Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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Personality Profile: Rudolph Giuliani

Aubrey Immelman

April 22, 1999

Prepared upon request for the New York Observer

(See "Can Rudy Giuliani tame the beast within?" by Devin Leonard, The New York Observer, May 10, 1999, pp. 1, 9.)

This report presents the results of an indirect assessment of the political personality of New York mayor Rudolph W. L. (Rudy) Giuliani, undeclared Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in the election of 2000, from the conceptual perspective of Theodore Millon. Information concerning Rudy Giuliani was collected from published biographical accounts and political profiles, and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC; Immelman & Steinberg, 1999), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications.


    Rudolph Giuliani emerged from my assessment as a primarily dominant personality with secondary features of conscientiousness and suspiciousness. The aggressive, dominant pattern appears to be Giuliani’s primary, preferred mode. It represents his underlying character. The moralistic, conscientious pattern may be an overlay produced by his strict Catholic upbringing (preschool through college), which appears to have become quite deeply infused in his character structure. Nonetheless, it is secondary. Finally, the suspicious aspects are partially a function of his aggressive character (which is by definition somewhat hostile and distrusting) and partly a function of his ongoing political battles – in other words, it is primarily a function of the situation, yet sustained by underlying personality attributes.

The DominantConscientious Mixed Personality Pattern

    Personalities of a predominantly aggressive nature, who also possess prominent conscientious features, comprise a subtype that I call the "hostile enforcer." These personalities are characterized by deep-seated anger and hostility, permeated by a moralistic conscience. A stickler for rules and propriety, they are unrestrained in discharging their hostile impulses against the weak, the powerless, and the contemptible – ostensibly in the public interest. This is a socialized, adaptive version of a behavior pattern that has been labeled "authoritarian aggression."

    Hostile enforcers tend to act as though they believe they have a monopoly on divining right and wrong, good and bad. They believe they have a right and the obligation to control, and that they are uniquely qualified to determine how violators should be punished.

    Although they operate under the guise of socially endorsed roles to serve the public interest, the deeper motives that spur the aggressive enforcing actions of leaders with this personality style are of questionable legitimacy, given the extraordinary force with which they mete out their condemnation and punishment. In the context of public service, the trademark characteristic of hostile enforcers is to search out rule-breakers and perpetrators of incidental infractions that fall within the purview of their socially sanctioned role and then to exercise their legitimate powers to the utmost degree.

    In public life the modus operandi of the hostile enforcer invariably provokes opposition and resistance, which in turn incites and perpetuates ever stronger countermeasures against real and perceived enemies. The resulting "bunker mentality" may mimic a paranoid orientation, but more likely is simply a manifestation of hardball politics in the service of an obdurate, relentless, uncompromising, no-holds-barred striving to preserve and consolidate personal political power.

    Politically, the fatal flaw of this personality type is that in carrying out their duties they cannot restrain the emotions that drive their vindictively hostile behaviors. Ultimately, dominating everything and everyone becomes a goal in and of itself, at the expense of exercising their responsibilities in a fair and balanced manner. The destiny of this personality type in public life is nicely captured in the following character sketch by personality theorist Theodore Millon, creator of the concept, who employs the label "enforcing sadist":

Some of these personalities swagger about as prideful enforcers of the law; the more they dominate and discharge their venom, the more pridefully they swagger, and the more they feel righteously empowered. The more they discharge their hostility and exercise their wills, the more they display their dominance and feed their sadistic urges, the more they feel justified in venting their anger. Power has gone to their heads. Many begin to dehumanize their victims, further enlarging the sphere and intensity of their aggressive destructiveness. ... Beneath their ostensible good intentions may lie a growing deceptive viciousness, a malicious inclination that eventually produces the very destructiveness they have been authorized to control. (Millon, 1996, pp. 490–491)

    If indeed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani fits this profile, it raises the question, Will the mayor self-destruct in pursuit of his political ambitions? "Character is destiny," said Heraclitus in antiquity, and in the tragic tradition of Shakespeare’s King Lear, American political history is replete with well-intentioned leaders undone by a single, fatal flaw. Woodrow Wilson’s failing was his unbending moral rectitude; Richard Nixon’s downfall was his near-paranoid aloofness; Bill Clinton faltered in erotic narcissism; and for Al Gore the seeds of his own undoing germinate abundantly in his dutiful remoteness. Could personality theory’s verdict, and that of history, be equally bleak for Rudolph Giuliani?

The Self-Defeating Nature of Personality Flaws

    When people habitually and predictively display a particular trait or quality over time and in a multiplicity of situations, the most plausible conclusion is that it reflects their enduring personality style. And personality by definition denotes a coherent pattern of deeply ingrained characteristics and inclinations that are deeply etched, cannot be easily eradicated, and pervade every facet of life experience. Those who lack insight into self-defeating personality traits are condemned to replicate their personal failures in perpetuity, which in public life portends a fall from grace.

    What presence lurks in the darker recesses of Giuliani’s nature, and can he gain control of and harness the beast to bear him to the pinnacle of political power? Time will tell, but in the interim we must rely on theoretical inference and a smattering of clues in the mayor’s public behavior. The most provocative clue is offered in an encounter related by Paul Schwartzman in the March 1999 issue of Playboy magazine. As Schwartzman relates the story, in the of summer 1998, at a Staten Island public meeting,  Mitchell Diggs – business manager of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan – asked Mayor Giuliani what he planned to do, now that crime was down, to help with job creation and prevent violence in future generations. "The City of New York does not raise children; parents do!" Giuliani retorted. Then, in an extraordinary, seemingly inexplicable digression, the mayor raised the issue of child abuse.

    Schwartzman reports: "'The reason a child is abused,' Giuliani exclaimed, jabbing his forefinger in Diggs’ direction, 'is not because of a social worker, it’s not because of a teacher and it’s not because of a police officer. It’s because some adult' – the mayor was shouting now – some mother, some father, or some boyfriend of the mother who shouldn’t be living in the apartment in the first place, beats the hell out of the kid!'"

    What are we to make of this? Schwartzman concludes that Giuliani simply knows no other way. But, given the mayor's disproportionate emotional response to a seemingly innocuous stimulus, psychologically minded observers – particularly those with a psychoanalytic bent – would be inclined to scratch a little deeper.

Can Giuliani Tame the "Beast" Within?

    Answering the question of whether Giuliani will implode or rise to the occasion by adapting to the demands of his political reality – the question of whether the leopard can change his spots – requires an examination of the self-perpetuating processes of the dominant, aggressive personality style. Theodore Millon (1996) asserts that the aggressive personality style becomes ingrained as the result of three self-perpetuation processes: perceptual and cognitive distortions, demeaning of affection and cooperative behavior, and creating realistic antagonisms.

    Perceptual and cognitive distortions.   "In ... [aggressive personalities] ... there is an ever-present undertone of anger and resentment, a persistent expectation that others will be deviously denigrating, if not openly hostile. Because these moods and expectancies endure, these personalities are likely to repeatedly distort the incidental remarks and actions of others so that they appear to deprecate and vilify them. They persist in misinterpreting what they see and hear, and magnify minor slights into major insults and slanders" (p. 498). Millon continues by noting that the hypersensitivity of aggressive personalities to derogation deludes them into perceiving threat where none exists. This has self-defeating consequences and prevents one from perceiving reality more objectively and changing one’s outlook and attitudes. One could speculate that, by surrounding himself with a small coterie of uncritical admirers, including Cristyne Lategano, the mayor is doing himself a disservice. If he is going to change at all, the first change he needs to make is to create a more critical, open advisory system in which people can speak up without fear of retaliation.

    Demeaning of affection and cooperative behavior.   "[The aggressive] personality is not only suspicious of, but tends to depreciate sentimentality, intimate feelings, tenderness, and social cooperativeness. These individuals lack sympathy for the weak and oppressed, and are often contemptuous of those who express compassion and concern for the underdog. ... By denying tender feelings, they protect themselves against the memory of painful parental rejections. [Note: Giuliani’s infancy and childhood may have been less contented and trouble-free than suggested in Schwartzman’s profile.] Furthermore, feelings of sympathy would be antithetical to the credo that they have carved for themselves as a philosophy of life. To express softer feelings would undermine the foundations of their coping strategy and reactivate feelings they have rigidly denied for years. Why upset things and be abused [recall Giuliani’s interaction with Mitchell Diggs at the Staten Island meeting in 1998] and exploited again? Sympathy and tender feelings only get in the way, distracting and diverting them form their need to be hardheaded realists. ... By restraining positive feelings and repudiating intimacy and cooperative behaviors, these personalities provoke others to withdraw from them. Their cold and abusive manner intimidates others and blocks them from expressing warmth and affection" (p. 499). [Of course, whether an intimidating manner and a disinclination to express tender feeling would actually prevent New Yorkers from voting for Giuliani remains an open question; indeed, some may view it as a strength.]

    Creating realistic antagonisms.   "[The aggressive] personality evoke[s] counterhostility, not only as an incidental consequence of their behaviors and attitudes but because they intentionally provoke others into conflict. They carry a chip on their shoulder, often seem to be spoiling for a fight, and appear to enjoy tangling with others to prove their strength and test their competencies and powers. ... By spoiling for a fight and by precipitous and irrational arrogance, they create not only a distant reserve on the part of others but intense and well-justified animosity" (p. 499).

The Roots of Giuliani's Character

    Tracing the origins of Rudy Giuliani’s character requires an examination of the characteristic developmental history of the dominant, aggressive personality pattern. It should be recognized, however, that personality is a complex, multi-determined construct. For example, there are hereditary and other biogenic (inborn, constitutional) factors that are too inscrutable or speculative to warrant definitive conclusions. The present examination therefore emphasizes experiential family history, which is often sufficient to activate a particular personality style.

    Schwartzman reports: "Rudy had a tic in one eye and was a restless baby, prone to staying awake for 48 hours at a time. This restlessness on more than one occasion prompted the nuns at school to smack him." Parental hostility is sometimes prompted by a difficult-to-manage infant born with a testy, sullen, choleric temperament. According to Theodore Millon, the primary biogenic factor accounting for aggressive and sadistic personality styles is a "choleric infantile reaction pattern." Millon (1996) explains the hypothesized pathogenic effect of a choleric infantile reaction pattern as follows:

Parents often complain that their child displayed temper tantrums [crabby, prickly, fractious behaviors] even as an infant. … [G]iven a ‘nasty’ disposition and an ‘incorrigible’ temperament from the start, these youngsters provoke a superabundance of exasperation and counterhostility from other. Their constitutional tendencies may, therefore, initiate a vicious circle in which they not only prompt frequent aggression from others, but, as a consequence, learn to expect frequent hostility. (p. 496) [Note: We cannot be certain that this was the case in young Rudy's infancy and childhood, but it has a ring of truth today.]

    With reference to the characteristic family history of aggressive persons, Millon emphasizes parental hostility – which, it must be noted, can be prompted by a difficult-to-manage infant born with a testy, sullen temperament (i.e., an interactional effect of dispositional and environmental variables). Inborn disposition aside, children sometimes serve as a convenient scapegoat, or "lightening rod," for parental anger arising from occupational, marital, or social frustrations. Rather than manage their anger directly and appropriately, these parents vent their anger on their children in a maladaptive coping strategy known as "displacement."

    According to Millon (1996), chronic exposure to parental rejection – typically teasing, belittlement, and humiliation – results in a view of the world as hostile and dangerous and breeds a suspicious if not paranoid outlook on life. Most children subjected to this treatment come to view themselves as weak, worthless, and beneath contempt; they ultimately develop a timid, insecure, avoidant personality style [Note: not relevant to Giuliani]. Some children, however, perhaps by nature more resilient and hardy, learn instead to believe they are a power to contend with [Note: relevant to Giuliani]. To their way of thinking, they are sufficiently potent to influence others' moods and actions – that they have the capacity to create distress. Adding injury to insult, parental hostility, in the intense anger and resentment that it generates in a child, can ultimately breed counterhostility (p. 497).

    A more straightforward explanation is that hostile parents simply serve as a model for imitation and a sanction for similar conduct; children live what they learn. Public knowledge of Rudy Giuliani’s upbringing is sketchy, yet there are compelling clues. Schwartzman, in the Playboy article, writes: "Giuliani inherited his swagger and bombast from his father, Harold, a Brooklyn tavern owner who was not afraid to use his baseball bat to keep rowdy customers in line. [There is no indication of whether he used similarly forceful means to discipline his son.] In Dodgers-crazed Brooklyn, where the family lived before moving to Long Island, Harold raved about the Yankees and enjoyed dressing young Rudy in a miniature Yankees uniform and sending him outside where he was taunted by neighborhood kids. 'To my father, it was a joke,' Giuliani has recalled. 'But to me it was like being a martyr'." This account is remarkable for its wealth of psychological clues. It provides suggestive evidence of occupational frustrations, parental humiliation and peer harassment, and youthful fortitude and resilience.

    The various explanatory models outlined above are not, of course, mutually exclusive; as said before, personality style is overdetermined. The psychogenesis of the aggressive style is encapsulated in Millon’s assertion that these personalities "go out of their way to denigrate any values that represent what they themselves did not receive in childhood." Thus, they become untrusting and harsh in their interpersonal relationships and the world at large; they are persistently on the defensive and any cracks in their tough outer facade or perceived exposure of personal weakness or inner vulnerability prompts capricious, precipitous surges of hostility and outbursts of rage.

    In summary, based on Schwartzman’s reporting of Giuliani’s early development, one might speculate that the primary underlying reasons for Giuliani’s present-day hostile, abrasive personal political style are an inborn disposition (i.e., he was biologically "hard-wired" with a choleric infantile reaction pattern) and vicarious learning – primarily from his father, who modeled a range of aggressive behaviors (e.g., Rudy’s father gave him a pair of boxing gloves at the age of two). Concerning the third factor, parental hostility, we don’t have any direct evidence; in fact, Rudy’s parents seem to have doted on him (which often produces narcissistic features, as in the case of Bill Clinton). Nonetheless, it would be interesting to interview people familiar with Giuliani’s early life. It is quite possible that one will find fairly strict if not harsh discipline from both his mother (reportedly the primary disciplinarian) and his father, who seemed to have had an ambivalent relationship with his in-laws and to have felt disempowered at times – and he may have displaced some of his frustrations indirectly onto Rudy, for example, through sardonic humor and humiliation.

Concluding Remark

    Though not fully explaining why Mayor Giuliani, in response to an unrelated question, would explode at Mitchell Diggs on the issue of child abuse and the shirking of parental responsibility, this personality profile raises the question, Is there any personal business to which Rudolph Giuliani must urgently attend before he can be entrusted with the business of the people, the city and state of New York, and the nation’s business?

Technical References

Immelman, A., & Steinberg, B. (Compilers) (1999). Millon inventory of diagnostic criteria (2nd ed.). Unpublished research scale, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn.

Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of personality: DSM-IV and beyond (2nd ed). New York: Wiley.


Transcript: New York Observer profile cited by CNN Special Correspondent Frank Sesno on "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer, June 14, 2007.

Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman

Last modified: 06/15/2007