“A Subject of Justice Like Any Other”: Bernard-Henri Levy Makes the Case for Prosecuting Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The French philosopher-celebrity Bernard-Henri Lévy is in the Daily Beast today, ostensibly defending IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn against his sexual-assault prosecution in New York. Because his friend DSK is unable to speak, BHL is stepping forward to give him a voice—a voice that says things like this:

I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.

The use of “one of the most closely watched figures on the planet” here suggests a certain inelasticity of perspective from the philosopher. And perhaps it’s a tribute to France’s labor laws that Lévy cannot imagine a chambermaid working solo. But what is he getting at? That this chambermaid, an agent of the trans-Atlantic anti-Socialist conspiracy to bring down Strauss-Kahn, made sure there would be no witnesses to the incident she was about to stage? Or merely that a woman who walks into a hotel room unaccompanied is automatically offering herself up for sex with whoever might be there?

(Everybody thought Kobe Bryant was a symbol of out-of-control macho American jock culture—what if his legal troubles were really a sign of his continental sophistication?)

Either way, if your goal is to push back against the tide of public opinion condemning your friend as an arrogant, hopelessly entitled sexual predator, it’s maybe not wise to write your defense from the point of view of an arrogant, hopelessly entitled sexist:

I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television.

Yes, it is exceedingly rare for victims of sexual assault to be quiet about it.

This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.

I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.

This is how Levy wants to save his friend’s image: by mocking the notion that he would be treated as “a subject of justice like any other”; by disdaining a system in which “anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime.” How can a mere cleaning servant be allowed to claim sexual assault against someone so very far above her station?

Uh, par-dough-nay moi, mon-sewer, but ’round here, folks like to call that “equal justice.” (But also? We have “innocent until proven guilty,” which tends to work out OK for people who can hire good lawyers.) Strauss-Kahn is perfectly free to file counter-charges of, I dunno, what’s the story? False imprisonment, sexual battery, whatever this scheming chambermaid did that sent the great man fleeing in a panic.

It’s mind-boggling that this argument is coming from one of the most celebrated rhetoricians of our age, the same man who reportedly got NATO into the Libyan war by persuading French president Nicolas Sarkozy to recognize the rebel government. If Lévy had made the case against Qaddafi the way he makes the case for Strauss-Kahn, the Marines would be defending Tripoli. What does this accomplish, except hardening opinion against Strauss-Kahn, thereby depriving “the French left,” as Lévy warns, of “its champion”? And thereby strengthening the position of … Levy’s new Libyan-war ally, Sarkozy? Who is influencing whom here? The conspiracy gets deeper.