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General News    H3'ed 10/22/20

Who Is Looking Out for the Common Good? (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 22, 2020: The prolific Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' new 380-page visionary book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (New York: Basic Books, 2020) is an extraordinarily well-written tour de force. In terms of genre, it is basically a sweeping jeremiad - a fast-paced blitzkrieg of sharp critiques, peppered with perceptive discussions of various Western philosophers (most notably Friedrich Nietzsche [1844-1900]) and social commentators (most notably Alexis de Tocqueville [1805-1859]), including numerous contemporary social critics (most notably Harvard's Robert D. Putnam [born in 1941] and Harvard's Mary Ann Glendon [born in 1938]).

However, in terms of substance, it nicely complements Pope Francis' new 43,000-word visionary social encyclical on social friendship titled Fratelli Tutti, which the Vatican released on October 3, 2020 - and which I read just before I read Rabbi Sacks' new 2020 visionary book. The pope explicitly addresses his new social encyclical not only to practicing Catholics around the world, but also to persons of good will around the world - because he assumes that persons of good will are concerned about the common good, which Rabbi Sacks explicitly refers to in the subtitle of his new book (see esp. pages 120, 121, and 122). In general, Roman Catholic social teaching is concerned with the common good.

For the record, I do not think that President Donald ("Tweety") Trump is concerned about the common good. On the contrary, he represents what Rabbi Sacks refers to as populism (see the index of his book for specific page refers to populism).

For further discussion of the pope's new social encyclical, see my OEN article "Pope Francis' Vision for the World" (dated October 15, 2020):

Click Here

But Rabbi Sacks is head and shoulders above Pope Francis as a vivid and cogent prose stylist. However, I admit that as a prose stylist, Rabbi Sacks has few equals.

Now, just as Pope Francis' new 2020 visionary social encyclical on social friendship carries forward his thought from his 2015 visionary eco-encyclical, so too Rabbi Sacks' new 2020 visionary book carries forward and expands his thought in three earlier visionary books:

(1) To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (New York: Schocken Books, 2005);

(2) The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society (New York: Continuum, 2007);

(3) Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Jerusalem, Israel; New Milford, Connecticut: Maggid Books and the Orthodox Union, 2016).

For discussion of Rabbi Sacks' 2016 book, see my OEN article "Rabbi Sacks' New Book of Essays on Ethics" (dated September 23, 2016):

Click Here

However, those three visionary books are comparatively sedate compared to Rabbi Sacks' new 2020 visionary book. (So are Pope Francis' 2015 and 2020 social encyclicals.)

Now, before I retired from teaching at the University of Minnesota Duluth (1987-2009), I regularly taught an introductory-level survey course on the Bible once a year. Consequently, I have been especially interested in the prolific Rabbi Sacks' books discussing the Hebrew Bible in his series of books on Covenant and Conversation, one of which is his 2016 book mentioned above. In any event, the ancient Hebrew idea of covenant serves as the springboard for the visionary orientation of Rabbi Sacks' new 2020 visionary book.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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