Bernard-Henri Lévy: Nouveaux Philosophes

I spent about 45 minutes listening to a French philosopher courtesy of the CBC radio app.  The philosopher was Bernard-Henri Lévy. I had downloaded an interview with him by Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current. I had also heard him recently on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Lévy is a is a French public intellectual, philosopher, media personality and author. In Europe many just call him BHL because he is so well known. In France philosophers and artists can be rock stars. I love France! Lévy was one of the leaders of the a group started in 1976 known as “Nouveaux Philosophes” no doubt after the famous wines.  According to The Boston Globe he is “perhaps the most prominent intellectual in France today.” Famously he also said, “I am more afraid of Puritans than those who admit the weakness of the flesh.”

Sometimes we just need a French philosopher to set things right. For me, basking in the hot sun, listening to CBC radio all the way from Arizona, was one of those days. He is currently flogging his book The Empire and the 5 Kings. Based on this interview I think it would be worth a read. Being a cheap Mennonite I will wait for the paperback of course.

Apparently the 5 kings of the title of the book are 5 countries that he calls “totalitarian,” namely, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Turkey. I think the “empire” he refers to is the United States, since Lévy lamented the fact that the US was pulling out of Europe, leaving the way open, he believes, for the 5 dictators. He admitted that the US as an empire was far from perfect, but it was much better than the 5 kings that will inevitably take its place. He may have a point.

Lévy said that the 5 Kings (I would add Trump here) have declared war on truth. He reminded us what Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda said, “I will decide who is a Jew. I will decide what is truth.” This is not unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s famous remark when he talked about the War in Iraq. Rumsfeld was George W. Bush’s Mininster of Defence who said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” This is the madness of some political  political leaders and Lévy wants to expose it.

Lévy is also critical of the Internet. He once said, “There is no better instrument for incubating idiocy than the Internet. Nowhere is this more clear than in the United States.

In the interview Lévy passionately set out his critique of contemporary political life and his philosophy: “There is a battle between wisdom and idiocy; between the courage of moderation and the cowardice of extremism, between the respect of art, and beauty, and intelligence and the idea that all these values have to be torn to pieces.” Bernard-Henri Lévy also said, “Populism is a new word for fascism. Lévy said that when he was young, in 1968, he and his friends were fighting for all the people to have access to beauty, wisdom, and truth and now the populists, or fascists, want to destroy that. When they want to eradicate the elites, they also want to rid the world of truth and beauty. That is what he is fighting against, and that is why I like him so much.

4 thoughts on “Bernard-Henri Lévy: Nouveaux Philosophes

  1. johnny boy
    is mr. bhl really france’s leading intellectual or is that the perception of certain elements of the western intelligentsia outside france? i am not sure the jury is in on that yet.
    he has essentially been lauded by those elements primarily because he represents a vigorous defense of traditional western culture and political order. and there is the rub.
    is the holocaust a true expression of the west or not? is there significance to the use by the u.s. of carpet bombing and mass chemical warfare on vietnam a few decades ago and is it aberration of western democracy or not? was the american led multilateral assault on hussein in iraq moderate given that those same forces fully supported him for years? is the contemporary condemnation of the taliban logical given that the west supported them for years when it was convenient for their cold war with the soviet union? is the ongoing implicit and explicit assumption of the primacy of christianity in western culture a contradiction to the insistence on the secular ideology of western democracy? does capital and its ownership and representation by the economic and financial elites pose an ongoing negation of the western democratic principles of liberty and equality? does the behavior of the zionist state of israel including the imprisonment of palestinians in a type of concentration camp called gaza and the use of chemical bombing on gaza contradict their pretense to western civilized norms? (steven harper’s canada was the only country in the u.n. that supported that chemical bombing.) was the condemnation of that anti-semitic? how integral to canadian democracy and the creation of the confederation was the attempted 1st nation genocide? how different is the internet technology from other technological innovations relative to an attempted definition of idiocy? (surely the automobile is about as idiotic invention as one could imagine. talk about an irrational “choice” for the main mode of transportation by the species.)
    is this sort of business what bhl defines as moderation? is his definition of art and beauty really that obvious?
    at least by historical standards not all populism is equal, not all populism is fascist. as accurate as it is in certain respects i suspect that this matter of reflexively equating all populism with fascism is a convenient way of condemning any and all opposition to the west and its inability to truly confront rising inequality in the west and to let go of its colonial and imperial legacy by political, cultural, and corporate elites.
    when all is said and done i think history will be rather equivocal about the legacy of western civilization. the shining light on the hill will be juxtaposed with the unleashing of the mass destruction of the natural world and slaughter of millions of civilians in the construction of the various empires over the last 500 years.

  2. You are cheating–this is more than 1 thought. I have not even read his book I just listened to him on TV twice and was quite entertained. I plan on reading his book. A friend of mine has offered to lend it to me and I will take him up on the kind offer. I know western civilization has many skeletons in its closest. But it does have some good things too. Have you read Heart of Darkness by Conrad? I re-read it last year after having read it twice about 30 years ago. It is an awesome book and deals with the heart of darkness at the core of western civilization and his conclusion is “the horror, the horror.” I was reminded again of this wonderful book when I heard Jonathan Bate lecture in Arizona this winter. Although you just ask questions I think many of your answers are implied. And I agree with almost all of your presumed answers. But I was not aware of Israel having used chemical weapons against Palestinians. When, where and how did this happen? I am appalled by Stephen Harper and now Donald Trump’s automatic approval of Israel. In part as far as Trump is concerned I think it is because he likes corrupt powerful men. He feels most comfortable with them. See his cabinet, his friends, and associates. That is why he likes the current leader of Israel. I intend to deal more with western civ and its original sin soon. I wanted to start blogging on this issue when I came here this winter but have got bogged down in other less important matters. Life is hard, but redemption is always possible.

    1. sir:

      i have heard bhk interviewed more than once. i would not bother with his books. there are a number of “intellectuals” floating around like him. always this facile defense of western civilization against the barbaric hordes.
      my real point though about bhk was that it was not clear to me what his status was in france itself. it is possible that they consider him their leading intellectual. my guess is that it is more like the most outspoken. he is a media hound.
      i believe i said history would be “equivocal” about the west. that does not sound like “all bad” to me.
      actually i was not specific enough about canada’s position on the use of white phosphorus bombs on gaza in ’09. they were the only so-called “civilized”, meaning white and overdeveloped country besides you know who, that did not condemn the israelis in the u.n. the vote was 143-3. canada along with a handful of emerging countries abstained.

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