I once heard G. Gordon Liddy speak to a college audience in Missouri. Throughout the evening this former White House aide, who had been only a short time earlier released from a prison sentence for his part in the famous Watergate episode, urged upon us the idea that only force, strength, ruthless use of violence and an iron will could earn the respect of friends and foes in this “real world which is, in fact, a very tough neighborhood.”
I am enough of a “Christian realist” in the tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr to at least appreciate an element of his thinking. After all, the governments role is the use of force. And in a fallen world it is needed. But Liddy seemed to mean more than this: force and a strong will for him were not provisional answers in a fallen world; they were the answer.
One of my colleagues on the faculty rose to timidly pose the question: “But in our country, most people...after all...do base their ethics on...like...the teachings of Jesus...and” (finally he got it out with a rush) “this-doesnt-sound-much-like-the-teachings-of-Jesus.” He sat down.
Liddy glared a moment, took in a breath, and bellowed: “Yeahand look what happened to Jesus!” He flailed his arms outward, holding them as if on the crossbeam of a gibbet: “They crucified him.” To Liddy, the case was closed. The audience reacted, briefly, as if stunned, astonishedand then with thunderous applause. After all, Liddy only said out loud what everyone else had already concluded: “Failure, persecution and pain, instead of success, appreciation and a good retirementthats no way to end up.”