A Tortoise ThinkIn with Jonathan Sacks

Morality: Why We’ve Lost It and How We Can Get It Back

Rabbi Sacks joined James Harding and the Tortoise audience on 2 March 2020 for a conversation about morality, the topic of his recent book.

"The politics of anger that’s emerged in our time is full of danger." So wrote Jonathan Sacks back in 2017. The former Chief Rabbi – once described by the Prince of Wales as a ‘light unto this nation’ – continues to be a key thinker on the interplay between politics, philosophy and religion. His frequent appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day and his success as an author of over twenty books (Not in God’s Name is a Sunday Times bestseller) is testament that his voice carries moral weight far beyond the Jewish community. Could his latest book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times be the antidote to a divided world?

Chair: James Harding, Editor and Co-founder, Tortoise Media

I’ll tell you exactly why I write books. When I was a kid, I learnt to speak in public. In those days... I could do it quite well. I could really move a crowd. And I thought that was the most dangerous thing I knew. Because you can move them to truth, but you can move them to falsehood. You can move them to love, but it is a lot easier to move them to hate. You can move them to feel threatened; you can move them to paranoia. I cannot begin to tell you how easy it is; and it made me ill.

I still speak publicly, it’s what I do. But I thought, I am not going to do this any longer as the carrier of what I have to say to people. I’m going to set it out in print, with sources, with footnotes, with qualifications – wherever I feel it appropriate – and say, "Now here it is. I’m not trying to persuade you of anything. Just read it on your own. And tear my arguments to shreds. That’s why I wrote the book." And that is the difference between what the Greeks used to call philosophy and sophistry. And that’s why I write books.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, author of 'Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times'