With Moral Certainty

Bernard-Henri Levy rallies to defend his class of people:

[W]hat I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.

I leave it in the capable rhetorical hands of Matt Welch to let loose on the “narcissist millionaire shirt-unbuttoner.” But, for my part, I’m reminded of Richard John Neuhaus’s emphatic defense of his close friend, the serial rapist, fraud and reactionary, Marciel Macial:

I can only say why, after a scrupulous examination of the claims and counterclaims, I have arrived at moral certainty that the charges are false and malicious. I cannot know with cognitive certainty what did or did not happen forty, fifty, or sixty years ago. No means are available to reach legal certainty (beyond a reasonable doubt). Moral certainty, on the other hand, is achieved by considering the evidence in light of the Eighth Commandment, ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.’ On that basis, I believe the charges against Fr. Maciel and the Legion are false and malicious and should be given no credence whatsoever.

Neuhaus was more contemptible, because the evidence against Maciel at that point was overwhelming, whereas we do not know all the facts about the alleged rape at the Sofitel. But we certainly know this much: the police found the claims and evidence for them credible, and treated Strauss-Kahn the way they would anyone accused of such a thing. I find that refreshing, and a 81461780 statement that men and women are equally under the rule of law. Rape and sexual assault are not peccadilloes or forgivable victimless sins. They are not merely adultery or philandering or horniness. They are serious crimes against other human beings. But elites find it hard to believe the worst of our own – just as families do members of their kin. Some of this is due to the nature of sociopaths – they con even the most skeptical (I always think of the hard-nosed skeptic, Hanna Rosin, who defended the fabulist, Stephen Glass, out of loyalty and friendship and disbelief at the extent of his ethical vandalism). But some is due surely to our refusal to believe we can have long associated with people capable of such acts. Rather than question our own judgment, we rush to defend or ignore the indefensible. I think of my own initial refusal to believe that someone I knew and liked and whose hospitality I had enjoyed – Don Rumsfeld – could have approved freezing human beings to near-death or drowning them to near-death repeatedly or slamming them against walls or contorting their bodies into soul-breaking stress positions, honed by the Gestapo. But the evidence is clear: he approved these things.

Even now, one wants to believe he didn’t really understand what he was doing. But friendship – and an elite’s sense of its own decency – distorts the judgment.

I find the perp-walk theatrics and the public humiliation of someone merely accused of a crime to be troubling, which is the grain of truth in BHL’s defense of DSK. But this closing of elite ranks remains as repulsive to me as it did when Sid Blumenthal spread malicious word that Monica Lewinsky was a lying slut or when Barbra Streisand dismissed Paula Jones in a conversation with me as a kurva (that was a fun Washington dinner party). Neither instance, however, is anywhere near as damning as the Washington elite’s refusal to accept and internalize that their friends are and were war criminals, who authorized acts of barbarism against prisoners that require prosecution under the rule of law. Even now, these criminals are not only not ostracized but embraced. Why else does Marc Thiessen have a column at the Washington Post except for his embrace of torture? Similarly, for AEI’s fellows to have grappled with the fact that some of their colleagues are war criminals is too much. It would have meant far too deep a social breach, far too profound an admission of guilt by association. It would have implied a long failure of judgment about the decency of these men and women. And so they double down. 

Like BHL.

(Photo: Bernard Henri Levy and Arielle Dombasle attend Yves Saint Laurent’s funeral service on June 5, 2008 at Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris, France. The designer, who dramaticaly changed the face of fashion when he became Chief Designer at Christian Dior, died on June 1, 2008 at the age of 71. By Francois Durand/Getty Images)