Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The View from a Parisian Salon

But, how is it playing in Paris? How is the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape accusation playing in the Parisian salons frequented by the socialist-intellectual class?

If you had just read the rantings of Bernard-Henri Levy you might think that the French intelligentsia had circled the wagons in defense of their fallen hero.

But, BHL was not just writing for the American public.

Surely, that was his immediate audience. By publishing an article in America, he was,  as James Taranto pointed out yesterday, trying to influence the public opinion for which he was showing such supremely Gallic contempt. Link here.

But, given his all-too-obvious shortcomings as a philosopher, BHL was also trying to burnish his brand in France. He knows, as I do, that being a heroic Frenchman doing battle against ignorant American philistines gives you a great deal of street cred among Parisian intellectuals.

How can you go wrong defending national pride? How can you go wrong defending the sacred honor of a Socialist lion? How can you go wrong denouncing that horrid American practice of humiliating a Frenchman?

If we are to believe Philip Gourevitch, BHL has completely misrepresented the attitudes being expressed in socialist salons today.

When l’affaire DSK first entered our consciousness, I recommended that everyone read through the report Gourevitch wrote for the New Yorker. Link here.

Now, in a follow-up to his first column, he recounts, in almost Proustian fashion,  a conversation he heard at a Parisian socialist salon. Link here.

Tellingly, Gourevitch describes the world of the Parisian socialist intelligentsia as:  “the society that produced [DSK].”

When the story first broke, everyone in Paris rallied around their fallen hero. They spoke like BHL. But, are they still defending DSK against the horrible Americans, or are they beginning to take responsibility for what they produced?

Gourevitch writes: “Nearly everyone at the dinner had known them [the Strauss-Kahns], and it was the handful who knew them best who now spoke most convincingly about his history as an aggressive and incessant groper of women.

“According to the stories, he grabbed women in elevators, he cornered them in gardens, and if they resisted he liked to pursue, with phone calls and text messages. Everyone knew, the dinner guests said. For instance, the hostess recalled, there was the time at one of Strauss-Kahn’s homes when he seemed as if he didn’t care who saw him make his moves. Even his wife had to have seen, the hostess said. Surely not, the host said.”

Someone then quoted philosopher Pascal Bruckner, man who has seen far more clearly than his compatriot, DHL. Bruckner said:  “He wasn’t a womanizer—he was sick.” Gourevitch adds: “Everyone at the dinner party agreed, and they, too, spoke of Strauss-Kahn in the past tense.”

Clearly, French opinion had undergone a sea change. Gourevitch describes it: “This was a change from the initial reactions to his arrest in France, where the news was greeted mostly with disbelief. A poll conducted the next morning found that nearly sixty per cent of French people thought that Strauss-Kahn was the victim of a conspiracy. Denial had quickly given way to indignation—not at the alleged rapist but at the outrages to which he was subjected by the American criminal-justice system. The French were appalled to see video of Strauss-Kahn’s perp walk in Harlem and photographs of his arraignment: a usually impeccable man appearing unshaven, with his coat collar askew, and his face dark with an exhausted mixture of defiance and defeat.”

And yet, after a time, the reaction changed. An aide in the French Foreign Ministry said that : “The photos had made … real to him ... the seriousness of the crime in question, the extent to which the alleged acts were an assault not only on the woman but on the entire system of order and meaning to which a great public servant’s life should be devoted. The I.M.F. chief, he thought, now appeared like a figure from Dostoyevsky: ‘Strauss-Kahnikov’.”

But what about those American “howlers” in the press and what about the legal system that allowed them to flash a photo Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s perp walk?

Gourevitch reports: “When conversation turned to the French libel laws that inhibit reporting bad behavior, another woman said, ‘I’m beginning to think all the pictures of Strauss-Kahn in custody were a good thing—maybe they’ll put some fear into men’.”

Gourevitch ends by quoting another prominent French Socialist philosopher/politician: “The writer Jacques Attali, a former adviser to France’s last Socialist President, and an old friend of Strauss-Kahn’s, said, ‘I think the best service I can give him is not to speak, not to hear, not to listen, as a kind of moment of mourning’—which was saying a lot.”

Such is the current learned opinion in Paris salons. Doesn’t it show us, vividly, how shaming works as a sanction and as a deterrent.

To use a phrase that I introduced in another context a few days ago, shaming is “fast and ugly,” while the criminal justice system is “long and ugly.” Link here.


Retriever said...

The perp walk is somewhat like the old punishment of putting people in the stocks. said...

It can't have effect in fact, that is exactly what I suppose.