Jonathan Sacks: 'Society is not a house or a hotel ­ it should be a home'

From a lecture at King's College London entitled 'How to build a culture of respect' by the Chief Rabbi

Tuesday 31 May 2005 00:00 BST

We have in Britain a series of sub-cultures, each with its own priorities, its own agenda but none of us can fully think clearly about what the common good is.

So here is the issue - can we recreate a society of the common good? Here's a metaphor. I call it "the country house metaphor". Society is an enormous country house. Newcomers arrive. The host of the country house comes out with an enormous smile on his face and says: "Welcome visitors". But you're conscious as long as you're there that you are a guest. It's his home, not yours.

What I call the country house model says there's one single dominant culture, and if you come and you want to belong and not just feel a guest you have to get rid of your culture or play it very, very low profile indeed.

What took its place, the second model which we have been living in for the past half century, is that society is not a country house - it is a hotel. You pay for services rendered and in return you get a room, you get room services - beyond that, you are free to do whatever you like so long as you don't disturb the other guests.

That is great, except a hotel in principle generates no loyalty. A hotel is somewhere where you don't belong. It isn't a home. It's a convenience. And therefore when society becomes a hotel, as it has become in the past 50 years, you get no sense of national identity, of belonging, of common history, of common good, of moral consensus, of social solidarity - and that is where we are now.

So, is there a third model, a post multicultural model? I suggest there is and I offer, as my third model, society not as a country house, not as a hotel, but as the home we build together.

We are not dealing here with self-interest. We are talking civil society. How? Not by appealing to interests but by appealing to altruism. If we are to make such a society, we are going to have to put the collective good back at the heart of political discourse, and it is not therefore simply that politics is the agenda - who has the most persuasive voice or the largest number of votes. It is the collective good we make together.

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