Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Love With Polanski's Genius

I hope you were not too shocked to see so many artists and philosophers rallying to the defense of Roman Polanski.

Leading this motley crew was a leading French philosopher-hustler, Bernard-Henri Levy, who launched a petition drive to secure Polanski's release from the Swiss prison where he is currently languishing. Link here. Also, see this story from the Guardian. Link here.

Forgetting for a few seconds the merits of Levy's case, the arguments he outlines in his petition are pathetically weak. We have a right to expect that someone who claims to be a philosopher would know how to think straight, but with Levy, that is not the case.

We are especially grateful to law professor Ann Althouse for showing that Levy has no idea of what he is talking about. For not having fallen prey to the siren song of B-H Levy Prof. Althouse shows that: he does not understand the law; he does not know how to think; he is effectively making a fool of himself. For Althouse's post, link here.

In the world of philosopher-kings, artists are supposed to be natural-born co-rulers. As sophisticated European idealistic thinking would have it, there are two kinds of human beings: those who play by the rules and those who create their own rules. Then, there are those who adapt to reality and those who create their own reality.

Philosophers, artists, and filmmakers fall into the latter categories. The rest of us are so lacking in imagination and advanced thought that we suffer through our travails in the former.

Those who are tasked with creating the new reality and formulating the new rules are superior beings, Supermen, as Nietzsche would have had it.

Too large for this world, they cannot be constrained by the everyday customs and manners the rest of us live by. They demonstrate their superiority by breaking the rules, by feeling neither shame nor guilt for doing so, and by persuading people to idolize them for doing so.

If you have read Nietzsche or Dostoevsky, you know that breaking the rules does not mean eating soup with the wrong spoon. It means committing heinous crimes, crimes that affront the ruling elites, and that count as revolutionary actions designed to subvert the moral order.

If the Western moral order has been charged with repressing perverse sexual impulses, the Superman must violate those taboos, thus asserting his superiority while undermining the moral order.

I will grant that the average Hollywood celebrity who signs a petition calling for the release of Roman Polanski does not know all of this. But, then again, ignorance is their normal state, and ignorance is never an excuse.

Great European thinkers, among whom one would be hard put to place Bernard-Henri Levy, take these ideas very, very seriously. They know perfectly well that the only way that they can promote their philosophies is by defending criminal actions that offend, shock, and call into question our values.

Keep in mind that French intellectuals have drunk deep at the trough of the writings of the Marquis de Sade. They have idealized his writings and even his life.

Since de Sade happened to be residing in the Bastille in the days leading up to its liberation in 1789, he has become a hero of the French Revolution.

To be clear, the kind of sadism that de Sade practiced sometimes involved drugging the victims. Surely, it did not always involve the victim's consent.

After all, what is the value of a radical gesture if it is just play-acting? If the civilized moral order can accommodate your desires then they are not the kinds of desires that that order was designed to repress.

I hope that that is not too theoretical. If you would like a more down-to-earth translation, I offer the words of one Roman Polanski, uttered on the occasion of his flight from American justice. Since many will find his language offensive, I have used ellipses.

In his words: "Judges want to f... young girls. Juries want to f... young girls. Everyone wants to f... young girls."

The superior man can do what he imagines that everyone else wants to do. Because of his superiority, he can get away with it, and they can't.

Obviously, guilt or shame has no place in this equation, because he has done nothing more than to act on a desire that everyone has and that no one else is strong enough to obey.

Thus, by this logic, a man who runs away from a court appearance can count himself as courageous.

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