Authoritarian Giuliani?

John Judis describes what he sees as Giuliani’s distinctively Catholic worldview.

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.

In truth, this strikes me as sufficiently close to non-Catholic strains of republican thinking as to be not-so-distinctive. But Judis’s point, that Giuliani’s understanding of freedom represents a departure from extreme antipaternalism, is well taken. I was struck by another passage.

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.

Of course, Siegel fails to recognize that he is also an heir to a distinctive intellectual tradition, which in this case extends only as far back as the intellectual overreaction to totalitarianism, vividly described by David Ciepley in his Liberalism in the Shadow of Totalitarianism. The same might be said of Judis, but I think Judis, my many disagreements with him notwithstanding, is America’s best intellectual journalist, so my guess is that he’s well aware of this. Moreover, Judis even goes so far as to offer a mild defense of “Christian Aristotelianism,” which he sees as undergirding Mario Cuomo’s liberalism. Some would call this damning with faint praise. I tend to think it’s a sincere compliment.

The article goes on to offer a damning critique of Giuliani that is well worth a read. I do wonder, is the central problem with US society an excess of authority? Certainly the case can be made that the Bush administration has been overzealous in its expansion of executive power. But surely this is only one piece of a larger cultural puzzle, one that involves a steady erosion of certain kinds of authority that most of us value. More on this to come.