Sackler Trust

Moral Purity

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk.
The Sackler Trust has suspended new charitable donations in the UK, following claims that the Sackler family billions are linked to the opioid crisis in the US. The family denies the allegations, but both the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate group have refused its money. Whether that money is tainted or not (the question is hotly disputed) the controversy raises important questions about the ethics of funding for the arts, sport and philanthropic charities. Purists believe that good causes should always refuse money from bad sources, no matter how much potential benefit that money could bring. More grateful recipients hold their begging bowl with one hand and their nose with the other, insisting that there is no such thing as dirty money because a coin is morally neutral; whatever real, perceived or alleged crimes may have been committed to earn it should not rest on the conscience of the recipient. How should we view this quest for moral purity? It does appear that society is becoming increasingly intolerant of moral grey areas. It’s a short step from turning down dodgy donors to ‘no platforming’ those with unfashionable opinions. Perhaps that’s a good thing, an inspiring translation of principles into action predicated on equality and justice for all. Or perhaps such thinking is a new form of secular puritanism which is intolerant and dangerous. When does the enforcement of moral principles make us better? When does the attempt to resist moral pollution become its own form of rules-based bigotry?

Producer: Dan Tierney