I disagree with my friend Rick Moran. The difference of opinion over whether Roman Polanski should serve his sentence for the crime he committed and confessed to thirty years ago is not between the left and the right. The New York Times editors have given their opinion of the case:
In Europe, the prevailing mood — at least among those with access to the news media — seemed to be that Mr. Polanski has already “atoned for the sins of his young years,” as Jacek Bromski, the chief of the Polish Filmmakers Association, put it.
We disagree strongly, and we were glad to see other prominent Europeans beginning to point out that this case has nothing to do with Mr. Polanski’s work or his age. It is about an adult preying on a child. Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to that crime and must account for it.
The NYT is hardly a bastion of right wing fervor.
The difference of opinion isn’t between Europe and United States, either. I spent some little time yesterday reading French blogs and their comments to get the flavor of the reaction across the pond. It wasn’t what you might have surmised from reading the accounts in our media. It was roughly what much of the reaction has been here: he confessed to a crime and then fled to avoid punishment; the rule of law demands that he serve whatever term he might be sentenced to.
No, the conflict very much appears to be between elites and us common folk. As Glenn Reynolds succinctly puts it (how else would he put it?):
the real argument is that as one of the creative elite, Polanski is supposed to enjoy a sort of droit de seigneur — but if you come right out and say that, the peasants will get angry.
Another common reaction in the French blogs was that if Polanski had been a Pakistani laborer rather than a film director he probably wouldn’t be getting the support he’s getting from the French intelligentsia.
In by far the most interesting observation one of the French blogs wondered why the matter was being politicized in France? The minister of culture and foreign minister aren’t legal figures they are political ones and their statements constitute a breach of the independence of French courts.
My own view is much what professor of philosophy A. C. Grayling wrote in the Times of London:
It is easy for people to be swayed by considerations of personality in such cases as the Polanski arrest. In general the law does well if it addresses itself to individuals and their circumstances rather than imposing rigid blanket laws that contradict justice as often as they serve it, precisely because they ignore the special individual circumstances. But with the great crimes of rape, murder and genocide, prosecution and punishment are about society’s struggle to protect itself now and in the future against the worst aspects of its own members’ behaviour. There is room for a degree of compassion towards prisoners even if they have committed monstrous crimes, but there is no room for failing to punish the crime itself.
In line with these thoughts, and with the regret that comes from having to acknowledge yet set aside two things, namely the existence of human frailty and the contribution gifted individuals such as Roman Polanski make to society, I conclude that it is right that the United States authorities are seeking to extradite him to serve his sentence for rape. Neither fame nor wealth, neither time nor distance, should render anyone immune to laws protecting against serious crimes against other human beings.
There is one additional point I’d like to make. Mr. Polanski’s supporters point to the films he has made and his many honors, ignoring not only his crime but that these films and honors are in a very real sense stolen. Had Roman Polanski served his sentence years ago would he have made the films or received the honors? Or would a space have been created in which other filmmakers might have received opportunities they did not receive? Asking that Roman Polanski be excused is asking that a criminal be allowed to abscond with the proceeds of his theft.