November 4, 2007


Authority Figure: The childhood roots of Giuliani's strange views of liberty (John B. Judis, October 29, 2007, The New Republic)

There are two aspects of Catholic philosophy that show up clearly in Giuliani's political outlook. The first, which he would have found at almost any religious school, is a tendency to view politics and history as a moral contest between good and evil. That is sharply in contrast to a secular post-Enlightenment view of individuals--from presidents to petty thieves--as products of historical forces greater than themselves. The difference between Giuliani's view and the secular one would show up in his attitude toward crime and criminals.

Second, Giuliani was exposed to a specifically Catholic (as opposed to Protestant-individualist) view of the relationship between authority and liberty--one that dates from Aquinas's Christian Aristotelianism, was spelled out in Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical on the Nature of Human Liberty, and still enjoys currency today, even in the wake of Vatican II. Catholic thinkers do not see liberty as an end in itself, but as a means-a "natural endowment"--by which to achieve the common good. For that to happen, individuals have to be encouraged to use their liberty well; and that is where authority comes into play. Authority, embodied by law and the state, encourages--at times, forces--free individuals to contribute to the common good. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms: Authority--by creating a just order--encourages liberty over license.

Of course, Giuliani made his career as a prosecutor rather than a philosopher, and there are certainly Catholic teachings he has repudiated or ignored. In 1989, wanting the New York Liberal Party's endorsement for his GOP mayoral bid, Giuliani renounced his past opposition to abortion and Roe v. Wade. But his exposure to Catholic and classical political thought clearly had a lasting impact on him. At a forum on crime in March 1994, sponsored by the New York Post, Giuliani voiced views on liberty and authority that seemed to flow from these teachings. He criticized liberals for seeing only "the oppressive side of authority." "What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be," he said. "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." Asked in the question period to explain what he meant, Giuliani said, "Authority protects freedom. Freedom can become anarchy." Norman Siegel, the then-executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said afterward that he was "floored" by Giuliani's definition of liberty and authority. But anyone who studied philosophy at a Catholic college would not have been surprised by Giuliani's words.

In the nineteenth century, Catholic thinkers used the concepts of liberty and authority to criticize democracy, but there is nothing inherently anti-democratic about Christian Aristotelianism. In U.S. politics, it claims adherents as politically diverse as liberal Mario Cuomo--whose 1984 Democratic convention speech portraying the nation as a family was a stirring application of these principles--and conservative Pat Buchanan. But, just as the danger of Protestant individualism is that it can be used to rationalize plutocracy, the danger of Catholic communitarianism is that it can be used to rationalize a slide toward authoritarianism. Giuliani's ideas on liberty and authority were integral to his assault on crime in New York, but they also may have encouraged a penchant for using power to curtail freedom.

Hard to believe the New Republic used to actually publish genuine political philosophers. Mr. Judis seems not to comprehend the most basic fact of republican government: the people is the authority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 4, 2007 8:08 AM

The problem with the historical forces argument is that unless you have people you will not have historical forces.

In the end it all comes back to people.

Posted by: Mikey at November 4, 2007 12:37 PM

". . .[S]trange views of liberty. . ."--views not so strange to graduates of Catholic universities.

Much of what we favor in Scalia, Alito and Roberts we find in Il Duce also.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 5, 2007 5:34 AM

John Judis, one recalls was arguing that Teddy Roosevelt; the Paul Wolfowitz of the McKinley
administration who annexed Northern Columbia
(Panama) for the US, and Woodrow Wilson who
sent Marines to the oil fields of Veracruz & Tampico; and imposed a Jim Crow viceroyalty over
Haiti; with the help of constitutionalist Franklin Roosevelt were anti-imperialists

Posted by: narciso at November 5, 2007 8:16 AM