May 26, 2018

Bertrand Cantat

Bertrand Cantat

Source: Wikimedia Commons

He had the right after his release to live a normal life, but a normal life is not necessarily the same as a previous life. If he were to argue that singing was the only thing he knew, the reply would be first that it was unlikely that he needed the money, given the money that he had made before his imprisonment, but that in any case he was still a fit young man who could easily have found an ordinary job that would have provided him with a living. A sense of the seemly would and should have led him to avoid public appearance. By insisting on his right to appear in public, he provoked the very recrimination (all the more so in view of the lightness of his sentence) that already-punished criminals should not have to endure. One can understand outrage at his proposed performances, even if it should not have gone so far as to threaten public order.

Not everyone, of course, was outraged by what might be called his brazenness. Plenty of tickets to his proposed concerts were sold. I have asked people in their 20s whether they would go to his concerts, the murder of Marie Trintignant notwithstanding, and not a few replied that they would, if they liked his music sufficiently. They did not see that there was even a problem. The right to be entertained is the most fundamental right of all.

Admittedly the question is not clear-cut. There are books by writers who have killed that one still reads; and no one would refuse to look at a picture by Caravaggio because he was a murderer. Still, these cases seem different. Appearing in print is not the same as appearing on stage; and Caravaggio derives no benefit from us still looking at his pictures. It is the exhibitionism of Cantat—which seems to imply a lack of true awareness of the gravity of what he did, any real sense of contrition—that offends. His appearance on stage must give Marie Trintignant’s parents, who are still alive, considerable pain, keeping open the terrible wound that he inflicted upon them.

Some might cite the principle of forgiveness in Cantat’s case. But mercy and forgiveness are not the same. Unsentimental mercy is a good thing, but we have no right to extend forgiveness to those who have harmed others and not us; to do so is morally grandiose. Only the harmed have the right to forgive, but in a case like Cantat’s, their forgiveness (if it exists) is a private matter. Both justice and private judgment can be merciful, but not forgiving.

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