On May 14, 2011, debonair 62-year-old Dominique Strauss-Kahn — managing director of the International Monetary Fund and likely next head of state of France — was pulled out of a first-class Air France seat by New York police just minutes before taking off. The shocked Strauss-Kahn nevertheless seemed to have immediately grasped that his alleged quickie sexual encounter with a West African refugee maid and single mother at Manhattan’s ritzy Sofitel Hotel had gone awry. For now, he stands indicted on — but not convicted of — various counts of sexual assault, and has become an unwitting totem of the pathologies of the European socialist technocracy.
Mounting evidence suggests that Strauss-Kahn left his hotel room in hopes of leaving the sordid details of his allegedly forced sexual congress with the Guinean hotel servant for others to sort out. And sort it out the New York cops immediately did, on hearing the maid’s gruesome tale. At once they feared that France’s most influential European socialist and generally recognized Parisian metrosexual bon vivant (“Le Grand Séducteur”) would seek permanent sanctuary from any Yankee extradition, in Roman Polanski style, the minute his jet wheels left the tarmac. So the NYPD yanked him off the plane and soon put him in isolation on suicide watch at Rikers Island. For the outraged French press, the affront seemed almost a crass American update of the humiliation of the ancient Gallic chieftain and national icon Vercingetorix, who was dragged in chains back to Caesar’s Roman triumph.
The Parisian intellectual crowd and political class, in their initial reactions to the Strauss-Kahn arrest, howled — and most of their cries proved quite creepy. France collectively fumed that the New York police, in a minor and quite typical matter of he-said/she-said sex, would weigh less the narrative of an elite figure than that of an immigrant chambermaid, who was, no doubt, all too eager for the chance to perform a sex act on a French technocrat.
“Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who I am?” Strauss-Kahn purportedly asked the maid in mediis rebus, as if to reassure the servant that she was in good hands, since a lord of the manor had offered his manhood to a mere serf. A poll revealed that 70 percent of French socialists, but a mere 57 percent of the French public at large, suspected some sort of conspiracy — either a complex transatlantic plot dreamed up by Strauss-Kahn’s numerous envious rivals, or an ad hoc gambit by a money-hungry immigrant maid, or perhaps, post facto, the machinations of a prejudicial and backward American judicial system, gleefully punishing its French betters. Among French socialists, there were displays enough of national chauvinism, anti-Americanism, and aristocratic sympathy, but very little deference to universal liberté, égalité, and fraternité.
The French media went on to deplore the Vandal barbarism of the Americans for their humiliating exposure of the accused to cameras and publicity, the notorious American ritual of marching the accused perpetrator out of the courtroom through a gauntlet of paparazzi. “The slime of a public opinion drunk on salacious gossip and driven by who knows what obscure vengeance,” sniffed Bernard-Henri Lévy, who best summed up the elite Parisian furor.
Strauss-Kahn, the French also argued, was another progressive Clintonian figure — likewise hounded by a backward evangelical mob that could not distinguish sexual sport from the real sins of unfettered capitalism and the military-industrial complex. Even the poor wife of the randy Strauss-Kahn — multimillionaire heiress and former French TV news presenter Anne Sinclair — reminded Americans that French wives demand seduction from their wolfish husbands, but not exclusively so. “I am quite proud! For a political man, it is important to seduce,” Sinclair in the past had gushed on rumors of her husband’s serial infidelities.
#page#But the invective was to no avail. Strauss-Kahn now has moved to house arrest in a rented multimillion-dollar townhouse, with an ankle bracelet and an armed guard, a $5 million bond, celebrity lawyer Benjamin Brafman — and a looming trial. The problem for Strauss-Kahn is not that the maid’s New York service workers’ union, the Manhattan district attorney’s office, or the city’s tabloid press do not like French grandees, but rather that they simply could not care less that DSK is head of the IMF and a leading European socialist. Meanwhile, the deflated French are beginning to shrug and move on, as they sense the world grows tired with Strauss-Kahn’s hypocrisies. He has resigned his International Monetary Fund post and apparently bowed out of the upcoming French presidential election, after once being dubbed a likely winner over Nicolas Sarkozy.
European socialists enjoy broadcasting to non-European audiences their progressive personas, which yokel Americans suspect, but can never quite confirm, are contrivances — given the thin veneer of socialist pretensions that overlays aristocratic snobbery and the history of European revolutions that were either prompted or hijacked by upper-class libertines and underappreciated magnificos. Much of this enlightened statism is juxtaposed in the press with an unenlightened United States that embraces Anglo-Saxon profit-making and mindlessly ostracizes Communists. Indeed, in 2008 to call Obama a “socialist” was in bad taste about as much as evoking his middle name, Hussein.
Yet in terms of race, class, and gender oppression — the natural ore that made the careers of such Gallic postmodern philosophes as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan, the heartthrobs on American campuses in the 1980s — the Strauss-Kahn misadventure was a gold mine. Any good socialist intellectual, we would expect, would have added up the cursus honorum of DSK: the half-million-dollar-a-year, no-tax directorship of the International Monetary Fund; the career of the multimillionaire capitalist; the marriage to an even-greater-multimillionaire daughter of a world-renowned art dealer, herself a French television icon. He was white, male, and not ashamed of acquiring the ostentatious hallmarks of his class — $3,000-a-night hotel rooms and $20,000 (or were they $30,000?) suits. On the other side, his accuser was a refugee in an adopted country, black, reportedly Muslim, struggling in a proverbially menial job, unmarried with dependents to support. She should have been a veritable poster-child for socialist compassion.
But the reverse was true. In the last three decades, the Europeans have constructed an alternative paradigm to the United States. We were caricatured as hard-power cowboys, invading countries to grab oil and spread evangelical Protestantism, while we contaminated indigenous others with crass consumer capitalism. Demilitarized and socialist Europeans addressed crises abroad with their favored soft power and moral lectures about social justice, hand-in-hand with non-governmental organizations that sought to atone for past sins of European imperialism and colonialism by lavishing cash abroad while welcoming in displaced Third World immigrants. The World Bank, the International Criminal Court, and the International Monetary Fund were some of the bookends to the European Union and the United Nations, international agencies that recruited the well-meaning like Strauss-Kahn to lend their multifaceted talents in behalf of the less fortunate.
In that context, the DSK affair offers a sort of keyhole view into the global technocratic elite who say one thing and do quite another — analogous to our own managerial cadre that cannot quite pay their full tax obligations to the worshiped big state, such as Obama’s cabinet officers and would-be cabinet officers Timothy Geithner, Hilda Solis, Eric Holder, and Tom Daschle. All were advocates of a renewed era of high taxes and big government — and all were tax cheaters or avoiders who seemed to believe word and deed may remain a world apart for gifted guardians of the redistributive state.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the world’s banker who helped the less fortunate — and therefore quite deservedly ate, slept, dressed, and traveled in a manner that Louis XIV could have envied. Bernard-Henri Lévy, the go-to guy for personified French hypocrisy and pretension, further pontificated, “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.” To Lévy and his class, directorship of the IMF and membership in the French socialist elite, but of course, makes Strauss-Kahn “one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” Tell that to the folks in Fresno.
#page#With Strauss-Kahn we see not just hypocrisy, but medieval contractual indulgence as well — the more the socialist banker went through the motions of his humanitarian caring, the more he could enjoy his elitist and sybaritic appetites without censure. And consider also the matter of women’s liberation, or the sort of Simone de Beauvoir image of the emancipated European woman as an appendage of socialism. Parisian career women boast of being more likely to live with, rather than marry, their partners; they are rarely enslaved to the kitchen with three or four children in diapers; they are now well beyond the confines of Sunday church services, and approach matters of sex on their own terms. Such independence and empowerment were something elite American women on the two coasts sometimes sought to emulate.
But the DSK scandal shows that up as Potemkin artifice as well. French women tangential to this scandal seemed either to be victims or to play the stand-by-my-man role of Hillary Clinton, as Strauss-Kahn became Bill Clinton and the anonymous maid little more than a Monica Lewinsky at best and Paula Jones at worst. No one can blame DSK’s celebrity wife Anne Sinclair for her initial spirited defense of her lothario; but her past pretentious editorializing — “As long as he seduces me and I seduce him, that’s enough for me” — seemed to reflect a passive impotence rather than feminist independence. And the wonder was not that additional disturbing examples soon surfaced of Strauss-Kahn’s past proclivities for feral sex, but the de facto impunity he had enjoyed concerning those prior allegations as well. French women who were once pawed and manhandled by Strauss-Kahn may characterize him as a “rutting chimpanzee,” but they seem to have shrugged and known enough to leave it at that. His sexual affair with a subordinate at the IMF was to be judged largely on whether it was consensual or not, rather than damned outright as asymmetrical. God-fearing America, it turns out, is the land of sexual equality, while France remains some sort of medieval barony where the droit du seigneur predominates.
As the Strauss-Kahn affair entered its third week, his defense team was, on spec, seeking “background checks” to impugn the past sexual history of his refugee accuser, in hopes of branding her either a gold digger, a sexual libertine, a prostitute, or a pawn in some smear conspiracy. Again, to give him his due, Strauss-Kahn has done the world a great favor. His sexual indiscretion — even if it proves not felonious — has reminded us how the modern European-socialist mind works. The predatory sexuality, the taste not just for nice things but for exorbitantly priced rarities, and the ease by which aristocratic privilege trumped race, class, and gender solidarity should remind Americans that their European leftist critics are often poseurs of the first order. Those who demand an equality of result, who would lecture us on redistributive justice brought about by ever-higher taxes, and who in matters of gender and sex have informed us what is to be considered just and what is safe, are themselves morally and intellectually bankrupt.
The only mystery about Strauss-Kahn — a modern Trimalchio in our replay of Petronius’s Satyricon — is whether he is just a tawdry hypocrite of the John Edwards or Jesse Jackson order. Or, instead, is he a more sophisticated, far more ambitious philosophical faker, who on a global scale claimed to be helping humanity in the abstract as a way of purchasing the necessary psychological passes for being quite inconsiderate to human beings in the concrete?
– Mr. Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.