Rabbi Sacks on The Politics of Hope

In recent years, societies
in Europe and America have become far more divided. The gap between left and
right has become deeper. There’s been a rising of populist
parties of the far right and far left. The extremes are growing and the
centre ground is being abandoned. This is the politics of anger. Why has it happened and can we
create a different kind of politics: The Politics of Hope. The starting point has to be the
fact that for the past fifty years, societies in the West have been
dominated by two institutions, the state and the market –
politics and economics, the logic of power and
the logic of wealth. The state is us in our
collective capacity. The market is us as individuals. And
the great debate has been about which is more effective in
creating a better future. The left tends to favour the state;
the right tends to favour the market. But what if this entire way of thinking
leaves out something essential? We can see this by asking
some simple questions. Suppose there’s an organisation
in which you have total power. One day you decide to share
it with nine others. How much power do you have left?
One-tenth of what you began with. Now, suppose you have £1000 and you decide to share that
with nine other people. How much do you have left? A
tenth of what you had before. That’s because in the short term,
power and wealth are zero sum games. If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose. In zero sum games, the more
we share, the less we have. That’s why politics and economics, the state and the market
are arenas of competition. But now, suppose you decide to share
with nine others not power or wealth, but love, or friendship, or influence.
How much do you have left? Not less. You actually have more;
perhaps even ten times more. That’s because love, friendship
and influence are social goods, and social goods are
non-zero sum games. If I win, you also win. With social goods, the more
we share, the more we have. That’s because social goods
are not about competition. They’re about co-operation. We find social goods, not in
the state or the market but in families,
communities, neighbourhoods, voluntary groups and the like. And they’re essential to any human
group because we are social animals, and what gives us our strength is our
ability to co-operate as well as compete. A world with competition but no
co-operation would be lonely, nasty, and fraught with conflict. To understand the difference between
these two kinds of interactions, we need to make a distinction
between two ideas that sound similar but are actually
not, namely a contract and a covenant. In a contract, two or more individuals,
each pursuing their own interest, come together to make an
exchange for mutual benefit. So, for instance, when I
buy something from you, you give me the item or the service
I want, and in exchange I pay you. That’s a commercial contract and
that’s what makes the market economy. Or, I pay taxes in return for the
services provided by the government. That’s the social contract,
and it creates the state. But a covenant is different. The simplest example of a
covenant is a marriage. Two people, each respecting the dignity
and the integrity of the other, come together in a bond
of loyalty and trust, to share their lives, by pledging
their faithfulness to one another to do together what neither
can achieve alone. A contract is about interests, but
a covenant is about identity. It’s about you and me coming
together to form an ‘us’. The difference is huge. The
social contract creates a state. But the social covenant
creates a society. A society is about all the
things that bind us together as a collective group
bound to the common good, without transactions
of wealth or power. In a society, we help our neighbours
not because they pay us to, or because the society forces us to, but simply because they are
part of the collective ‘us’. We can now see why politics
in the West have become more divided,
abrasive and extreme. For at least a half century we’ve
focused on the market and the state while ignoring the third
dimension called ‘society’. We’ve focused on contracts
while ignoring covenants. Our sense of competition is strong; but our bonds of
co-operation have grown weak, as families and communities
have fractured. This can work for a while, during
times of economic growth and peace, when most people feel that life is getting
better for them and their children. But when they feel that life is getting
tougher for them and their children, it all begins to go wrong. People see around them the zero sum
gains of the market and the state. A few gain, many lose and everything is
about competition and self-interest. That’s when you get the
politics of anger. The only real antidote is to
renew the social covenant that says, we are bound by a bond
that is deeper than self interest. We share an identity and a fate and we are collectively
responsible for the common good. We need to remember that societies are
strong when they care for the weak. They are rich when they
care for the poor. And they are invulnerable when
they care for the vulnerable. When we restore the social covenant, we defeat the politics of anger and re-create the politics of hope.

  1. People have different interest and thus corporate only when it serves them. Ignoring the basic need of ME and focusing on the WE have seen the downfalls of many socialist movements and attempts for change.
    We are mostly egoistic in our behaviour and focus on our own narrow wishes and needs, open our heart only for a selected few.thats the ugly truth.

  2. Feminism has turbo-charged the state and the market while fracturing communities by causing marital and family breakdown.

  3. This is wonderful. I like the animation. But I wonder if our over competition starts in school, as we compete for grades and attention. Can we encourage students to cooperate, more? Hillel: "If I am only for myself, what am I. If not now, when?"

  4. This all sounds very nice, but does not specify much of the "how". People on the far left and far right (the real far right, which favours individual freedom, not the pejorative far right the leftists use as a synonym for fascism) both already think that their social programmes produce a better society. This merely says, "you're both wrong" for reasons which both would deny. Unhelpful.

  5. We will have the politics of hope when the great and the good are prepared to discuss big ideas and the solutions to our ills, otherwise it is just more platitudes. Yoram Hazony's book THE VIRTUE OF NATIONALISM, to be published in March, gives me hope. http://www.yoramhazony.org/tvn/

  6. Again, Rabbi Sacks, This is wonderful. I am replaying it, over and over, to get more out of it.
    But let me suggest that part of the reason we are not cooperating is because we have so many options, choices.
    Why should I put up with other people, when I can get what I want by shopping around? Perhaps there are things in life where we have limited options, and we are forced to deal with people, and to work together with them… www.SavingSchools.org

  7. I try to live this way . . . You try to live from the inside out, you share, you give thanks, trust and hope. Judaism came into my life when I encountered literally "de man van mijn Leven". Thank you Rabbi, Thank you.

  8. Another excellent video, Rabbi Sacks. Thank you and thanks to your artists for a great rendering. You clearly delineate how to pursue the politics of hope, by acknowledging first, that we should focus on building a strong and balanced society.

  9. I think community transcends the politics of left and right. We all have to do our part to create the society we want. Cooperation is only possible when we trust each other. Its sad that people who say "good morning" and smile at strangers are considered to be idiots or mad. It used to be commonplace. The thing that shortens life the most, according to studies, is a lack of social interaction. Celebrate life by smiling and reaching out to people that we meet.

  10. Very good! Is there a follow-up video on practical ways to motivate and activate the politics of hope?
    Transcript can be found here now: http://rabbisacks.org/the-politics-of-hope/

  11. Any voice willing to challenge polarization in politics and suggest that it is in our self interest to learn to cooperate intelligently, is a welcomed voice.

  12. I liked very much the illustration of the market and the state and helped me understand. When I arrived in the US ten years ago I could not understand or rather refused to understand the logic of the markets on this side of the planet.

  13. This is facile platitude and rubbish. The Western welfare state since WWII has sought to covenant the social contract and any political decisions always weigh the utilitarian basis as their justification. Simple covenant forces in society will not effect the market, distribution of wealth or diminish the power of the state. Sick and tired of Sacks' trivialization and substitution of the obvious for wisdom.

    Political power has never been attainable to those that preach the intemperance of the market anymore than to those that demand the supremacy of the state. The reason why the West has fractured is because it has abandoned the ideal of cultural homogeneity and civic education in favour of the misplaced ideal of 'diversity' that has balkanized its societies.

    Only a culturally homogeneous society can succeed without the social unrest endemic to a culturally diverse constituency. Cultural homogeneity does not mean racial or ethnic homogeneity but it does mean that whatever the constituencies of a society, the cultural, social, political and legal institutions are universally adhered to, supported and advocated.

    The importation into the West from an illegitimate migrant pool purely on the basis of economic need or driven by ideological conformity without a wholistic approach with regard to the cultural, social and political compatibility of said migrants is a dereliction of political duty, disregard for the will of the governed and driven by unaccountable political and social theorists that draw nothing from empirical studies only from a self-appointment of their divine right.

  14. The market is voluntary. That is unless it is run by the state. The market by its very nature is cooperation. Government is a contract under threat of penalty.

  15. That is what the left is all about – helping people not for money. It is the covenant you explain. The right is the guy grabbing the fridge with a cigar in his mouth. The idea of the cartoon is good. Club together and defeat the capitalists.

  16. Invoke the HIGHER POWER/ETERNAL BEING: YahOvah-Yahahvah over yourself & the world. HIS NAME IS above all others. AND HE WILL PREVAIL against sin,satan, & the sinfull-selfishness defilement of the world of men.

  17. Thanks for your lecture, especially with drawing makes it better understood. Hope and family and community together with one value, we are one, help each other, makes it great nation. God bless you.

  18. Hope is given by the creator. Not by the state not by the market. The state and the market have a Job. And they must do it accordingly to their responsibility. Hope is our job with the works of the creator on us, not by the state, not by a commercial, not by the market.

  19. Rabbi Sacks, publically calling Jeremy Corbyn a hater of the Jews, is this the politics of hope or of anger? Does it superficially resemble Elon Musks slurs against a diver who gave himself to rescuing children from a cave in Thailand? Take a good hard look at yourself. Are you embodying the politics of hope or of anger?

  20. מדהים!!!
    כל פעם מחדש לקרוא להאזין ולצפות בתוכן המחכים ובתובנות המאלפות שמסתתרות מאחורי הדברים, כמו בסרטון כך בספרים הדעה הישרה והצלולה ללא משוא פנים נותנת את המבט הנכון אל החברה הדת והמדע ועוד.
    אין לי מילים אלא לומר תודה רבה.

  21. The politics of Israel. Brought into the light by an undercover investigation. The Lobby USA says it all – and it's not said by people who you would falsely slur as "antisemitic". It's in the words of the Israelis themselves. Share this and let people know how the Zionist lobby works:


  22. Again Wisdom speaks. If only everyone thought that way… The whole world would be different. I love you Rabbi Sacks. Hashem blessed is He, is within you. Love is the magic word for an amazing world to come, only if we all come to the understanding of that concept. Leaving behind jealousy, anger, envy and hatred. May the Almighty, Creator of the universe place this concept into everyone's heart and soul.

  23. you know, i consider myself left leaning, but i think i am so for all the reasons you mentioned about society… actually i think that is what causes the divide between left and right. from the point of view of those on the left, we see ourselves valuing society where the right values only themselves (or family).

  24. When he proposes that neither power nor wealth be shared, Rabbi Sacks reveals an agenda in which gross inequity is given free rein. His attempt to substitute undefined qualities such as "love" and "friendship" in place of real material goods and social rights, is simply an attempt to convince his audience to accept the present arrangements. He himself is a wealthy man, a member of the British House of Lords, to be addressed in exalted terms. Thus it should come as no surprise that he expects the rest of us to live on love. This is not the basis of his own position in life, but it's deemed suitable for those who have little but who hunger for a just distribution of power in a democratic society.

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