Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves court Friday.(Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
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BHL Compares DSK to Dreyfus

Here’s why he is wrong

Marc Tracy
July 05, 2011
Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves court Friday.(Daniel Barry/Getty Images)

People have joked that the worst thing about the collapse of the rape case against former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is that it has vindicated Bernard Henri-Lévy’s windy, reason-lacking defenses of his good friend. Frankly, if it is true that DSK committed no crime, then the worst thing about it is that, yes, a not-guilty man was arrested, humiliated, and made tabloid fodder of. And yet to read BHL moan, “This vision of Dominique Strauss-Kahn humiliated in chains, dragged lower than the gutter—this degradation of a man whose silent dignity couldn’t be touched, was not just cruel, it was pornographic,” seems unfair to any ordinary decent person, especially given that DSK remains a total skeev whose serial adultery and cultivation of a culture of sexual harassment at the IMF is undisputed and who has again been credibly accused of rape, this time in the patrie.

And yet BHL’s cri de coeur, it gets so much worse. The prosecution is accused of “Barrèsism.” BHL explains from his perch:

What is Barrèsism? It is a worldview that takes its name from the French nationalist writer, contemporary of the Dreyfus Affair, Maurice Barrès. And it is particularly and precisely in reference to Captain Alfred Dreyfus that he uttered the famous phrase, “That Dreyfus is guilty, I deduce not from the facts themselves, but from his race.” The Strauss-Kahn affair is obviously unrelated to the Dreyfus affair.

I must state, to be clear, that I don’t think it has much to do with this worldwide religion and delirium that is anti-Semitism. But what I do believe is that this is the appearance of a new variation on Maurice Barrès’s phrase that has become, “That X—in this case Dominique Strauss-Kahn—is guilty, I deduce not from his race, but from his class.”

The Strauss-Kahn Affair is obviously unrelated to the Dreyfus Affair, but since BHL’s disclaimer seems to fly in the face of his elaborate comparison between the two, it is worth stating some of the ways how:

• The Dreyfus Affair (we know in retrospect) involved the deliberately false accusation, by means of forgery, that an innocent had committed a real crime. Dreyfus was a total innocent. We still do not know exactly what constitutes the Strauss-Kahn Affair, but one can certainly believe he did not commit rape and still believe he showed exceptionally poor political and moral judgment.

• The Dreyfus Affair had at its heart “this worldwide religion and delirium that is anti-Semitism.” The Strauss-Kahn Affair, according to BHL, has at its heart a certain sort of classism, whereby Americans are all-too-eager to see powerful men brought down. Even if this were true, these would be hugely different things, because anti-Semitism involves using the powers that be to persecute a small, relatively disempowered minority, whereas this classism would involve persecuting the very class that by definition has the power in society.

• Finally, to suggest that Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with rape because of his class is insane. It is plain to anyone who isn’t Strauss-Kahn’s good friend, and especially to anyone who read Joe Nocera’s excellent column this morning, that he was arrested and charged with rape because he was credibly accused of rape and was about to flee the country.

If BHL wished to quietly support his friend, that would be one thing. But to conjure the Dreyfus Affair where a Jewish man is potentially wrongfully accused of a crime cheapens the legacy of the episode that most exemplified all the dangers of anti-Semitism, and therefore cheapens anti-Semitism itself. Some of us find this conjuration regrettable, even condemnable, because some of us consider anti-Semitism a uniquely dangerous prejudice. Apparently BHL cannot be counted among our ranks.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.