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That is why two of the people whose views I most respect are so perceptive in America today. Charles Murray on the political Right and Robert Putnam on the political Left came to the same conclusion, Murray in his 2012 book Coming Apart, Putnam in his 2015 book Our Kids. Between them, they concluded that whilst half of America has supportive friends, communities and families, half doesn’t. America, they argued, has become not one nation, but two nations. It is a divided nation today. So if you lose your religion, you see birth rates decline, but you also see community begin to decline.

And so onto the third:  society. What is society? Over the past 50 years, political discourse has been dominated by two institutions, the market economy and the liberal democratic state. But society is something different from the market and the state. Society is about culture and our shared values and the way we act towards one another. It is about, to quote that great phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville, “habits of the heart”. It’s about our shared spaces in the public square, and the thing about society is, it isn’t the market or the state.

The market is about the production and distribution of wealth. The state is about the creation and distribution of power. Society is about relationships that don’t depend on wealth or power. They’re the way we behave to others, to friends and neighbours and strangers without the market paying us to or the state forcing us to. In Britain and America in the 19th and 20th centuries, we had very strong societies — strong collective identities, a shared moral code, strong voluntary associations. The English tended to take this for granted. A 19th-century Englishman once wrote, “To be born an Englishman is to win the first prize in the lottery of life.”  But America, which received wave after wave of immigrants, had to work for this identity, this shared bond of society. You had a word for it and that word is a very interesting one. It’s a key word in American politics. That word is covenant.

Presidents often speak about it in their inaugural addresses. John Quincy Adams did in 1825. Benjamin Harrison in 1889. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. The most explicit one was Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Listen to this small section of his inaugural address: “They came here, the exile and the stranger, and made a covenant with this land conceived in justice, written in liberty, bound in union. It was meant one day to inspire the hope of all mankind and it binds us still. If we keep its terms, we shall flourish.” The most famous expression of the American covenant is a phrase that is perhaps the key phrase of American politics: “We the people.” It’s a phrase you never hear in Britain, but it’s a key phrase in American politics. It’s there at the preamble to your constitution. It was the leitmotif of Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. He used it five or six times. “We the people” is a phrase that comes from a covenantal view of society because it embodies this notion of collective responsibility, that we’re all in this together and we’re all responsible for one another. That’s a very rare and special and very religious idea.

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Dissapointed
September 12th, 2017
5:09 AM
What starts as an interesting article descends into the classic 'it doesn't matter if you believe it or not, but it's better to believe' acts of proselytization.

Jose Carp
September 9th, 2017
9:09 AM
Rav Sir Jonathan Sachs who I admire immensely, omits the fact that the world population has quadrupled in the last 40 years. This has certainly contributed to more ignorance and the dispersion of religions into various sects (some more redical than others).

J Dale Debber
September 8th, 2017
2:09 PM
Rabbi Sacks has put words and meaning to the identification of precisely what is happening In the 21st century world. Moreover he outlines the choice of paths that both societies and individuals have.

North West Johnny
September 1st, 2017
1:09 PM
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs is seriously one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He needs to come home to the UK and speak from every corner of our island to give the silent majority a voice and some direction. The decades to come are going to be dark if we do not break the growing threats to our society.

ron hurtAnonymous
September 1st, 2017
4:09 AM
Quite brilliant analysis. Reminds me of the late Francis Schseffer

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