EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the Dec. 8, 2003, issue of National Review.N
o one is so liberal that he does not wish to visit condign punishment upon at least one criminal or class of criminals. No one is so compassionate that his understanding is incapable of giving way to the desire for vengeance. It is as if the desire to punish and exact revenge were genetic, part of human nature, like the propensity to walk on two legs or learn to speak.
This summer, France was transfixed by the murder of a well-known actress, Marie Trintignant, herself the daughter of a well-known film director, Nadine Trintignant. She was killed by her boyfriend of a few months, the French rock-music star Bertrand Cantat. Marie was in Lithuania with her mother, shooting a film about the life of the French author Colette, when Cantat joined her there. In the course of a drunken argument in a hotel bedroom in Vilnius, Cantat hit her savagely in the face several times. She fell into a coma; he put her to bed, and then went to sleep himself. The next morning, he called her brother, who was also in Vilnius; when the severity of Marie’s condition became obvious, Cantat took an overdose. Despite two operations, Marie died about a week later. Cantat awaits his trial in Vilnius.
Both the Trintignant family and Cantat himself were darlings of the Left. They not only knew all the best people, but held all the best opinions. Cantat in particular, whose group, the most successful in France, was called Noir Désir (Black Desire), was vocal in support of “good” causes. His heart bled for Palestinians, whales, and the sans papiers, the illegal immigrants in France. He did not hesitate to turn publicly on the hand that fed him handsomely, accusing the company that had made him a millionaire many times over of exploitation. He found it far easier, and no doubt more important, to evince concern about the whole world in the abstract than to behave decently toward the woman in his bedroom.
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–Theodore Dalrymple is a physician and psychiatrist who works in a British prison. He is also a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass.