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The special costume shop

Things had been very boring in the rue de la Fête. Mr Benalla thought, “I think it is a good day to visit the special costume shop.” Inside the shop, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

“Good morning sir,” he said. “Which costume would you like to try today?”

“That one with the visor, please,” said Mr Benalla. And he took the outfit into the fitting room. Inside the room, Mr Benalla changed into the outfit and then looked at himself in the mirror. “It looks a bit like a riot cop’s costume,” he thought. “Is that cool or what?” Then he went through the door – not the door back to the shop but the second door that could lead to an adventure!


So to prevent the immense coercive power of the state from being abused, said Hayek, we need to restrict its use to enforcing a strictly limited list of duties that we all accept and understand. Setting limits on how the state’s monopoly of force can be used at least spares us from arbitrary or growing coercion by other people who happen to be in authority.

Friedrich Hayek: The ideas and influence of the Libertarian Economist by Eamonn Butler


For those poor souls who did not grow up with tales of Mr Benn, this post refers to the extra-curricular activities of Alexandre Benalla, formerly a senior security officer for President Macron of France:

Emmanuel Macron faces the biggest crisis of his presidency over the growing scandal of one of his closest security officials who was filmed being allowed by police to violently assault a young man and woman at the edge of a Paris demonstration while illegally dressed as an officer.

That the French riot police beat people up is not news. That they allow well-connected civilians to put on a spare uniform and join in the fun was surprising. Then again, as George Atkisson says below, “The whole point of being well-connected and exempt from everyday rules is precisely to be allowed to indulge in one’s extra-legal whims without consequences.”

14 comments to The special costume shop

  • George Atkisson

    The whole point of being well-connected and exempt from everyday rules is precisely to be allowed to indulge in one’s extra-legal whims without consequences.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Wasn’t this “legislative immunity” highlighted recently?

  • Mr Ecks

    If Macron had the balls of a gnat–and his Granny likely has more than he does–he would order this character beaten up by his former riot police buddies.

    And after they have battered the bloke tell them that they just lost their jobs AND their pensions.

    Justice all round.

  • Patrick Crozier

    How was he identified? Very difficult to tell from the footage I would have thought, especially with the helmet and visor so I suspect that it was the riot police themselves. Maybe he thought they’d keep schtum.

  • I stroll through the streets and I give not a damn.
    The people don’t dare try to ask who I am.
    And if it’s my pastime to beat up a cad,
    The charge is dismissed, though ever so bad.
    So pleasant for me is state power, heigh-ho,
    So pleasant for me is state power.

    The above is my update of an old poem. The original denounced the evil of money – though even then, the evil of money buying immunity was the theme of the most damning stanza – but my revision seems closer to the realities of today.

  • Stuck-Record

    I couldn’t see in any of the media coverage what so angered him about the people he beat. Were they leftists?

  • bobby b

    I’m struggling to see what the issue is.

    Security services and the police regularly cross-train and cross-consult. If this gentleman was Macron’s chief security agent – his head bodyguard – he needs to know everything he can about crowd control. He needs to see the faces of the most troublesome of the protesters who could conceivably also be a threat to his boss. He likely has standing as a police officer in some form.

    Does it really matter who is swinging the baton so long as they are government agents?

  • Rob

    Simple – Macron is a progressive, so its OK, as long as the victims are smeared as “far right” or “Nazis”, which should be simple enough via Twitter.

  • Rob

    The scandal hit when Le Monde published a video this week showing Benalla and Crase in a Paris square where riot police were firing teargas and confronting crowds on 1 May during labour day street gatherings.

    Ah, left-wingers. This is why this is news.

  • Paul Marks

    I think bobby b may have a point – however, did ANYONE need to be hitting this particular man and woman?

    Certainly a “leave it to the professionals” attitude is wrong – there should not just be a special CASTE of people allowed to use force to defend against rioters. But were this particular man and woman actually rioting or were they peacefully protesting? That is the question.

    Certainly people in Britain can sign up as an unpaid “Special Constable” and help maintain order (if need be by force) – but the question remains, was force justified (or not justified) in this particular case?

    The future Napoleon III (a much libelled ruler – actually France did well in the 1850s and 1860s) signed on as an unpaid “Special Constable” against “Chartist” rioters whilst he was living in London.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    bobby b writes, “I’m struggling to see what the issue is.”

    I think it is accountability. Sure, as Paul Marks said, someone can sign on as a special constable. It is good that Peel’s battered principle that “the police are the public and the public are the police” still survives in this way. In a similar way, I believe that in some states of the US people are still sometimes sworn in on the spot as sheriff’s deputies. But when a person takes on this duty openly they become accountable for their actions (or strictly speaking remain accountable for their actions, since ordinary citizens also have the power of arrest, it’s just that special constables have a greater likelihood of having to exercise it). That’s quite different from someone dressing up as a police officer and then attempting to use the extra power that in practice that uniform gives them to escape accountability, i.e. to get away with doing things that would get an ordinary citizen done for assault.

    “Does it really matter who is swinging the baton so long as they are government agents?”

    Yes. Looking at Paul Marks’ point that “there should not just be a special CASTE of people allowed to use force to defend against rioters” from the other direction, in practice the public is willing to “take” orders or the use of force from police officers in a way they would not accept from other citizens. If we are going to grant some people these extra powers, all parties should be clear about who these people are. They don’t have to be full time cops but they should be real cops, with identifying numbers on their uniforms. I fear a situation where being employed by the state in one particular, limited capacity – in this case presidential security – does function as an entrée into the caste of people allowed to wield the truncheon.

    This is a separate point from the other thing mentioned by Paul, which is that on the face of it the guy being beaten was no threat. At 1:06 in the video he was already on the ground and expostulating with a policeman rather than resisting. Then Benalla swooped in. It certainly looks to me as if Benalla picked him to beat because he was available.

  • bobby b

    Natalie Solent (Essex)
    July 22, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    “I think it is accountability.”

    I don’t see this. We’re speaking of the guy who has now been fired, is in disgrace, and likely faces criminal and civil legal action that is going to make his life difficult for some time. In this age of ubiquitous video recordings of all police acts, he has unsurprisingly been called to account for his actions. I would understand this concern more had he donned a complete cop’s kit and blended in as another officer. He didn’t – he just wore the helmet, and in fact it was different from the police’s helmets. He stood out as a security operative among police.

    “I fear a situation where being employed by the state in one particular, limited capacity – in this case presidential security – does function as an entrée into the caste of people allowed to wield the truncheon.”

    Security officers protecting the French president are either military, or are sworn police agents. In a crowd situation involving the president, they are authorized to give legal commands to the public. These people probably have more training and authorization to commit harm upon supposed miscreants than regular police officers.

    If you were approaching Macron and one of his security agents said “stop”, do you imagine that he would need to find a cop to enforce his order to you? No, because he already has entree into the world of the truncheon. He already has the legal authority to quell rioters and enforce the law – he just usually exercises it in the President’s presence.

    I’m not defending his (or the police’s) alleged excesses, nor the attempted coverup of video that occurred later. I just don’t see the huge scandal that seems to have arisen because one law enforcement officer participated with another branch of law enforcement in law enforcement. I suspect it’s all partisan outrage that’s effective mostly because of the optics of the situation.

    Maybe, as you say, I see this with a more American attitude towards law enforcement. I’ve been exigency-deputized in the past myself, and I think there’s more of a self-help component in the way Americans think of law enforcement than do Europeans. It’s also a common thing here to see Joint Task Forces composed of members of several distinct agencies thrown together when jurisdictional issues overlap. Perhaps French society doesn’t see things the same way.

  • bobby b (July 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm) either key elements of this story are unreported or misreported (or I am misunderstanding them, always possible), or else Macron seems to have felt his security guy was not increasing his political security as soon as he learned of the incident and some time before it became public. It may be, of course, that his assault looked obviously OTT even to French riot police (which would certainly be a worrying assessment to be made about anyone). Or it could be that the French riot police were really annoyed by his “let me show you how to do it” attitude.

    I’m all for riot police being able to deal effectively with any actual riots (why else have them?). I’m with Natalie that any special police immunity, over and above the rights we as citizens get to enforce the law (which on this side of the pond tend to be few, and further diminished by the PC when they can), should not pertain to just any state employee. If Monsieur Benalla could only defend his actions under laws which ordinary French citizens resisting rioters or criminals could also use, I don’t know what the effect would be in France but it might restore some sanity in the UK. The situation may be different in the US with its 2nd amendment, castle laws and generally greater acceptance of what a citizen can do when faced with a threat, or helping police who are.

  • staghounds

    Would anyone have complained if he had spend a day working with the sewer cleaners, school teachers, or DMV clerks?