Jonathan Sacks

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Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London, (born 8 March 1948) has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, since 1991. [1]

In September 2008 Sacks was ranked as number 30 in the Telegraph's Top 100 right wingers. Iain Dale, the author of the list, wrote that: 'Jonathan Sacks is one of the few genuinely spiritual leaders to have an influence on modern day politics- especially thinking on the right - and is the only religious representative in this list.' [2] Under the New Labour government Sacks says he developed 'quite close friendships with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.' [3]

He is also on the religious advisory council of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Relationship with Gordon Brown

According to an article in The Observer, from 1998 Jonathan Sacks and Gordon Brown developed a relationship that became 'increasingly intimate on both a personal and political level':

Sacks and Brown meet once every few months - either in the Chancellor's Treasury office or at 11 Downing Street - to share their latest literary enthusiasms, particularly the writings of the modern American moral philosophers known as communitarians.

It was Sacks who kindled Brown's fascination with James Q Wilson, a neo-conservative Harvard professor who argues that human beings are naturally inclined to empathy, fairness and social good, and who coined the 'broken glass' theory that crime could be fought by restoring the fabric of community. Brown crammed Wilson's books, as well as Sacks's own Politics of Hope, into his hand luggage for his honeymoon with his wife Sarah - and spent part of the holiday penning a foreword for the paperback edition. [4]

On 31 January 2001 the Smith Institute held a seminar at 11 Downing Street 'on the moral values underlying social policy', at which Jonathan Sacks and James Q Wilson were the main speakers. They were introduced by Gordon Brown. Other notable attendees included Julian Le Grand, Melanie Phillips, Jon Snow, Lord Young of Graffham, David Walker, Polly Toynbee and Samuel Brittan. [5]

In 2007 Jonathan Sack's daughter Gina Sacks was appointed an advisor to Brown, who was by then Prime Minister. [6]


In 2007 Sacks emerged as a prominent critic of multiculturalism. Sacks begins his 2007 book, The Home We Build Together, with the words ‘Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on,’ arguing that multiculturalism ‘has not led to integration but to segregation’ and has made societies ‘more abrasive, fractured and intolerant than they once were.’ [7] An extract of the book was published in The Times in October 2007 (available online here) under the headline: ‘Wanted: a national culture – Multiculturalism is a disaster’. [8] In December 2007 the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange hosted a panel discussion on the book also featuring the Editor of Prospect magazine David Goodhart and Ziauddin Sardar, a Commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission. [9]

In an interview with The Philosophers' Magazine, Sacks explained that the book's main metaphor, that of society as a country house rather than a hotel (citizens being guests), was first floated in a speech at the think-tank Demos:

To my amazement, because I attached no great significance to it, I was getting back stuff from cabinet members. I don’t know how they got hold of it. I think a transcript was made and Demos sent it around, and all of a sudden they were talking about it and I saw that I had solved a problem for them. Now if you’ve solved a problem, at least set it out, as I tried to set it out. I never believe I am right on anything, but I do believe I have a responsibility to make the case and if one starts a debate then that’s my highest aspiration. That’s why I wrote that book, because of that metaphor thing which seemed to help people, because we’re all facing the problem of how do you move on without moving back? [10]

In The Home We Build Together Sacks argues that the political movements of the 1960s led to a collapse in moral consensus, a decline in traditional class identity and most importantly a shift towards a culture and philosophy of individualism. This he argues ultimately gave rise to a decline in ‘civility’ [11] and an increase in political violence as activists stressed the role of power rather than reason in politics:

[A] series of events that began in the 1960s fundamentally changed the terms of society and moral debate. Until recently, serious thinkers argued that society depends on moral consensus. Without that, there is no such thing as society, merely the clamour of competing voices and the clash of conflicting wills. This view began to crumble with the rise of autonomy, existential choice, or the will to power. If morality is private, there is no logic in imposing it on society by legislation.


So moral consensus disappears and moral conversation dies. Opponents are demonized. Ever-new ‘isms’ are invented to exclude ever more opinions. New forms of intimidation begin to appear: protests, threats of violence, sometimes actual violence. For when there are no shared standards, there can be no conversation, and where conversation ends, violence begins.’ [12]

Sacks goes on to describe what he calls ‘a fundamental shift from classical liberalism to neo-Marxism spliced with postmodernism’. [13] This he argues has led to a focus on oppressed groups rather than individual rights and, drawing on the writings of the American political scientist Michael Walzer, a rise in identity politics and what he calls ‘the politics of competitive victimhood’. [14] He also refers to 'political correctness' as representing a move 'from thoughtfulness to thought-control' and cites, amongst other works, two publications by the think-tank Civitas, one by Anthony Browne and another by David Green. [15]

Ultimately Sacks argues for a defence of ‘liberal democracy’ through the promotion of marriage, the protection of civil society institutions (especially from ‘campaigns to boycott this, ban that, protest something else’) and events such as a ‘Britain Day’ or ‘citizenship ceremonies’ to ‘celebrate our shared belonging’. [16]

In 2011, after the Prime Minister David Cameron made a controversial speech attacking multiculturalism Sacks wrote a supportive piece in The Times, arguing that: 'David Cameron was right to say that multiculturalism has failed, echoing similar statements by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.' He restated his belief that multiculturalism is linked to a decline in moral values:

Multiculturalism is part of the wider European phenomenon of moral relativism, a doctrine that became influential as a response to the Holocaust. It was argued that taking a stand on moral issues was a sign of an "authoritarian personality". Moral judgment was seen as the first step down the road to fanaticism. But moral relativism is the death knell of a civilisation. In a relativist culture, there is no moral consensus, only a clash of conflicting views in which the loudest voice wins.

That is where we are today. The extremists command attention and capture the headlines, and they become the role models for the young. Since there is no national identity to claim their allegiance, there is no contest. Hence the phenomenon, widespread throughout Europe today, but rare in the past, that the children of immigrants are more hostile to the host society than their parents were, and feel themselves more alien to its values.[17]

He concluded with the words: 'Without shared values and a sense of collective identity, no society can sustain itself for long. I fear the extremism that is slowly but surely becoming, throughout the world, the siren song of the 21st century. We have to fight it here before we can oppose it convincingly elsewhere.' [18]

Tony Blair Faith Foundation

Sacks is on the religious advisory council of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. A Foundation run by the former Prime Minister and supported by money gained through his controversial work with Tony Blair Associates.[19]

Influences and Influence

Sacks was influenced by Roger Scruton whilst studying philosophy at Cambridge University. He went on to teach at Middlesex Polytechnic where David Conway of Civitas was a member of the faculty. Conway would later have Sacks as his Rabbi. [20]

Sacks's philosophy has been influenced by American communitarians like Alistair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer and Charles Taylor, all of whom he met in the 1990s. He also became friends with the influential liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin. [21]

Sacks helped line up £300,000 funding from Stanley Kalms for Tim Montgomerie to establish the Renewing One Nation group within the Conservative Party. [22]


  1. ‘SACKS’, Who's Who 2011, A & C Black, 2011; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2010 ; online edn, Oct 2010 [Accessed 20 Jan 2011]
  2. Iain Dale, 'Top 100 right wingers: 50-26',, 26 September 2008
  3. 'My Philosophy: Jonathan Sacks', TPM, Issue 44, April 2009
  4. Ned Temko, 'The soulmate behind Brown's moral vision', Observer, 13 August 2006
  5. The Smith Institute, The Moral Sense: A seminar held on Wednesday 31st January 2001
  6. 'New aide for Brown as he prepares for No 10', Daily Mail, 16 February 2007
  7. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.3.
  8. Jonathan Sacks, ‘Wanted: a national culture – Multiculturalism is a disaster’, The Times, 20 October 2007
  9. Policy Exchange, Previous Events > 04/12/2007 - The Ideas Space Recreating Society [Accessed 20 February 2011]
  10. 'My Philosophy: Jonathan Sacks', TPM, Issue 44, April 2009
  11. Sacks devotes an entire chapter to 'Civility' and here acknowledges a debt to Christie Davis's book The Strange Death of Moral Britain. In the acknowledgements section of that book Christie Davis in turn thanks a number of right-wing and libertarian thinkers including Martin Wiener, Digby Anderson of the Social Affairs Unit, David Green of Civitas and Frank Furedi, Ellie Lee and Bill Durodie of the LM Network.
  12. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.47.
  13. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.54.
  14. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.55.
  15. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.42.
  16. Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together – Recreating Society (London: Continuum, 2007) p.235-6.
  17. Jonathan Sacks, 'Having pride in Britain protects all cultures', The Times, 7 February 2011; p.18.
  18. Jonathan Sacks, 'Having pride in Britain protects all cultures', The Times, 7 February 2011; p.18.
  19. Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Religious Advisory Council, accessed 5 February 2015
  20. 'My Philosophy: Jonathan Sacks', TPM, Issue 44, April 2009
  21. 'My Philosophy: Jonathan Sacks', TPM, Issue 44, April 2009
  22. Chris Cook, 'Christian Tories rewrite party doctrine', Financial Times, 12 February 2010