Rudy's Catholic authoritarianism
David Gibson November 20, 2007 - 8:38pm
In a recent New Republic article, "Authority Figure," John Judis traces Giuliani's bully law-and-order character back "to his childhood in New York and to his enrollment for 16 years in Catholic schools." It is a worthy endeavor, but in the end, Judis seems (to me) to link a caricature of Catholic teaching to a caricature of a Catholic politician. At Catholic schools, Judis writes,
"...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."
Judis then notes in a sidelong way that Giuliani has repudiated much of Catholic teaching--not to mention his rather un-Catholic behavior toward his wives and children--but continues:
"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....SNIP...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."
I don't want to go all Donohue on this, but trying to chalk up Rudy's obtuse and obstreperous approach to governing to the inculcation of some abstract Catholic authoritarianism seems like a stretch--if not an excuse. It also smacks of the old view that Catholics could not think for themselves, and prefer to walk in lockstep to orders from Rome (or any authrority figure) on what to say or do or think.
Maybe I'm being melodramatic. Calling John McGreevy. Is Rudy just being a good Catholic schoolboy?