Leader: What makes us human?


The New Statesman is a magazine of ideas. We are as interested in philosophy and science as we are in politics and literature. Our specials on religion and atheism have proved popular with readers: non-believers among you occasionally write to object to our annual “God” issue, even though it is as much about faithlessness as it is about faith. This week, in association with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, we begin a new series, entitled “What makes us human?”, in which contributors – religious leaders, philosophers, scientists and even the odd rock star – will attempt to answer perhaps the most fundamental question of all.

The human animal is capable of great kindness but also devastating violence and cruelty. We know so much about so much, but not as much as we would wish: could it be that we are hard-wired to seek meaning in a world where ultimately there is none?

The first short essay in the series, on page 25, is by the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He writes that the family, when it works, “is the matrix of our humanity. It is where we learn love and self-confidence and the values that will serve as our satellite navigation system through the uncharted territory of life.”

This article first appeared in the 29 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, What makes us human?