Monday, August 13, 2007

That Speech By Giuliani

A lot of the blogs have been talking about this, and it caught my attention, too; Rudolph Giuliani gave a speech the other day with a couple of discussable tidbits in it. These are the kinds of thing that you hear all the time; I'm taking a few lines out of context just to give us a minute to pause and think them through.
As Americans, we're not sure we share values. We're sometimes even afraid to use the word values. We talk about teaching ethics in schools -- people say, "What ethics? Whose ethics? Maybe we can't." And they confuse that with teaching of religion. And we are afraid to reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based. We're almost embarrassed by it. 'Freedom Is About Authority': Excerpts From Giuliani Speech on Crime

OK, that's a handful right there. I'd have to put the pronouns "we" and "they" and the noun "people" in the category strawmen.

Who is afraid to use the word "values?" You? Me? I don't think so. Teach the Facts, for instance, is all about values, the values of kindness, truthfulness, clear critical thinking, fairness. The CRC is also about values, different values from ours, of course -- but that's what this whole controversy is about. Not sure we share values? That's an understatement. It's perfectly clear we don't share values.

And who are "they" who confuse ethics with religion? Well, there are those who believe that only God can provide knowledge of right and wrong. The rest of us are just fine with understanding ethics as a system of human judgments. Do you get the deal about being embarrassed to "reaffirm the basics upon which a lawful and a decent society are based?" Yeah, me either. I believe, like our Founding Fathers, in taking a good, reasoned, skeptical view of human nature, bracing for the worst, and living the best. What's embarrassing about that?

But, rich as that paragraph was, there's more here.
We look upon authority too often and focus over and over again, for 30 or 40 or 50 years, as if there is something wrong with authority. We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. 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. 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.

[ Interruption by someone in the audience. ]

You have free speech so I can be heard.

[ Another interruption. ]

Wow, beautiful. You have free speech so I can be heard. Rudy's a master, nothing less, a master of irony.

I do want to dwell on this paragraph for a minute, because it seems to me that 1.it stands reality on its head and 2.a lot of people will agree with him.

Freedom is about authority.

This sentence is a work of art. Here, Giuliani has crystalized the culture wars into one clear, short, four-word slogan. For many people, the liberty our Founding Fathers fought for and crafted for us was the liberty to obey. Our freedom is the freedom to "cede to lawful authority." We are free to do as we are told.

Let me spell it out: this is exactly the opposite of what the word "freedom" means. The freedom of our forefathers was freedom from authority, from a king who was an unjust and harsh ruler. Freedom doesn't suddenly mean something new, it's always meant the same thing: Webster says:
1 : the quality or state of being free: as a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another...

There's nothing ambiguous about that.

Look, we grew up with this stuff in the fifties and early sixties, during the McCarthy years. Conformity was an ideal and obedience to authority was an ideal, and the kooks were suspected to be communists, leading us all toward a depersonalized robotic totalitarian state with their nonconformity. I really used to think that America had passed that stage, that we had learned our lesson and would never go back to that. But here it is in a nutshell, this guy is running for President on the United States talking like this.

Let me try a generous interpretation. Let's say he means that we are free to choose to obey authority. Whaddya think? Of course he doesn't mean that. He may think he means that, but how does he feel about those who actually exercise their choice, and refuse to accept authority? Of course he rejects the validity of that option. It's not a choice.

Why is this worth talking about? It's because these kinds of statements ring happy bells for many people. These are some soul-stirring slogans here, people will get worked up about this sort of thing, but when you get down to it they are self-invalidating statements. Freedom is not obedience. Values are not embarrassing. American values are not homogeneous, and diversity -- even diversity of belief -- is not dangerous.

These are times when you need to listen with your mind. You need to be careful to think about what these guys are saying: they're counting on you not to.

9 Comments:

Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Rove just resigned. I have no idea how far from the power center he will go, but this is a good thing. And I believe the 1984-speak of Guiliani has had its day. This is the guy who, after all, put the city's emergency communications center, after the 1993 WTC bombing, back in the WTC.

August 13, 2007 12:22 PM  
Anonymous  said...

Rudy's Arrogant Quote

“This is not a mayor or a governor or a President who's sitting in an ivory tower. I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most of the workers. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I‘m one of them.”

August 13, 2007 2:45 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

Why is this worth talking about? It's because these kinds of statements ring happy bells for many people. These are some soul-stirring slogans here, people will get worked up about this sort of thing, but when you get down to it they are self-invalidating statements.

I am not sure if it gets me worked up, but it does appear to have set you on edge...

Freedom is not obedience.

Are you sure this was not a speech given by Bush? This is a rather clumsy, awkward, inexact way of expressing a moral truth that us conservatives understand.

Freedom is a value, but without direction (either self imposed, or imposed by some external entity) it is an empty value (though I am not sure I am expressing this quite right with words at the moment).

Freedom to do what? How about the freedom to light up and smoke? The freedom to smoke is a value that in the name of science and public health is being increasingly circumscribed. And ask anyone that has been smoking for awhile if they feel "free" to stop at any time...

Another freedom is the freedom of speech...another value that thanks to McCain-Feingold has also been limited, which ironically applies to the area of human speech the Framers were most concerned about not limiting, political speech. But let us suppose you want to express disgust, disdain and contempt on an important American symbol, then in the name of an ambiguous "freedom of expression" the deliberative judgments of 50 state legislatures must be set aside, all in the name of freedom.

Values are not embarrassing. American values are not homogeneous, and diversity -- even diversity of belief -- is not dangerous.

And liberals wonder why...yes, why so many Americans consider liberalism a dirty word...little wonder.

These are times when you need to listen with your mind. You need to be careful to think about what these guys are saying: they're counting on you not to.

I do listen...both to Giuliani and you, Jim. Personally it is hard for me to read of Giuliani waxing rhapsodical about ethics, values, etc. in light of what we do know about Rudy's family life; while nobody is perfect, Bill and Hillary Clinton are better representations of "traditional" family values than Rudy and Judy. Those that would advocate this approach should first consider the power of leading by example. In this regard it would appear that Giuliani is lacking...not to mention hypocritical.

While I am not sure how to express my reservations with your weltanshuuang, I think it perhaps can be expressed in your blog entry on you, your son and serving alcohol in the public sphere to those under age. Indeed, if there is a motif (a usually recurring salient thematic element) in your body of writing on this blog it can be neatly summarized in two words:

Question Authority

Ok, that is a good thing...however, when does this bumper sticker slogan became an excuse from ever accepting any authority besides one's own whim? I am not sure I have the answer to that question, though I am reminded of an observation by one of my professors in college, upon seeing the bumper sticker "Question Authority" on a car in a parking lot; he added, "but defer to your better".

August 13, 2007 7:12 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Orin, the problem with questioning authority is that it gives too much authority to authority. If I had the opportunity to summarize my own core message, it would more likely be "Listen to your heart."

JimK

August 13, 2007 7:26 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

I disagree with both you guys. The history of freedom and liberty is very dense and complex, and I would recommend Isaiah Berlin, particularly for his distinction between positive and negative liberty.

But there is no question in my mind that Giuliani is an authoritarian -- he was as mayor of New York, and there is no reason to believe he would not be the same as president. In a choice between civil liberties and control, I expect he would come down on the authoritarian side almost each time. That way leads to warrantless wiretapping, Abu Ghraib, Fredo Gonzalez and the rest.

I have no problem with restricting some liberties in a time of war, but it should be a very carefully calibrated dance. My family knows only too well what can happen when the totalitarian personality takes control of the mind of the people and then the state. The risk is simply too great.

And it would help if we were fighting a war of necessity against the appropriate enemy. I am in no mood to sacrifice any of my rights and liberties in the name of a war of self-aggrandizement.

August 14, 2007 3:52 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

Orin, the problem with questioning authority is that it gives too much authority to authority.

Jim, what do you mean here?

August 14, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

When you define yourself as anti-something, that "something" controls you. I respect the opinions of well-informed and thoughtful people, and follow norms and standards that facilitate interindividual coordination or guide my personal behavior in productive and enlightening ways, but opposing people, e.g., "authority," is generally a waste of time and energy. This group and web site, unfortunately, have been formed in order to oppose an attempted coup in our community, and so a lot of what we do and say is framed in relation to those who have tried to capture our educational process, but in general that is not an ethos that guides me or any of us in our daily lives. The positive thing, which I have described as listening to your heart, sometimes requires opposing repressive forces, but the opposition is epiphenomenal, that's not what it's about primarily.

Sabe?

JimK

August 14, 2007 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said: "Another freedom is the freedom of speech...another value that thanks to McCain-Feingold has also been limited, which ironically applies to the area of human speech the Framers were most concerned about not limiting, political speech."
Many of us believe that there is an important distinction between the freedom of speech established by the framers and the limitations on "speech" that you seem to find in McCain-Feingold.
It is far from outrageous to maintain that a person's freedom of (political) speech should be wielded verbally or in writing--traditionally via tracts or opeds, but not neccessarily by writing checks.
It is still troublesome to many that a corporation is the legal equivalent of a person, and that a bulging bank account effectively entitles some to more "speech" than available to those of limited means. While that is presently a legal reality, it is one that Congress is entitled to attempt to deal with via campaign finance legislation. Conservatives, who are so famously opposed to judicial activism and who villify "trial lawyers", immediately sue.... the Supreme Court eventually does it's thing, and the Congress takes another swipe at it. No likee? Try Venezuela--Hugo Chavez is working on the antidote to that messy balance of powers problem.

August 14, 2007 11:17 AM  
Anonymous  said...


After 9/11, Rudy wasn't a rescue worker -- he was a Yankee


"Aug. 18, 2007 | On Friday, a New York Times story examined Rudy Giuliani's schedule in the months after 9/11 to verify his controversial claim that, like rescue workers, he'd spent long hours at ground zero, and so was "in that sense ... one of them." In fact, the Times found, he only spent 29 hours at the terror site between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16.

What was he doing instead? Giuliani's beloved New York Yankees made it to the World Series in 2001. We decided to compare the time he spent on baseball to the time he spent at the ruins of the World Trade Center.

The results were, considering the mayor's long-standing devotion to the Bronx Bombers, unsurprising. By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 60 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers."

August 18, 2007 10:37 AM  

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