The State and Other Organizations
French judge who has worked for seven apparently frustrating years
trying to prove a persistent and sizable pattern of corruption by
French President Jacques Chirac has resigned in frustration and
given a blistering interview to the newspaper Le Parisien.
Judge Eric Halphen says that the French justice system works only
on behalf of the powerful, that while he used to believe there was
at least a possibility of equal justice regardless of rank or wealth
in France, "I've had my eyes opened."
who make off with large sums of money escape justice or get insignificant
sentences, while the thief who steals a handbag on the subway gets
six years. We have a two-speed justice system."
42-year-old Judge Halphen, who began probing corruption in Paris's
City Hall in 1994, said he had been "followed, filmed, listened
in on, tracked" from almost the beginning. "They stopped the wheel
from turning all the time. They ceaselessly tried to hinder my investigation,"
depends on how you translate the French (I haven't seen a full translation
and mine is shaky), Halphen said that government in France is so
thoroughly corrupt as to have become like a bunch of gangsters or
a criminal operation. I didn't see the word "Mafia" in the French
transcript I read, but the NPR report on the resignation did use
the word. A BBC
report says he specifically compared cases involving French
politicians to those involving the Italian Mafia.
a useful and valuable insight. It might even be the beginning of
Chirac was Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995. During that time it
was alleged that city hall creamed about $100 million off public
building contracts, using most of the money to fund Chirac's political
party, the RPR. The best evidence of this was a videotape made by
Jean-Claude Mery, a former RPR fundraiser who has since died, and
testimony from Francois Ciolina, a former senior housing official.
Both said that Chirac was the main instigator and beneficiary of
the rake-off scheme.
has also been accused of using some $300,000 in suspect funds from
supposedly illegal sources to finance luxury trips for himself and
his family to places like New York, Japan and Mauritius.
AND SOPHISTICATED TOLERANCE
better or worse, the French supreme court has ruled that because
of his position as president, Jacques Chirac is immune from prosecution
on these and other charges. That doesn't mean he couldn't be prosecuted
after leaving office. But corrupt French presidents tend to stay
in office until they die. Chirac is facing a re-election campaign
against socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. The two are running neck-and-neck
in the polls. Some say Halphen's unexpected resignation, accompanied
by the angry and bitter statements in the interview, was an effort
to hurt Chirac politically.
so, it might not hurt much and it might even help. The French are
notoriously blasé about corruption in their government. A
report last year by the non-governmental reform group Transparency
International claimed that France is one of the most corrupt of
developed countries, beaten only narrowly by Italy. According
to the (UK) Observer, "Experts say graft effects every
corner of life, from sport to politics. So endemic is it, they argue,
that it simply represents the French way of doing business." Many
French people consider toleration of endemic corruption to be a
sign of sophistication and refusal to be naive about the way the
world really works.
Judge Halphen, though not naive, prefers not to be quite so excruciatingly
sophisticated. A 1999
Business Week thumbnail on him, which claimed that reformers
in Western Europe had become emboldened since the fall of the Berlin
Wall, quoted Halphen as doubting he and others would clean up the
system. "Politicians still need money," he said. "They'll just find
new ways to hide it."
the good judge seems angrier now than he was in 1999, possibly because
he has felt even more systematically the wrath of a system that
doesn't even pay much lip service to reform, let alone welcome it.
He might do well to follow through a little more systematically
himself with his comparison of French politicians to Italian Mafiosi.
might even discover that the analogy applies not only to the French
government, but to most modern nation-states.
might sound argumentative to say that government is pretty much
like a classic protection racket, but it's not entirely inaccurate.
The classic stereotype has guys in bulky suits, black shirts and
white ties coming into stores in the neighborhood, noting there's
been a lot of vandalism and other kinds of crime lately and it sure
would be a shame of Shopkeeper X were to fall victim to it. Fortunately,
the Organization is here to provide protection to decent citizens
from such lowlifes. For a weekly fee (or monthly, whatever, so long
as it's steady) the organization will virtually guarantee that no
bad thing will happen to the upright shopkeeper.
the shopkeeper indignantly refuses to pay the protection money,
of course, something bad is guaranteed to happen, beginning with
minor theft or vandalism. Then the representatives of the forces
of law, order and justice will drop in to commiserate, to say what
a shame that this decent citizen had such an outrage happen but
if he's smart, he'll make an arrangement to see that he's protected
in the future.
fact, most governments grew from somewhat more sophisticated and
elaborate versions of similar scenarios. The rulers over certain
territories established their rule initially by conquest and plunder
in most cases. But they maintained their power except in a few
cases of relatively small countries where constant personal surveillance
and intimidation is possible by promising protection from those
others out there who might come and overrun the place and plunder
this basic premise grew taxes and an elaborate Code, complete with
a strong attachment to Omerta called law in the case of the more
sophisticated political practitioners that gradually, especially
when reinforced by nationalist rhetoric building on various insecurities,
built a sense of legitimacy for the providers of protection. In
essence, however, the legitimacy of the modern nation-state is still
built on the promise to protect the defenseless citizens from various
forces of evil, foreign and domestic.
one reason why wars are so useful perhaps even essential to
the modern nation-state. If the people are left free enough to produce
enough to make plundering them worthwhile if the farmer doesn't
want to kill the egg-laying goose outright some of them will
inevitably ask inconvenient questions about government. Perhaps
they will become unsophisticated enough to object to corruption
in ways that even the useful democratic myth that it's the people's
government can't cover.
wars almost always give current political leaders and the institutions
over which they preside a little breathing room, a free ride for
a while. This war not only helped the U.S. president move from a
position of deepening political trouble to become a popular and
almost revered figure, it gave the administration cover for any
number of expansions of authority the denizens of the permanent
infrastructure had had in mind for a long time.
USA PATRIOT Act was virtually identical to legislation the Clintonistas
had tried to pass several times but failed. President Bush has received
few questions about his decision early last year to limit access
to the Reagan administration papers, even though federal law clearly
calls for all of them to be made public (with some national-security
exceptions) 12 years after the end of an administration. The fact
that the current president's father was vice president then and
might or might not have been ankle-deep in the Iran-Contra affair
probably had nothing to do with this decision, of course. But whatever
the motivation it might be sheer arrogance, an instinctive we-know-better
authoritarianism the president would have been much more seriously
criticized if the war had not intervened.
this is not to say that I necessarily buy any of the current conspiracy-like
theories about the war having been engineered by the US government
or any government at least not consciously. It's just that the
permanent government knows full well that an occasional war is beneficial
to its power, and a longer-term war is more beneficial than a short,
decisive war that might lead the benighted people to believe a swift
return to "normal" freedom is called for.
when an occasion presents itself, the government moves almost as
if orchestrated. Everyone knows the part he or she must play and
they do so with convincing and often sincere patriotic fervor.
irony is that the occasion this time arose from an utter failure
by the government to do the one essential thing it promises in return
for the money and control it extracts from us protecting the
innocents from attack, plunder or criminal activity by various bad
guys. The Organization in the neighborhood usually did a better
job of actually furnishing protection or at least clearly targeted
vengeance on those occasions when even its exertions failed.
out of failure comes opportunity, and our masters have seized it
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