that – and it’s still happening – is that Jewish children are going to Jewish day schools where their parents never went to Jewish day schools. So the five-year-old children know more than their parents. So we mediate this by the Friday evening meal where the child talks about the weekly Bible portion. It makes a little speech to the parents. It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece of role reversal because it momentarily turns the children into parents and the parents into children. It’s stunningly beautiful. And we have found that within our synagogue communities, the family today in Anglo Jewry is as strong as ever. And Jewish marriages are more joyous than ever. I mean, there’s nothing old fashioned about them. They’re just exuberant. And so I think we have shown that you can stand against societal trends and do so successfully.

Amy Chua:

So Rabbi, you were making the fascinating point that identity politics is really a mutation of multiculturalism. If you could just say a little more, it’s an absolutely fascinating idea.

Rabbi Sacks:

The fundamental unit of my thought, and it’s basic to the book, is the concept of Covenant. That is, a society is something where we all agree to work together for the good of all. Yes, of course, we’re going to compete for power and for wealth, but over and above that, we are going to work for the welfare of all. And that makes out of a massive number of subgroups, a single society. And that of course is, what for instance made my parents, both of whom were immigrants, proud to be British. What did they say? “We are proud Jews and we’re proud English men and women”. So, being strong in your own local identity and your own national identity made sense. And of course my parents, knowing that, knew that they had to help other groups in society who might be less well-off.

Identity politics. Having put everyone into non-communicating ghettos, having got them as it were to be competing for self-righteousness and indeed for victimhood, actually massively multiplies the animosity between groups. And whoever says, “This is for the sake of justice or equality” could not be more wrong. Because in the end, it will be seen that the real losers of any set of identity politics were the people who were losers to begin with. And we have to get people out of the ghettos, feeling we belong in the mainstream. That is what Martin Luther King was so good at doing.

Amy Chua:

And I do believe… Yes. I believe with leaders like you… I’m in a very small, like a pebble compared to what you do, but I’ve noticed this on a college campus, that it used to be… What I loved is I would have conservative students and very liberal students. And in my classes I would integrate, we would debate and afterwards people would go out for coffee and there would be these cross-political, cross-religious conversations. And then friendships would develop. Right now, at Yale law school, it’s just almost impossible. So, if you are liberal now and you make friends with somebody who was a known conservative, you get shamed, you get called out and you’re not really a member of the tribe.

So, what I do – I think I’m taking a page from you – in my class, I say look, in this class, we are going to talk as a community. If you hear somebody say something that offends you, please give them the benefit of the doubt, that they are not necessarily a racist. Maybe they just didn’t know the right words to use. And you know, I’ve had really pretty thriving debate. So, I think if you have this vision and then leadership, people actually want to do it.

Rabbi, we have some amazing questions from the audience. And I want to ask them before our time is up. This is one from Nikki, and she uses a key term in your book. She writes, “Living through a cultural climate change” which I love. I love that term in your book. She says,” living through a cultural climate change, how do we truly know truths and what is moral?”

Rabbi Sacks:

Well… Truth? You know, this is not rocket science. I’ll tell you what used to happen. What used to happen in the middle ages or used to happen in the great wars of religion after the Reformation is you had Protestants and Catholics murdering one another across Europe. And that was when very wise people like Newton, and like Descartes said, we can’t spend our time fighting wars. We’re interested in advancing knowledge. So let’s see if we can build knowledge without basing it on doctrinal assumptions. And that’s how science emerged in the 17th century. Science didn’t emerge before the 17th century. It emerged because people wanted to be able to work together in pursuit of truth, without being distracted endlessly, by what religion they were or what colour they were or what have you. So, and you will find that basically that form of truth is as available to us today as ever.

It is simply something that you need to research. You need to chase the footnotes. You need to read the stuff. Sometimes, people just don’t know. A lot of stuff about treatment for COVID-19 is not yet at a state of truth. It’s, you know… But what you do is, you test, you test, you test. And that is one of the great achievements of Western civilisation. And then, let’s not kid ourselves, there are certain things that are not necessarily truth, but not everything. You know, there’s a well-known British atheist. Does this name mean anything to you? Richard Dawkins? Does that mean something?

Amy Chua:

Yes, of course. Of course.

Rabbi Sacks:

So, Richard said to me once, or he said to his daughter actually, “Never accept anything without the evidence.” So, I said, Richard, tell me, are you an optimist or a pessimist? He said, “Obviously, I’m an optimist!” I said, “Richard, show me the evidence.” Being an optimist or pessimist cannot be resolved by the evidence, because it determines how you interpret the evidence. But most serious things are amenable to scientific truth and we should never lose it. So, let’s not confuse some things that are matters of opinion with the 98% of things that are not matters of opinion. And what was the other question?

Amy Chua:

Oh. Well, I have actually a question from another audience member, Todd Lending, feeds right into this. You were talking about the Enlightenment and truth. His question, very interesting. “Similar to the laws of physics, are there aspects of morality that would also be considered universal laws or is morality a more relative term that is defined and determined by the historical, cultural and social norms of the day?”

Rabbi Sacks:

Let me ask you, Amy. What is the first moral judgement your daughter has made?

Amy Chua:

First moral judgement –

Rabbi Sacks:

I’ll tell you… Shall I tell you the first moral judgement any Israeli child, aged four makes? “Zeh lo fehr!” (“It’s not fair!”)

Amy Chua:

You know, that’s probably universal.

Rabbi Sacks:

Yeah, indeed. Isn’t Paul Bloom at Yale?

Amy Chua:

Yes.

Rabbi Sacks:

So, read his book “Just Babies”.

Amy Chua:

Yes, I know it.

Rabbi Sacks:

Yeah. So, I think the short answer is that there are certain moral principles that are universal. The most obvious example is justice. Justice in The States is the same in Russia, as in China, as in anywhere. And it’s the same through the centuries. There are certain other things like honesty, integrity, reciprocity. Those things are universal in the sense that we now know, through a branch of biology called evolutionary psychology, that those things are necessary to the formation and sustenance of any social group, human or even non-human. So, those things are absolutely universal. Other things are highly particular and specific to culture. So, let me give you an example. Aristotle describes one of his virtuous types, the megalopsuchos, the great-souled man. You know, the aristocrat?

Amy Chua:

Yes.

Rabbi Sacks:

The tall and chilled and just effortless… You know, there was an Edwardian writer, Saki, who said, back in 1910, said to a friend, “Let’s walk around for half an hour looking effortlessly superior.” So, the megalopsuchos did that kind of thing. But you look at Moses, more humble than any man on earth. You cannot put humility into Aristotelian ethics. And you cannot put the megalopsuchos into Jewish ethics. So, it’s a little bit like in language, that there’s something called a depth grammar, that’s common to all 6,000 languages. And then there all these different things that make those 6,000 languages different from one another. So, there are universals and there are particulars. And obviously, when we’re looking at a subject like this – how do we put society back together? Our first emphasis has got to be on the universals.

Amy Chua:

Amazing. I have a third and final question from the audience and I’ll return to my own. This is anonymous. And this is a… I think this is an interesting one. How do you support an organisation that has legitimate grievances, but who demonstrate violently?

Rabbi Sacks:

You know, I think there comes a time when you say to your friends, “Beloved, beloved friends, I’m with you, heart and soul. But when you commit yourself to violence, I’m not with you at all. And I am simply not going to join you.” There was a… I’m sorry, I’m going back to the Jurassic Age, but there was a double album of The Beatles in 1968 called the White Album. And John Lennon has a song there called Revolution, and it’s really, really worth listening to, because that is the question he’s answering. And he’s telling them that when they talk violence, they can count him out. And when you talk Chairman Mao, you’re not going to get anywhere, anyhow, etc., etc.

It’s a very, very bold statement because The Beatles in ’67, were All You Need Is Love. And suddenly in ’68, you had the assassinations – Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy – you have the demonstrations, you had les événements in Paris. All of a sudden, that was the end of that dream of the sixties. And the White Album was The Beatles’ response. I thought that John Lennon thing was incredibly bold saying, “OK, I’m with you, but not if you’re going to advocate violence.”

Amy Chua:

Wonderful.

Rabbi Sacks:

Could I ask the questioner to search that one out on YouTube or something?

Amy Chua:

Right. I want to go back to another common topic that we’ve both been very interested in. You had mentioned very kindly my book World On Fire. You know, that I’ve written about the dangers of democracy. Although how we define democracy we could say it’s not dangerous by defining democracy in a certain way. You have written so powerfully in this book about how our democracy today is in danger. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about that. It’s kind of all these things, but it’s an important part of your thesis.

Rabbi Sacks:

There were this two civilisations in ancient times. And The West is basically built out of them, built out of them and their interactions: ancient Greece and Ancient Israel. Ancient Greece – they were the world’s masters in conceptualisation, and they had names for everything. So all the names we have -democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, monarchy, and all the rest of them – all of those are Greek words and, incidentally, be aware that Plato in particular, in the Republic, believed that democracy was an unstable form of government. And in the end, every democracy would collapse because the people would ask for a strong ruler who would impose his will on the nation, and democracy would shade into tyranny. But that was the Greeks. And the Greeks were really interested in what is the structure by which you create governments. Judaism never had a name for any of this. Doesn’t have words for these things.

It borrowed the words from the Greeks. But one thing it did say loud and clear, Moses says it in Deuteronomy. And then the Prophets said – Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah – what matters in a society is not the structures, but whether people within that society act honestly, act compassionately, whether they care about the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

Whether people exploit other people for economic gain, are these societies where people feel respected? Where they feel that they are honoured as part of a society, even if they are not as rich as some other people in the society? Open any page of Jeremiah or any page of Deuteronomy, and that’s what you get. The prophetic understanding is that it is morality that dictates the success or failure of any free society, not the voting structure whereby you get a government. Now, obviously I’m part of that tradition, but it does seem to me that those prophetic voices coming to us from between 32 and 26 centuries ago are as incandescent today as they were then. And that’s why I am convinced that having lost the moral basis of society, in the end democracy – the formality of the thing – will be challenged.

Amy Chua:

Thank you. Since we just have a few minutes left, I want to go – it was a funny quote you said about being an optimist. I am an optimist, but in these times, it’s very hard to stay an optimist. You turn on the TV or look at social media. It’s just a nightmare. So, you have a last incredible chapter on the pandemic, at COVID, and a lot of people thought that maybe this would bring people together that after September 11th in the United States. Unfortunately the opposite has happened in the United States. The pandemic itself has become swallowed up by tribalism and polarisation. Sometimes you were talking about truth and facts. Sometimes I have to flip between cable news stations to try to figure out whether even a certain medication works. It’s so bound up with getting rid of Donald Trump or this… It’s actually very hard. So give us some hope Rabbi, how can we change? How can we collectively move to a new vision of the world? What are the things that we should all do? And what are your recommendations?

Rabbi Sacks:

The fact is that we can do it, because we did it before. The example I give is after 1945, people have been through hell, and the question was, would they go back to the way they were or would they do something completely different? And Britain and America decided to do something completely different. Britain enacted the 1944 Education Act, which extended secondary education to everyone in Britain. Nobody was not able to afford secondary education. In 1945 along came the National Health Service, the most extraordinary “We” statement in all of British history and with it came the foundations of the welfare state. So Britain became a We Society having been an I Society before.

America did something very similar through the G.I. Bill. And a lot of the other legislation it undertook at that time, but it also did something else. One of the most farsighted and frankly inspiring pieces of foreign policy in all of history, namely, The Marshall Plan, whereby America, with the generosity of the victor, gave loans to every European country, including Germany, to rebuild their shattered economies.

And the end result of those two movements was 75 years of peace. It was an extraordinary achievement, so it can be done because it was done. But let me end if I may Amy, by really, really fundamental distinction, which is very important to me. People think that optimism and hope are the same thing or similar things. Actually, they’re completely different things. Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue; hope is an active one. It needs no courage whatsoever, just a certain naivety, to be an optimist. But sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to have hope. No Jew looking back on history can be an optimist, but no Jew worthy of his or her soul ever lost hope. So, forget the optimism, but never forget the hope.

Amy Chua:

I have learned something important today. And with that, I think it’s a perfect way to end this conversation. Rabbi, I could listen to you for hundreds of hours and I have a thousand more questions that we could talk about, but thank you for that fascinating conversation. It’s been such an honour, and I recommend everybody to read the Rabbi’s book. It’s actually, a page turner actually. And again, it’s very funny, in addition to being really profound and inspiring, so thank you, Rabbi.

Rabbi Sacks:

Thank you.