A common critique of American society is the extent to which inequality runs rampant. It’s all been said before; how those lovely Scandinavian countries and many of their Western European neighbors have achieved a much greater level of egalitarianism than we have. America is the land of cutthroat capitalism, where the rich exploit the poor for their labor, and only the few elite enjoy the fruits of American industry.
Let’s grant for a moment this cartoonish characterization. There is another half of the puzzle that is rarely spoken of, until recently perhaps, which is the great difference between America and Europe in social equality. I am referring to the recent case against France’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
On 14 May 2011, a maid working at the Sofitel Hotel in New York made the allegation that Kahn sexually assaulted her when she was cleaning his suite. Everyone deserves a fair trial and the assumption of innocence, but the reaction to Mr. Kahn’s alleged rape is illuminating to say the least. In the land of liberté, égalité, and fraternity, many don’t seem to enjoy watching one of their elites being treated like an ordinary citizen.
The French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy recently opined that he was appalled by 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.”
A subject of justice like any other? Where is equality more important than before the law? Perhaps some in France do not approve of the way accused criminals become subject to media scrutiny, but certainly Kahn ought to be treated like anyone else. As flawed as the American judicial system may be, at least an attempt at equal protection under the law is made. Lévy and many of his fellow Frenchmen have come right out and declared that not only do the elite receive preferential treatment in court, but they ought to!
In a stereotypically snooty fashion, Jean Daniel of Le Nouvel Observateur writes, “We and the Americans do not belong to the same civilization,” and is baffled by the fact that authorities didn’t realize Kahn was “not like other men.” I suppose he wanted Kahn to be treated with special care that only a pampered Frenchman of the ruling class deserved. Well, it’s quite a relief that this was not the case. The ever so wonderful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as much apparent good as he’s done for so many ordinary folk out in the world, was treated like any other man would be if accused of rape in America.
It may be the case that this outrage in France is an aberration from the rest of continental Europe, and the vast majority of Europeans don’t promote such a socially stratified society, but I am willing to bet not. The reason for this is the strong connection between a powerful state, and a growing sense of elitism among the ruling class. This sort of disconnect from the rabble can be seen by examining the lives of people like Al Gore, who has been going on and on about the threat of climate change, but sees little reason to adjust his own lifestyle. Like many of his compatriots, Gore continues to fly around on his jet of hypocrisy. While he lectures middle-income Americans about conserving fuel, he uses more in a day than they likely will in a decade.
Because statism is so prevalent throughout Europe, and appears to be creeping into America, one can expect the enlightened political class to increasingly see themselves as above the law. Thankfully however, this arrogance that the French seem to revel in is still in its infant form at home, which the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case is testament to. But in order to keep this sort of elitist arrogance out of the political discourse in America, it has to be continuously fought back. Every time hypocrites like Al Gore refuse to practice what they preach, they need to be called out. Whenever someone makes a remark about the lowbrow state of the “average America,” remind them that they are included in that demographic.
I am glad we live in a society where even the most powerful men in the world can be brought before a court of his peers to be judged like anyone else. Perhaps Jean Daniel is right, that we don’t belong to the same civilization, but we are better off for it.