The two most effective and reprehensible spies of he Cold War were the Briton Kim Philby and the American Aldrich Ames. They were both professionals in the espionage business who betrayed their countries and caused the deaths of untold Western agents in the Soviet Union.
In style and personality, Philby and Ames did not share much in common. There is no compelling evidence that they yearned for the triumph of communism over capitalism. This separated them from the atomic spies Klaus Fuchs and Julius Rosenberg: They were traitors who believed in the Soviet enterprise.
Perhaps, Philby and Ames shared the desire to live two lives in parallel.
Perhaps, it was New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s desire for a parallel life–a secret but concurrent existence—that propelled his elaborate patronage of an escort service. Spitzer did not pick up a sex worker in a bar, make eye contact with her across a crowded room, but planned, financed and orchestrated the betrayal of his wife and public life.
It seems that Spitzer wanted something more than sex. He was not Bill Clinton redux. He was a man who clearly got some satisfaction from the structure of his infidelity; the pseudo-romance of it.
Here was a man of huge public life, pursuing a private life that he sought to make larger than sex alone would require. The analogy with the world of espionage fits. Here was a man in the sun who wanted to be in the shade at the same time.
John le Carre, the great espionage writer, has explored this lifestyle duality in his characters. In his novel, “A Perfect Spy,” the protagonist, Magnus Pym, tries to explain the rewards of his two lives by telling his son what it is like to be “well run.” Here, le Carre reveals the perfect spy: the person who wants to live two lives at full speed.
Not all secret lives are confined to spies and governors who want complexity in their sex lives. There are, for example, bigamists—people who feel compelled to have more than one family simultaneously, often at great risk. I know a man who maintained two families until the truth came out. The stress and strain must have been terrible, but he was very happy with the parallel families. Playwright and theater critic Kenneth Tynan was the product of a bigamist marriage. The truth was not revealed until his father’s funeral, when the two families collided.
Of course, not all secret lives are dangerous and lead to national betrayal or the suffering of families. Some are quite innocent and involve an escape from the reality of the first life. They include the huge gambit of people who belong to secret societies, mostly innocent, and to cross-dressers.
Clearly for Spitzer, a brilliant academic career, a seemingly perfect family and great success in public life were not enough. He wanted to put his talent to work at diverting money, initiating complex logistics, and spending a little time with a high-priced sex worker in a hotel room. It looks as though he wanted the life of those he used to prosecute.
Alas for Spitzer, his secret life is public and his public life is in shreds. No hiding place now.
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