WASHINGTON (JTA) – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi emeritus, inveighed against a “politics of anger” he said was corroding the fabric of U.S. society.
“The politics of anger that’s emerged in our time is full of danger,” Sacks said while accepting the American Enterprise Institute’s Irving Kristol Award on Tuesday night at the conservative institute’s annual gala.
He decried the breakdown of American society into narrower and narrower identities that nurtured a “culture of grievances.”
“The social contract is still there, but the social covenant is being lost,” he said.
Sacks noted the rise of the far right and the far left in Europe and what he said was an increasingly shrill atmosphere at universities that inhibits speech.
In what appeared to be an allusion to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, Sacks described a “populism” in which “the belief that a strong leader can solve everything; and that is the road that leads to tyranny.”
Many of the neoconservatives associated with American Enterprise Institute opposed Trump and particularly his isolationism as he led the Republican primaries last year, and have been frozen out of his administration’s policymaking since his election. Opening the evening, the institute’s president, Arthur Brooks, also appeared to take shots at Trump, saying the think tank’s mission is to speak for the marginalized – noting the immigrant past of many of those present – and to advocate for a return to a more civil politics.
Irving Kristol, a founder of the neoconservative movement, was for a time an American Enterprise Institute fellow. The 2015 recipient of the award in his name was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since retiring as British chief rabbi in 2013, Sacks has taught at American and British universities.