Bernard-Henri Georges Lévy
5 November 1948
|Alma mater||École normale supérieure|
|Spouse(s)||Isabelle Doutreluigne (divorced)|
Sylvie Bouscasse (divorced)
|Era||20th- and 21st-century philosophy|
|Criticism of "neo-progressivism" and red fascism|
Bernard-Henri Georges Lévy (//, French: [bɛʁnaʁ ɑ̃ʁi ʒɔʁʒ levi]; born 5 November 1948) is a French public intellectual. Often referred to in France simply as BHL, he was one of the leaders of the "Nouveaux Philosophes" (New Philosophers) movement in 1976. His opinions, political activism and publications have also been the subject of several controversies over the years.
Life and career
Early life and career
Lévy was born in 1948 in Béni Saf, French Algeria, to an affluent Sephardic Jewish (Algerian-Jewish) family. His family moved to Paris a few months after his birth. He is the son of Dina (Siboni) and André Lévy, the founder and manager of a timber company, Becob, and became a multimillionaire from his business. He is the brother of Véronique Lévy.
Inspired by a call for an International Brigade to aid Bangladeshi separatists made by André Malraux, he became a war correspondent for Combat in 1971, covering the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan. The next year he worked as a civil servant for the newly established Bangladesh Ministry of Economy and Planning. His experience in Bangladesh was the source of his first book, Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la révolution ("Bangladesh, Nationalism in the Revolution", 1973). He visited Bangladesh again in 2014 to speak at the launch of the first Bengali translation of this book and to open a memorial garden for Malraux at Dhaka University.
After his return to France, Lévy became a lecturer at the University of Strasbourg where he taught a course on epistemology. He also taught philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. He was a founder of the New Philosophers (Nouveaux Philosophes) school. This was a group of young intellectuals who were disenchanted with communist and socialist responses to the near-revolutionary upheavals in France of May 1968, and who developed an uncompromising moral critique of Marxist and socialist dogmas.
In the Footsteps of Tocqueville
Although Lévy's books have been translated into the English language since La Barbarie à visage humain, his breakthrough in gaining a wider US audience was the publication of a series of essays between May and November 2005 for The Atlantic Monthly, later collected as a book. In preparation for the series, In the Footsteps of Tocqueville, Lévy criss-crossed the United States, interviewing Americans, and recording his observations, with direct reference to his claimed predecessor, Alexis de Tocqueville. His work was published in serial form in the magazine and collected as a book by the same title. The book was widely criticized in the United States, with Garrison Keillor publishing a damning review on the front page of The New York Times Book Review.
The Spirit of Judaism
In February 2016, Lévy published a book entitled L'Esprit du Judaisme. An English version, The Genius of Judaism, was published by Random House in January 2017. Liam Hoare wrote in Moment that the book examines "the humanism, ethics and politics of Judaism, as well as address[es] the issues of Israel and anti-Semitism in France today".
Lévy's involvement with the Kurdish cause goes back to the early 1990s. On 16 May 2016, Bernard-Henri Lévy's new documentary film, Peshmerga, was chosen by the Cannes Film Festival as a special screening to its official selection. Lévy developed his vision of the Iraqi Civil War, through the Peshmerga fighters (Kurdish fighters armed by Westerners and fighting in particular against Daesh). It consists of images shot on the spot by a small team, especially with the help of drones. It portraits notably the female regiments of the Peshmerga army.
The movie itself is, as stated in its official Cannes presentation:
"The third part of a trilogy, opus three of a documentary made and lived in real time, the missing piece of the puzzle of a lifetime, the desperate search for enlightened Islam. Where is that other Islam strong enough to defeat the Islam of the fundamentalists? Who embodies it? Who sustains it? Where are the men and women who in word and deed strive for that enlightened Islam, the Islam of law and human rights, an Islam that stands for women and their rights, that is faithful to the lofty thinking of Averroes, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Ibn Tufail, and Rumi? ..."
"Here, with this third film, this hymn to Kurdistan and the exception that it embodies, I have the feeling of possibly reaching my goal. Kurdistan is Sunnis and Shiites, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Aramaic-speaking Syrians living freely with Muslims, the memory of the Jews of Aqrah, secularism, freedom of conscience and belief. It is where one can run into a Jewish Barzani on the forward line of a front held, 50 kilometers from Erbil, by his distant cousin, a Muslim, Sirwan Barazi… Better than the Arab Spring. The Bosnian dream achieved. My dream. There is no longer really any doubt. Enlightened Islam exists: I found it in Erbil."
A year later, Lévy said that "Jews have a special obligation to support the Kurds", and that he hopes "they will come say to the Peshmerga: 'For years now you have spilled your blood to defend the values of our shared civilization. Now it is our turn to defend your right to live freely and independently.'".
The Will to See
1980s and 1990s
In 1981, Lévy published L'Idéologie française ("The French Ideology"), arguably his most influential work, in which he offers a dark picture of French history. It was strongly criticised for its journalistic character and unbalanced approach to French history by some of the most respected French academics, including Marxism-critic Raymond Aron.
In the 1990s, Lévy called for European and American intervention in the Bosnian War during the breakup of Yugoslavia. He spoke about the Serb POW camps which were holding Muslims. He referred to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust as providing a lesson that mass murder cannot be ignored by those in other nations.
In 2006, Lévy joined the British debate over Muslim women's veils by suggesting to The Jewish Chronicle that wearing a veil had the effect of dehumanizing the wearer by hiding her face – and said, alluding to a passage by Emmanuel Levinas, that "the veil is an invitation to rape".
Lévy has reported from troubled zones during wartime, to attract public opinion, in France and abroad, over those political changes. In August 2008, Lévy reported from South Ossetia, Georgia, during the 2008 South Ossetia war; on that occasion he interviewed the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.
In 2009, Lévy signed a petition in support of film director Roman Polanski, calling for his release after Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in relation to his 1977 charge for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.
At the opening of the "Democracy and its Challenges" conference in Tel Aviv (May 2010) Lévy gave a very high estimation of the Israel Defense Forces, saying "I have never seen such a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions. There is something unusually vital about Israeli democracy."
In March 2011, he engaged in talks with Libyan rebels in Benghazi, and publicly promoted the international acknowledgement of the recently formed National Transitional Council. Later that month, worried about the 2011 Libyan civil war, he prompted and then supported Nicolas Sarkozy's seeking to persuade Washington, and ultimately the United Nations, to intervene in Libya, ostensibly to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.
In May 2011, Lévy defended IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn when Kahn was accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid in New York City. Lévy questioned the credibility of the charges against Strauss-Kahn, asking The Daily Beast, "how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York's grand hotels of sending a 'cleaning brigade' of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet."
In May 2011, Lévy argued for military intervention in Syria against Bashar al-Assad after violence against civilians in response to the 2011 Syrian uprising. He repeated his position in a letter to the Weekly Standard in August 2013.
Levy travelled to Kyiv, Ukraine during the Euromaidan in February 2014, actively promoting the events. In February 2015, he performed his play Hotel Europa at the National Opera of Ukraine on the first anniversary of the Euromaidan's toppling of the pro-Russian oligarchy of Viktor Yanukovych.
In April 2014, he visited Bangladesh for the first time since 1972 to speak at the launch of the first Bengali translation of his first book Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la révolution ("Bangladesh, Nationalism in the Revolution", 1973), and to open a memorial garden for Malraux at Dhaka University.
On 5 June 2018, he performed his one-man play Last Exit before Brexit at the Cadogan Hall in London. The play is a revised version of Hotel Europa and argues passionately that Brexit should be abandoned.
Criticisms and controversies
Early essays, such as Le Testament de Dieu or L'Idéologie française faced strong rebuttals from noted intellectuals on all sides of the ideological spectrum, such as historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet and philosophers Cornelius Castoriadis, Raymond Aron, and Gilles Deleuze, who called Lévy's methods "vile".
More recently, Lévy was publicly embarrassed when his essay De la guerre en philosophie (2010) cited the writings of French philosopher Jean-Baptiste Botul. Botul's writings are actually well-known spoofs, and Botul himself is the purely fictional creation of a living French journalist and philosopher, Frédéric Pagès. The obviousness of the hoax, with Botul's philosophy being botulism, led to suspicions that Levy had not read Botul, and that he consequently might have used a ghostwriter for his book. Responding in an opinion piece, Levy wrote: "It was a truly brilliant and very believable hoax from the mind of a Canard Enchaîné journalist who remains a good philosopher all the same. So I was caught, as were the critics who reviewed the book when it came out. The only thing left to say, with no hard feelings, is kudos to the artist."
In the essay Une imposture française, journalists Nicolas Beau and Olivier Toscer claim that Lévy uses his unique position as an influential member of both the literary and business establishments in France to be the go-between of the two worlds, which helps him to get positive reviews as marks of gratitude, while silencing dissenters. For instance, Beau and Toscer noted that most of the reviews published in France for Who Killed Daniel Pearl? did not mention strong denials about the book given by experts and by Pearl's own family including wife Mariane Pearl, who called Lévy "a man whose intelligence is destroyed by his own ego".
Who Killed Daniel Pearl?
In 2003, Lévy wrote an account of his efforts to track the murderer of Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal reporter who was taken captive and beheaded by Islamic extremists the previous year. At the time of Pearl's death, Lévy was visiting Afghanistan as French President Jacques Chirac's special envoy. He spent the next year in Pakistan, India, Europe and the United States trying to uncover why Pearl's captors held and executed him. The resulting book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, argues it was because Pearl knew too much about the links between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and al-Qaeda. The book was strongly criticized by both experts and Pearl's own family, including wife Mariane Pearl who called Lévy "a man whose intelligence is destroyed by his own ego".
The book was condemned by William Dalrymple, a British historian of India and travel writer, and others, for its lack of rigour and its caricatured depictions of Pakistani society. Dalrymple also criticized Lévy's fictionalised account of Pearl's thoughts in the last moments of his life.
Lévy was one of six Jewish public figures in Europe targeted for assassination by a Belgium-based Islamist militant group in 2008. The list included others in France such as Josy Eisenberg. That plot was foiled after the group's leader, Abdelkader Belliraj, was arrested on unrelated murder charges from the 1980s.
Lévy has been married three times. His eldest daughter by his first marriage to Isabelle Doutreluigne, Justine Lévy, is a best-selling novelist. He has a son, Antonin-Balthazar Lévy, by his second wife, Sylvie Bouscasse. He is currently married to French actress and singer Arielle Dombasle. The affair between Lévy and English socialite Daphne Guinness was an open secret known amongst US society columnists since 2008. On 13 July 2010, Daphne Guinness confirmed the stories to Harper's Bazaar.
Lévy has been friends with Nicolas Sarkozy since 1983. Relations between them deteriorated during Sarkozy's 2007 presidential run in which Lévy backed the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal and also described Sarkozy as "A man with a warrior vision of politics". However, they grew closer again after Sarkozy's victory.
In 2004, his fortune amounted to 150 million euros. The owner of seven companies, he inherited most of the fortune from his parents, which was complemented by stock exchange investments. In 2000 he was suspected of insider trading by the Commission des opérations de bourse.
Lévy's works have been translated into many different languages; below is an offering of works available in either French or English.
- Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la révolution, 1973 (reissued in 1985 under the title Les Indes Rouges).
- La barbarie à visage humain, 1977.
- "Response to the Master Censors". Telos 33 (Fall 1977). New York: Telos Press.
- Le testament de Dieu, 1978.
- Idéologie française, 1981.
- Le diable en tête, 1984.
- Eloge des intellectuels, 1987.
- Les Derniers Jours de Charles Baudelaire, 1988.
- Les aventures de la liberté, 1991; translated as Adventures on the Freedom Road: The French Intellectuals in the 20th Century, 1995, Harvill Press, ISBN 1-86046-035-6
- Le jugement dernier, 1992
- Piero della Francesca, 1992
- Les hommes et les femmes, 1994.
- Bosna!, 1994.
- La pureté dangereuse, 1994.
- What Good Are Intellectuals: 44 Writers Share Their Thoughts, 2000, Algora Publishing, ISBN 1-892941-10-4
- Comédie, 1997.
- Le siècle de Sartre, 2000; translated by Andrew Brown as Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century, 2003, Polity Press, ISBN 0-7456-3009-X
- Réflexions sur la Guerre, le Mal et la fin de l'Histoire, 2002; translated by Charlotte Mandell as War, Evil and End of History, 2004, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd [UK], ISBN 0-7156-3336-8
- Qui a tué Daniel Pearl?, 2003; translated by James X. Mitchell as Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, 2003, Melville House Publishing, ISBN 0-9718659-4-9
- Récidives, 2004.
- American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, 2006, ISBN 1-4000-6434-1
- Ce grand cadavre à la renverse, 2007, Grasset, ISBN 2246688213; translated by Benjamin Moser as Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, 2008, Random House Publishing Group, ISBN 1-5883-6757-6
- Ennemis publics, 2008, with Michel Houellebecq; translated by Miriam Frendo and Frank Wynne as Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take on Each Other and the World, 2011, Atlantic Books (UK), Random House (US), ISBN 0-8129-8078-6
- De la guerre en philosophie, 2010.
- La guerre sans l'aimer, 2011.
- L'esprit du judaïsme, 2016, Grasset; translated by Stephen B. Kennedy as The Genius of Judaism, 2017, Random House, ISBN 978-0-679-64379-1
- L'empire et les cinq rois, 2018, translated by Stephen B. Kennedy as The Empire and the Five Kings: America's Abdication and the Fate of the World, 2019, Henry Holt & Co, ISBN 9781250203014.
- Ce virus qui rend fou: essai, 2020.
- Sur la route des hommes sans nom, 2021.
- The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, Yale University Press, 2021.
- Knud Erik Jørgensen; Åsne Kalland Aarstad; Edith Drieskens; Katie Verlin Laatikainen; Ben Tonra (eds.), The Sage handbook of European foreign policy, SAGE Publications, 2015, ch. 35.
- "Rousselet et BHL entrent au capital de Libération". Le nouvel Observateur. 4 January 2007. Archived from the original on 26 January 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Willsher, Kim (27 March 2011). "Libya: Bernard-Henri Lévy dismisses criticism for leading France to conflict". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- "Bernard-Henri Lévy: A very political pin-up". The Independent. 8 March 2004. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- Samuel, Henry. "Bernard-Henri Lévy caught out by fake philosopher". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- Brody, Richard (25 March 2011). "Did Bernard-Henri Lévy Take NATO to War?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- Kirsch, Jonathan. "Bernard-Henri Lévy bares his Jewish soul". Jewish Journal. 11 January 2017. 17 January 2017.
- "La vérité sur Bernard-Henri Lévy – À la loupe !". 10 August 2015.
- Lévy, Bernard-Henri (28 April 2014). "Bernard-Henri Levy: Andre Malraux's Bangladesh, Before the Radicals". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- "BHL in Dhaka". Dhaka Tribune. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- ""BHL in Dhaka", interview de Bernard-Henri Lévy par Niaz Alam (Dhaka Tribune, le 28 mai 2014) : Bernard-Henri Lévy". www.bernard-henri-levy.com (in French). Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Davidzon, Vladislav (26 June 2014). "On the Road With Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Planet's Last Superstar French Intellectual". Tablet.
- Lévy, Bernard-Henri (24 April 2014). "An Emotional Return to Bangladesh -- After 43 Years". HuffPost. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- "Opening of the Malraux Garden at the University of Dhaka". La France au Bangladesh – Ambassade de France à Dacca. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Alexander, Beth R. (10 November 2004). "Commentary: Bernard Henri-Lévy takes heat". UPI Perspectives. UPI.
a group who broke away from the Marxist ideology dominating late 1960s France and the hard-line French left typified by Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Keillor, Garrison (29 January 2006). "On the Road Avec M. Lévy". The New York Times. p. 1.
- "Bernard-Henri Lévy". 4 November 2015.
- Cohen, Ben (25 September 2017). "Bernard-Henri Lévy: Jews Have 'Special Obligation' to Support Kurdish Independence". Algemeiner.com. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
- "Cannes Adds Bernard-Henri Levy's 'Peshmerga' to Official Selection". The Hollywood Reporter. 16 May 2016.
- "Festival de Cannes – Site Officiel / Institutionnel". Festival de Cannes. Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
- Lévy, Bernard-Henri (2 September 2015). "Islamic State Will Be Defeated". The Wall Street Journal.
- Rechtshaffen, Michael (29 April 2022). "Review: In the world's war zones, journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy finds 'The Will to See'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 May 2022.
- Aron, Raymond (7 February 1981). "Provocation". L'Express (in French). Retrieved 18 November 2021.
- environment-science | Leading Jewish Inspiration Archived 7 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Leadel. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "Institut d'études lévinassiennes - Emmanuel Lévinas". Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
- The Jewish Chronicle, 14 October 2006. Not available online, quote in context: "Our time is almost up, but BHL becomes the most animated I have seen him when I ask him about Jack Straw's intervention on Muslim women and the veil. 'Jack Straw', he says, leaning close to me, 'made a great point. He did not say that he was against the veil. He said it is much easier, much more comfortable, respectful, to speak with a woman with a naked face. And without knowing, he quoted Levinas, who is the philosopher of the face. Levinas says that [having seen] the naked face of your interlocutor, you cannot kill him or her, you cannot rape him, you cannot violate him. So when the Muslims say that the veil is to protect women, it is the contrary. The veil is an invitation to rape.'"
- Bernard-Henri Lévy, "Georgia at War: What I Saw", The Huffington Post, 20 August 2008.
- "Signez la pétition pour Roman Polanski !". La Règle du jeu (in French). 10 November 2009. Archived from the original on 29 August 2021. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
- "Bernard-Henri Lévy défend Benoît XVI et Pie XII". 7sur7.be, 20 January 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Or Kashti (30 May 2010). "Bernard Henri Levy: I have never seen an army as democratic as the IDF". Haaretz. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
- L'appel de BHL depuis Benghazi (Libye) en direct sur TF1 au – une vidéo Nieuws & Politiek. Dailymotion. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Robert Marquand, "How a philosopher swayed France's response on Libya". The Christian Science Monitor, 28 March 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Steven Erlanger, "By His Own Reckoning, One Man Made Libya a French Cause", The New York Times, 1 April 2011.
- "Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Bernard-Henri Lévy Defends IMF Director". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Dowd, Maureen (18 May 2011). "Powerful and Primitive". The New York Times.
- Bernard-Henri Levy (19 May 2011). "After Qaddafi, Assad". The New Republic. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
- Daniel Halper, "Experts to Obama: Here Is What to Do in Syria", The Weekly Standard, 27 August 2013.
- "Cinq bonnes raisons de dévorer le dernier BHL", Atlantico, 8 November 2011, MRY
- "La légende dorée de BHL en Libye", Le Monde. 7 November 2011.
- "BHL en Libye, sur les traces de Lawrence d'Arabie", Rue89, 7 November 2011, Pierre Haski
- Sébastien Le Fol, "Bernard-Henri Lévy en Libye, la guerre intime", Le Figaro, 8 November 2011.
- "Même la justice française condamne BHL...", Le Monde Diplomatique, 26 April 2013.
- Lévy, Bernard-Henri (23 October 2013). "The Significance of Sarajevo". HuffPost.
- Levy, Bernard-Henri (4 April 2015). "Bernard-Henri Levy: Remembering the Maidan". Kyiv Post.
- "Bernard-Henri Levy will perform his 'Hotel Europe' play in Kyiv's opera house on Feb. 21". Kyiv Post. 18 February 2015. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
- "'Please, please remain': Bernard-Henri Lévy performs one-man Brexit play". theguardian.com. 5 June 2018. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
- "Bernard-Henri Lévy : "Rendons Justice aux Kurdes"". Paris Match (in French). 11 January 2020.
- Frantzman, Seth J. (27 July 2020). "Bernard-Henri Levy called 'Jewish dog' during visit to Libya". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
- Gilles Deleuze, A propos des nouveaux philosophes et d'un problème plus général, first published in May 1977
- Bremner, Charles (9 February 2010). "BernardHenri Lvy a laughing stock for quoting fictional philosopher". The Times. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
- Carvajal, Doreen (10 February 2010). "Philosopher Left to Muse on Ridicule Over a Hoax". The New York Times. p. 4.
- "BHL: les dessous d'un système". L'Express. April 2006. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- Nicolas Beau and Olivier Toscer, Une imposture française, Éditions des Arènes, 2006.
- Lévy, Justine. "Justine Levy, Daughter of French Public Intellectual BHL, Writes What She Knows: Life". Jewishbusinessnews. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- Graff, James (4 May 2003). "The Engaged Intellect". Time. Vol. 161, no. 19. Archived from the original on 20 January 2011.
The Envoy: At the request of French President Jacques Chirac, Lévy traveled to Afghanistan in February 2002 to gauge the needs of the Afghan people
- Levy, Justine. "Justine Levy, Daughter of French Public Intellectual BHL, Writes What She Knows: Life". Jewishbusinessnews. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- Escobar, Pepe, "Who killed Daniel Pearl?" (review), Asia Times (28 June 2003). Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Dalrymple, William, "Murder in Karachi", The New York Review of Books, 4 December 2003. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "'Murder in Karachi': An Exchange" (Bernard-Henri Levy and William Dalrymple), The New York Review of Books, 12 February 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?". BBC News. 23 October 2003. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
- "Bernard Henri Levy among 6 Jews said targeted by Islamist group", Haaretz (1 January 2009). Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- Derek Blasberg, "Daphne Guinness: Bernard-Henri Levy 'Is Quite Obviously The Love Of My Life'", HuffPost, 12 February 2011.
- Christopher Dickey, "Why Sarkozy Went to War". Newsweek (3 April 2011). Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "Un héritier devenu milliardaire". 26 October 2004.
- Briefly reviewed in the January 30, 2017 issue of The New Yorker, p.70.
- Dominique Lecourt, Mediocracy: French Philosophy Since the Mid-1970s (2001), new edition. Verso, London, 2002.
- Craig Owens, "Sects and Language", in Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture, Scott Bryson, et al., eds (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1992), 243–52.