'Freedom Is About Authority': Excerpts From Giuliani Speech on Crime

Published: March 20, 1994

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was among the speakers on Wednesday at a forum about crime in the cities, sponsored by The New York Post. The Mayor discussed how crime and law enforcement had changed in New York over several decades, and how society had changed. Here is an excerpt, as transcribed by The New York Times.

We constantly present the false impression that government can solve problems that government in America was designed not to solve. Families are significantly less important in the development of children today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Religion has less influence than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Communities don't mean what they meant 30 or 40 years ago.

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.

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. ]

At the core the struggle is philosophical. There are many, many things that can be done in law enforcement to protect us better. There are many things that can done to create a government that is more responsive and more helpful. The fact is that we're fooling people if we suggest to them the solutions to these very, very deep-seated problems are going to be found in government. . . .

The solutions are going to be found when we figure out as a society what our families are going to be like in the next century, and how maybe they are going to be different. They are going to have to be just as solid and just as strong in teaching every single youngster their responsibility for citizenship. We're going to find the answer when schools once again train citizens. Schools exist in America and have always existed to train responsible citizens of the United States of America.

If they don't do that, it's very hard to hold us together as a country, because it's shared values that hold us together. We're going to come through this when we realize that it's all about, ultimately, individual responsibility. That in fact the criminal act is about individual responsibility and the building of the respect for the law and ethics is also a matter of individual responsibility.