Epstein saga continues
With Andrew Windsor embroiled in the scandal, with Ghislaine Maxwell facing years in jail, with the possibility of top names being named, Paul Demarty searches for the roots of bourgeois depravity
Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction on five of the six charges against her has revived interest in the rather baroque crimes of which she was a part.
Though Maxwell - until relatively recently merely an obscure socialite with a rich and peculiar financier boyfriend - protests her innocence and proclaims her intention to appeal, we cannot rate her chances. There are strictly legal reasons for that - the weight of witness testimony against her, primarily - but also political ones. She is convicted, among other things, of the sexual trafficking of a minor, and the man for whom she played procuress was, of course, that boyfriend - Jeffrey Epstein, who, like Maxwell’s father, Robert, died in dubious circumstances, apparently by his own hand.
Epstein’s tale is now notorious: the son of working class Jewish parents in Brooklyn, he climbed the greasy pole of high finance at just the moment the neoliberal era unleashed its fearsome appetites, becoming apparently very wealthy as a fund manager. In that capacity, he gained a number of wealthy and influential friends, in politics and in business (especially in his home turf of financial services, and in high technology, with which he seems to have been obsessed).
He also developed an appetite for young girls, typically in their mid-teens, though some as young as 13 have made accusations against him. His predatory sexual desires were overlaid with a disturbing eugenicist outlook: he seemed to relish the prospect of producing heirs to what he saw as a priceless genetic inheritance. Such girls, in later years, were assembled for his pleasure by Maxwell.
But Epstein knew that any pleasant diversion is best shared with friends. The real drama of the case has to do with who, exactly, showed up to what event at the same time as the hosts of prostituted 16-year-olds who surrounded him, and what exactly did they do, or know was done.
Among the more eye-catching names in Epstein’s rolodex are two former presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump; Andrew Windsor, the duke of York (more of whom anon); and Bill Gates, whose recent divorce was blamed by anonymous ‘sources close to’ his ex-wife, Melinda, on his association with Epstein.
The law caught up with him in 2006, but he was essentially let off with a short stay in a minimum security prison barely distinguishable from the average yoga retreat. Understandably many of his victims were less than happy with this outcome, and pursued remedies in the civil courts; the most famous of these is Virginia Giuffre, then Roberts, who has since accused prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer and unhinged Zionist ideologue, of - how to put this - enjoying her company before she was of legal age. In 2019, new charges were filed in New York. After having a request for bail denied, Epstein was found dead in his cell in August of that year.
That left Maxwell as public enemy number one, and she well knew it, retreating from public view and stonewalling a flood of new civil actions against her and Epstein (and, after his death, Epstein’s estate). The FBI finally creaked into action and tracked her down with a stingray device, which can locate a particular mobile phone in a local area. Having, at the very least, disastrously bungled this affair twice - the first time with Epstein’s 2006 sweetheart deal and the second with Epstein’s suicide, which involved a series of staggering blunders on the part of his jailers - there was never much chance that Maxwell would get away clean.
She is awaiting sentencing, and could face up to 65 years. Questions remain as to whether she could get a more generous term by rolling over on other accomplices of Epstein (whoever they may be … ), and in any case her conviction necessarily turns attention - again - onto all those others who allegedly participated in Epstein’s depraved bacchanals. After raiding his New York residence, police found a safe containing - among diamonds, fake passports and other gewgaws of the international jet-set - numerous lewd photographs of girls, including some later confirmed to have been underage at the time, and CD-ROMs labelled in a way that implies they may legally compromise other (unnamed) individuals.
This side of the pond, of course, the most famous confrère of Epstein is the queen’s favourite failson, Andrew. He has not stopped squirming in the last two and a half years - the question is whether he has also been sweating. Various legal confections to get him out of a civil suit with Giuffre in the US have - so far - failed, and so that court has demanded that he provide evidence of the bizarre claim that he had lost the ability to perspire in the South Atlantic War (Giuffre, who was photographed with the prince on at least one occasion, claimed that on the night they had sex Andrew “sweated all over her”). His even more peculiar alibi - that on the night in question he had taken his daughter to a Pizza Express in Woking for a birthday dinner - has yet to be substantiated by any independent witnesses, but then we cannot all have as incorruptible a memory of a decades-old visit to a popular restaurant chain as Andrew apparently does.
Just as the establishment more or less protected Epstein back in 2006, and happily rehabilitated him on his release, so Buckingham Palace has supported Andrew throughout his own ordeal. This is alleged to be a whim of Elizabeth herself, who dotes on him the way mothers sometimes do favour their most stupid, most clay-footed children. Yet even that patience may soon be exhausted, and Andrew has already lost his trade and diplomatic roles. But what about his ceremonial military titles? Can he hold onto the title of prince and the duchy of York?
With so many famous faces in the margins of this story, it is sure to run and run, however punitive Maxwell’s sentence turns out to be. What it has to teach us rather depends on your outlook. For those inclined somewhat towards conspiracy theories, this is all a hand-wrapped gift from god. After all, there certainly was a conspiracy, even if it only involved Epstein and Maxwell - the question is rather how many others get pulled into the fracas. Epstein’s death is already the subject of fervid speculation and, while I have always found conspiracy-leftism to be hopeless, even I must admit that a far better explanation of this event is owed us than has been forthcoming from the authorities so far.
The political danger of conspiracy theories is that, to reverse a phrase of Marx’s, the ‘coat disappears into the tailor’ - that is, that phenomena governed by basically impersonal social laws instead appear as deliberate acts of moral evil on the part of powerful individuals. The Marxist account of history is powerful, because it abstracts from individual concrete crimes to the conditions of possibility of crime in general and in its particular species; it is therefore counterposed as a method to the analysis of social phenomena as merely facets of a criminal conspiracy.
There is, however, an opposite error - to construct a theory of capitalist society so abstract that crime and immorality must disappear from it altogether. Such is, more or less, the legacy of Moishe Postone, whose inheritors denounce any expression of outrage at the concrete forms of corruption in society at large - classically, state collusion with finance capital - as an embryonic form of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. It should be stated unambiguously that this is a worse error than conspiratorialism. Insofar as Marxism has any practical political import, it must be able to account for the endemic corruption and moral scandal of capitalist social life, and to offer reasonable assurances that these will not be repeated if our movement is successful. (This need not bother the Postonites, whose real politics - when you get down to it - are a degenerate successor to the ordoliberals’ fear of the mob.)
The trouble is to get things the right way around - to understand moral depravity, or at least some subset of it, as an effect rather than a cause of social structures, especially class structures. It so happens that, when it comes to the Epstein scandal, the case is very easy to make. After all, sexual exploitation of the weak is a peccadillo of all historic ruling classes, from the droit de seigneur of the medieval lord to the rampant use of slaves for sex, both in the ancient world and in the antebellum southern US - and even to the 12th century bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, who obtained a licence from the king to run a string of brothels across the south of England (his employees were whimsically nicknamed the ‘Winchester geese’). Equally characteristically, rising or progressive classes denounce such outrages as evidence of the need for change.
The last such class to successfully supplant its exploiters was, of course, the bourgeoisie; but - for all the piety of Calvinist and Quaker entrepreneurs in the high period of the industrial revolution - the result has been the same. Already, by the 1840s, Marx and Engels could have a good laugh in the Communist manifesto at the sport among bourgeois gentlemen of seducing each others’ wives; by the end of that century, moral panics about child prostitution in British cities were routine and, while perhaps exaggerated by conservative religious sentiments, certainly reflected a real and dismal phenomenon among poor women.
At the end of that historical development is someone like Epstein, who more or less reinvents the aristocratic veneration of one’s own blood and sense of entitlement to the bodies of one’s lessers from first principles. In place of the sociopathic knights so ably brought to popular consciousness by Game of thrones, we have this bizarre gasbag, a billionaire drunk on pound-shop Nietzscheanism - him and his corrupt, cowardly and equally narcissistic friends.
Such a conclusion follows from the essence of class rule. For if class rule is to continue for any length of time, it needs consent, which means it needs a legitimating ideology. The legitimating ideology of capitalism is at its core the idea that the wealthy deserve their wealth (whether because they are members of John Calvin’s elect, or because they are smart, or whatever); which inverted the old aristocratic form of legitimation that nobility and talent was passed down in the bloodlines of great families. But, as the generations pass by, even the dubious origin myths of capital become unsustainable - the grandson of some magnate cannot claim to have earned the fortune he inherits, but only that his grandfather earned the privileges of his descendants. We have arrived, in other words, at a functionally identical ‘aristocratic’ class self-conception - one easily adopted by an arriviste like Jeffrey Epstein, as he mixed with scions of the bourgeois elite like Ghislaine Maxwell.
For this reason, no outcome of Maxwell’s sentencing or appeals can be satisfactory. As the last woman standing, with Jeffrey’s rich male friends scurrying to hide in their foxholes, Maxwell shall carry the can; but it is not because justice must be seen to be done, but rather that justice was already obviously denied, and some example must be made as a distraction.
After she is put away, the ‘great men’ of our day - or the greatest available in such philistine times - will find a way to satisfy their appetites, however violent or depraved. It is, after all, their birthright.