It is a sad day when Rudy Giuliani crushes our spirits by asserting that he will not “pontificate” on moral theology. This comes after he appeared to do a full “final, essential command” straight outta 1984 by saying that “truth is not truth.” Let me be perfectly clear that I do not wish to entrap Rudy in a moral theological perjury trap. He did it all by his very own faux-thug self.
Why don’t we leave aside the evident falsity of Mr. Giuliani’s assertions that nobody knew nothing about any Russian government involvement in the June 9, 2016 meeting; and moreover, let’s ignore the does-not-pass-laugh-test claim that the colluding colluders did not even know that “Natalia Veselnitskaya” was a Russian. The cardinal point Rudy both fails to enunciate explicitly–and yet paradoxically embodies–is the urgency, in our current predicament, of an accurate interpretation of the moral theological principle St. Thomas elaborates in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book Seven. I refer of course to “Continence and Incontinence.” (Certain chapters in Book Six, which explicates the intellectual virtues, are certainly relevant here, e.g. the chapters on “eubulia” (excellence in deliberating) and “moral virtue and prudence,” but tant pis, tempus fugit, so on we go to continence and incontinence. This is the elephant in the room, really: we have an incontinent president–seriously, if not literally. There’s no getting around it and there’s no easy way of hiding from the stench. Thomas Aquinas, as ever, is expert at sorting out the subcategories and distinctions. Are we dealing with partial or unqualified incontinence? What is the relation of continence to pleasure-seeking? Is all pleasure-seeking “softness”? In what circumstances are incontinent persons reduced to bestiality? Are the intemperate worse than the incontinent? How is obstinacy related to continence and incontinence? I refer readers to the print version of Thomas’s Commentary, available in English translation by C.I. Litzinger, published by Dumb Ox Books (1993). Or to the online link via DHSPriory.org (won’t copy and paste for some reason).
As Mr. Giuliani said in his “pontification” tweet this morning, “sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.” I say we must have a thorough investigation into the following question: in what ways is our president continent or incontinent? I am confident that a fair and rigorous, though not obstinate, inquiry will be a balm for our country. Our country has a habit of turning all political questions into legal questions (as de Tocqueville wrote almost 200 years ago). This has had some good consequences, and limited some bad effects of our often intemperate habits. But along with the urgent legal questions we are now marinated in, let us raise our sights–not in a pontificating way, but in an inquiring way, and see where the inquiry takes us. And let’s not let anyone short-circuit either the legal inquiry or the moral inquiry.
P.S. A reading suggesion for co-religionists of Mr. Giuliani, and perhaps others–a papal encyclical on the splendor of truth, “Veritatis Splendor.”