Lord Sacks's ideas can help post-Covid world

The rediscovery of our inter-dependence can lead us to a new social contract, says the former PM


The teachings of Lord Sacks have “enduring relevance” for dealing with a post-Covid world, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Sunday.

Paying tribute to the late Emeritus Chief Rabbi, who died in November, in a discussion of freedom at the London School of Jewish Studies’ Big Super Seder Day, he said, “Every day I still think of what we have lost”.

Lord Sacks had taugh him the importance of civic society and the indispensability of a shared public morality to social cohesion, he explained

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 , “it was to Jonathan that many of us turned to remind people of what too many had forgotten; that markets need morals. Markets may be value-free but they can never be values-free…

“What he said was powerful and transformative. I recall him saying words to the effect that financiers had rewarded themselves with bonuses they did not need, for work they had not done, for taking risks other people were paying for, and thus at the expense of impoverishing those that went without.

“And I recall too of him warning us of the dangers of an over-materialist, consumer culture which neglected the bonds of family and community and of an obsession with buying goods we did not need with money we did not have in the breathless pursuit of a happiness that could not last.”

If prior to the pandemic the West had become more than a market economy and “more a market society”, Mr Brown said, “now I hope we can see things differently.”

In the isolation of Covid, “we have discovered we depend on each other more than we thought”.

Mr Brown said, “I think we can build a new consensus around a new social contract across the generations, and between rich and poor, or covenant as Jonathan would prefer to call it, because it is based on values – that respects those who work hard with little reward, values all those who undertake public service, especially those who put their lives on the line in lowly paid jobs that we now see as vital to our survival and we ensure a fair distribution of rewards that can be unifying to us as a country.”

Turning to global problems such as climate change and low economic growth, he said that Lord Sacks’s final book, Morality, ”tells us we have no choice but to manage globalisation well rather than badly and doing so by cooperating for the common good”

Mr Brown - who wrote the preface to Lord Sacks’s book The Politics of Hope shortly before becoming Chancellor in 1997 - said, “We can share the pain of others, we can believe in something bigger than ourselves. Yes, as human beings we do co-operate out of need -but yes, too, we have a human need to co-operate.

“And as Jonathan himself put it, we cannot be truly happy when others are sad, at ease when millions are ill at ease or feel secure when millions more are insecure.”

He was taking part in a digital panel with the philanthropist Stuart Roden and Lord Sacks’s daughter, Gila, who is director of public health reform at the Department for Health and Social Care.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive