Bernard-Henri Lévy: Wikis


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Bernard-Henri Lévy

Lévy at book signing, 2008
Full name Bernard-Henri Lévy
Born November 5, 1948 (1948-11-05) (age 61)
Béni Saf, Algeria
Era 20th-century philosophy
21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School New Philosophers

Bernard-Henri Lévy (French pronunciation: [bɛʁnaʁ ɑ̃ʁi levi]; born November 5, 1948) is a French public intellectual, philosopher and journalist. Often referred to today, in France, simply as BHL,[1] he was one of the leaders of the "Nouvelle Philosophie" (New Philosophy) movement in 1976.


Life and career

Early life

Lévy was born in Béni Saf, Algeria to a wealthy Sephardi Jewish family. His family moved to Paris a few months after his birth. His father, André Lévy, was the multi-millionaire founder and manager of a timber company, Becob.

After attending the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Lévy enrolled in the elite and highly selective École Normale Supérieure in 1968, from which he graduated with a degree in philosophy. Some of his professors there included prominent French intellectuals and philosophers Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser. Lévy is also a pre-eminent journalist, having started his career as a war reporter for Combat, the famous underground newspaper founded by Camus during the Nazi occupation of France. In 1971, he traveled to the Indian subcontinent, and was in Bangladesh covering the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan. This experience was the source of his first book, Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la révolution ("Bangla-Desh, Nationalism in the Revolution"), which was published in 1973.

New Philosophers

Returning to Paris, Lévy became famous as the young 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 articulated a fierce and uncompromising moral critique of Marxist and socialist dogmas.[2] Throughout the 1970s, Lévy taught a course on epistemology at the Université de Strasbourg and he taught philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. It was in 1977, on the television show Apostrophes, that Lévy was presented, alongside André Glucksmann, as a nouveau philosophe. In the very same year he published Barbarism with a Human Face (La barbarie à visage humain), arguing that Marxism was inherently corrupt.

Intellectual involvement

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 criticized for its journalistic character and unbalanced approach to French history by some of the most respected French academics — including Raymond Aron (see his Memoirs).

Lévy was one of the first French intellectuals to call for intervention in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, and spoke out early about Serbian concentration camps. He referred to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust as providing a lesson that mass murder cannot be ignored by those in other nations.[3]

When his father died in 1995, Lévy became the manager of the Becob company, until it was sold in 1997 for 750 million francs to the French entrepreneur François Pinault.

At the end of the 1990s, he founded with Benny Lévy and André Glucksmann an Institute on Levinassian Studies at Jerusalem.

Political positions

He drew controversy due to his support of the Iraq War, in 2003.

In 2003, Lévy wrote an account of his efforts to track the murderer of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who had been 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.[4] 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 secret service, nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda. The book won praise for Lévy's courage in investigating the affair in one of the world's most dangerous regions but was condemned by the British historian of India and travel writer, William Dalrymple (amongst others), for its lack of rigour and its caricatural depictions of Pakistani society, as well as his decision to fictionalize Pearl's thoughts in the closing moments of his life.[5][6][7][8] The book was also criticized, in common with his other works, for being neither journalism nor philosophy, but attempting to be both.

Although Levy's books have been translated into the English language since La Barbarie à visage humain, his breakthrough in the English language was with the publication of a series of essays between May and November 2005 for The Atlantic Monthly. In the series, "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville", Levy imitated his compatriot and predecessor in American critique, Alexis de Tocqueville, criss-crossing America, interviewing Americans and recording his observations first for magazine and then book publication.

In March 2006 a letter Lévy co-signed entitled MANIFESTO: Together facing the new totalitarianism with eleven other individuals (most notably Salman Rushdie) was published in response to violent and deadly protests in the Muslim world surrounding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. When questioned about the Niqab face-veil worn by some Muslim women, during the United Kingdom debate over veils, Lévy told the Jewish Chronicle that "the veil is an invitation to rape".[9]

With the aid of real Washington political advisers, Italian conceptual artist, Francesco Vezzoli, created two commercials for competing US presidential campaigns - pitting Sharon Stone against Bernard-Henri Lévy - in a project entitled Democrazy, shown at the 2007 Venice Biennal.

Recent activities

In September 2008, Lévy toured the United States to promote his book Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.

On June 24, 2009, Levy posted a video on Dailymotion in support of the Iranian protesters who were being repressed after the contested elections. He eloquently spoke to the hearts of those being attacked offering his belief that whatever the outcome of the ensuing chaos, their day would eventually come when they were free.[10]

He is a member of the Selection Committee of the Editions Grasset, and he runs the La Règle du Jeu ("The Rule of the Game") magazine. He writes a weekly column in the magazine Le Point and chairs the Conseil de Surveillance of La Sept-Arte.

Through the 2000s, Lévy argued that the world must pay more attention to the crisis in Darfur.[3]

In January 2010, he publicly defended Popes Pius XII and Benedict XVI against political attacks directed against them from within the Jewish community.[11]


Early essays, such as Le Testament de Dieu or L'Idéologie française faced strong rebuttals, from noted intellectuals such as historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, philosophers Cornelius Castoriadis, Raymond Aron and Gilles Deleuze, who called Lévy's methods "vile"[12]. Their most common reproach addressed to Lévy is of being one-sided and, ultimately, shallow as a thinker. Vidal-Naquet went as far as saying: "BHL's intellectual dishonesty is properly unfathomable". Critics of Lévy include French journalists Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte who wrote a biography of the philosopher. They claimed that "In all his works and articles, there is not a single philosophical proposition." The book is contested, however, and Lévy sought legal action against the authors.[citation needed].

More recently, in the essay De la guerre en philosophie (2010), Lévy thoroughly and publicly embarrassed himself[13] when he used, as a central point of his refutation of Kant, the writings of French "philosopher" Jean-Baptiste Botul. The Times itself dubbed him a "laughing stock."[14] It turned out that Botul's writings are actually well-known as spoofs and that Botul himself is the fictional creation of a French living journalist and philosopher, Frédéric Pagès [15].

Lévy's writing and speaking style is regularly lambasted as grandiloquent and smug by fringe essayists and popular satirical TV puppet show Les Guignols de l'info, in which Lévy has his own puppet.

Another round of criticisms addresses Lévy's reliance on his connections with the French literary and business circles to promote his works. Lévy had for years business ties with billionaire François Pinault, befriended Jean-Luc Lagardère, who owned Hachette Livre, the largest publisher in France, and Hachette Filipacchi Médias, the largest magazine publisher in the world. Lévy was even briefly related to Jean-Paul Enthoven, publisher of Grasset (a novel and essay division of Hachette Livre), when his daughter Justine Lévy was married to Enthoven's son Raphaël. Lévy has been chairman of the supervisory board for French-German cutural TV channel Arte, was for years a columnist for French newspaper Le Monde and is currently a columnist for both news magazine Le Point (owned by François Pinault) and national daily newspaper Libération, in addition to being a shareholder and member of the supervisory board. 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 between 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? didn't mention strong denials about the book given by experts and Pearl's own family including wife Marianne Pearl who called Lévy "a man whose intelligence is destroyed by his own ego".

Other critics of Lévy attack[citation needed] his support of the Mitterrand doctrine that allows Italian terrorist members of Brigate Rosse to live in France as free men and women despite the fact that the Italian courts have sentenced them to long imprisonment or life sentence. Lévy argues that during the late 1970s and 1980s basic human rights were not respected in Italy.[citation needed]

Personal life

Lévy is married to French actress Arielle Dombasle. His eldest daughter by his first marriage to Isabelle Doutreluigne, Justine Lévy, is a bestselling novelist. He also has a son, Antonin-Balthazar Lévy, by his second wife, Sylvie Bouscasse.

Lévy is, with his third wife, a regular fixture in Paris Match magazine, wearing his trademark unbuttoned white shirts and designer suits. Some have attributed to Lévy a reputation for narcissism.[16] One article about him coined the dictum, "God is dead but my hair is perfect."[17] He once said that the discovery of a new shade of grey left him "ecstatic."[16] He is a regular victim of the "pie thrower" Noël Godin,[16] who describes Lévy as "a vain, pontificating dandy".[citation needed]

Lévy is proudly Jewish, and he has said that Jews ought to provide a unique Jewish moral voice in world society and world politics.[3]


Lévy was one of six prominent European public figures of Jewish ancestry that were targeted for assassination by a Belgium-based Islamist militant group in 2008. The list included other Frenchman such as Josy Eisenberg. That plot was reportedly squashed after the group's leader, Abdelkader Belliraj, was arrested based on unrelated murder charges from the 1980s.[18]


Lévy's works have been translated into many different languages; below is an offering of works available in either French or English.

Available in French

  • Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la révolution, 1973.
  • La barbarie à visage humain, 1977.
  • 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.
  • Le jugement dernier, 1992
  • Piero della Francesca, 1992
  • Les hommes et les femmes, 1994.
  • Bosna!,1994.
  • La pureté dangereuse, 1994.
  • Comédie, 1997.
  • Le siècle de Sartre, 2000.
  • Réflexions sur la Guerre, le Mal et la fin de l’Histoire, 2002.
  • Qui a tué Daniel Pearl?, 2003.
  • Récidives, 2004.
  • American Vertigo, 2006

Available in English

  • “Response to the Master Censors”. Telos 33 (Fall 1977). New York: Telos Press.
  • Bernard Henri Lévy, Richard Veasey, Adventures on the Freedom Road, Harvill Press, 1995, hardcover, ISBN 1860460356
  • Edited by Bernard-Henry Lévy, What Good Are Intellectuals: 44 Writers Share Their Thoughts, Algora Publishing, 2000, paperback, 276 pages, ISBN 1892941104
  • Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Andrew Brown, Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century, Polity Press, July 2003, hardcover, 456 pages, ISBN 074563009X
  • Bernard-Henri Lévy, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, (Melville House Publishing), September 2003, hardcover, 454 pages, ISBN 0971865949
  • Bernard-Henri Lévy, War, Evil and End of History, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd [UK], (Melville House Publishing) [US], October 2004, hardcover, 400 pages, ISBN 0715633368; paperback, ISBN 978-0-971865-95-2
  • Bernard Henri Lévy, Charlotte Mandell, American Vertigo : Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, Random House, January 2006, hardcover, 320 pages, ISBN 1400064341
  • Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, 2008

See also

Further reading

Note: Some of the content of this article comes from the equivalent French-language wikipedia article.
  • Dominique Lecourt, Mediocracy : French Philosophy Since the Mid-1970s (2001), new ed. Verso, London, 2002.


  1. ^ "Rousselet et BHL entrent au capital de Libération". Le nouvel Observateur. 25 June 2008. 
  2. ^ Alexander, Beth R. (10 Nov 2004). "Commentary: Bernard Henri-Lévy takes heat". 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." 
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Graff, James (4 May 2003). "The Engaged Intellect". TIME 161 (19).,9171,449446,00.html. "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...". 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ The Jewish Chronicle. 14 Oct 2006. "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’" 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Bernard-Henri Lévy défend Benoît XVI et Pie XII
  12. ^ Gilles Deleuze, A propos des nouveaux philosophes et d’un problème plus général, first published in May 1977
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Philosopher Left to Muse on Ridicule Over a Hoax "
  16. ^ a b c Wood, Gaby (15 June 2003). "Je suis un superstar". The Observer.,6903,977498,00.html. 
  17. ^ O’Donnell, Michael (29 Jan 2006). "Another Frenchman assesses our democracy". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  18. ^

External links

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