Throughout this even-tempered polemic, Sacks allows every now and then that the liberal too argues from moral principles, but they are swiftly dismissed as principles of the wrong sort. A representative example comes in the course of Sacks’s discussion of marriage and family. The usual beats are struck: metropolitan middle-class liberals who wanted sex without commitment weakened the laws governing marriage, thus producing a generation of broken children, many of them working class, to be brought up in violence and squalor.
Sacks’s biggest and most powerful idea is also one of his oldest, having appeared in his 1997 book The Politics of Hope. He argues persuasively that we have increasingly moved from a society that rests on covenants to one that relies on contracts. A covenant, such as marriage, is a relationship in which we make commitments and rely on trust. A contract, however, is a transaction that we make only for our own best interests and so is always underpinning the I, not the we.