The Dignity of Difference by Johnathan Sacks Essay

The Dignity of Difference by Johnathan Sacks

Everyday people experience different changes from the daily news to the prices of commodities and views of society. In history, the changes are far more elaborate since it was discussed in a manner that shows progress. Nonetheless, history repeatedly highlights politics and economic progress which although important missed a crucial point. Jonathan Sack, in his book “Dignity of Difference”, acknowledges this missing part as one of the most important reason why war happens. In the prologue, Sack mentioned that “economics and politics of globalization have an inescapable moral dimension” (3).

This is not an unusual observation yet it is something normally disregarded in times of progress and especially in times of war. Sacks observed that people today are moving towards “tribalism”, affirming a group identity that proliferated from the context of liberty and democracy. This process had in turn produced misunderstandings and conflicts which leads to violence and war. This is what the phrase “clash of civilizations” signifies. This idea came from Samuel Huntington who argued that the difference between beliefs will cause conflict in the world after the cold war (2). The change that happened after the Cold War is the monopoly of democracy and capitalism around the globe.

Globalization is a process or a series of phenomenon that brings people around the globe together (7).  It is as if there is a single global community brought about by democracy, capitalism and the media. At first glance, it is as if the world is moving from particulars to the creation of a universal as what Plato had discussed as the process of moving towards the truth (49). Nonetheless, Sacks argued that this is false since the world had moved from the universal with mono-culture towards division and differences or particulars (51).

Almost always people are surrounded by people whom they share something with (10). A bond forms between this people that makes them define themselves as a group. Anyone outside the group is known as “outsiders” (10). In this event there is a development of “group-identity”. Sacks mentioned that “one of the great transformations from the twentieth to the twenty-first centuries is that… the former was dominated by the politics of ideology, we are now entering… the politics of identity” (10).  The problem with identity lies on the presence of “we” and “them”. Since the truth, fate and peace that “we” share seems appropriate, there is this “want” or feeling of “ought” to make others change and accept what “we” think is best (46). This is something that led to the failure in Vietnam and Somalia as far as spreading democracy and United Sates notion of peace is concerned.

Sack offered a way to avoid the clash of civilizations. According to Sacks, religion is a type identity (46). Religion somehow recreates tribalism which broadens the fragmentation in a society that gives way to specific uniqueness (47). Although “religion is a source of discord… it can also be a form of conflict resolution” (4). Sacks put forward the claim that religion or schools of faith can help avoid the “clash of civilization”.

Sacks argued that “if religion is not part of the solution, then it will surely be part of the problem” (9).  Religion had been one of the forces that shaped the world. It affects politics and it is a source of power as demonstrated during the medieval ages. Also, religion had been the subject of conflicts as identified in “conflict zones such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, etc” (9).  Lastly, religion also played the as a divisor as expressed in the “Balkans where the only thing that divides them is religion” (9). Sacks concluded that religion should play a part in promoting “dignity of difference”. This is something that is beyond respecting difference since it asks religion to play an active role in recognizing that “all faith has a share in the world to come”. Sacks argued that different religion should realize that “God is to be found in someone who is different from us”. The understanding of this would, Sacks believes, yield to understanding and peace.

The arguments of Sacks regarding the importance of religion is convincing although not without flaw. The recognition that every religion is different and has their particular set of truths removes the chance for real conversation. Extremist groups like those who attack the World Trade Center in 2001 have a religion that affirms sacrifice of civilian lives for a cause. To respect the difference with this group would basically mean that we are allowing them to do as they wish. Indeed this is not what Sacks had in mind. Sacks believes that a dialogue would resolve any misunderstanding that leads to violence. Nonetheless, the freedom of religion had generated the development of various religions, some of which posses beliefs that are directly opposite of ours. Despite dialogues, it will be impossible to achieve peace unless every single religion would concede.

It is inevitable to gain commonality with the rest of the world. Everyone is already sharing one common thing and that is living in a single world. The fact that differences exist will also be inevitable since the world provides different circumstances for everyone. It is a good thing that Jonathan Sacks had recognized that religion is an important factor that can help avoid the clash of civilizations; however the task of creating a dialogue between religious groups is ambitious. The fact remains that liberty brings freedom which results to differences. In terms of religion, each one seeks peace and truth yet they do not share a common altruism to reach their goal.


Sacks, Jonathan. 2002. The dignity of difference: how to avoid the clash of civilizations. Continuum International Publishing Group.