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Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism Hardcover – September 16, 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

France's leading public intellectual voices vestigial allegiance to the Left—while trashing it—in this convoluted manifesto. Philosopher-journalist Lévy (American Vertigo) feels a family loyalty not to a dead programmatic socialism but to images, events and reflexes—drawn from the Dreyfus Affair, the 1968 upheavals and other historical milestones that expressed the French Left's opposition to racism and fascism, its support of egalitarianism and its attitude of all-embracing moral responsibility. Lévy follows this muted tribute with a harsh critique of present-day leftist politics. Flogging everyone from Noam Chomsky to Cindy Sheehan, the author attacks the Left for its antiliberalism and anti-Americanism (a veiled anti-Semitism, he believes) and for being soft on Fascislamism, warning that this progressivism without progress adopts the Right's worst features with its isolationism and resistance to humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Darfur. Lévy is a more cerebral—and judicious—Christopher Hitchens; despite his grandiosity, arcane allusions and the high rhetoric of his long, coiling sentences, he is a lucid, cogent polemicist. Although the dudgeon he directs at the diminished sins of a marginalized postcommunist Left seems overdone, Lévy's many American fans will relish it. (Sept. 16)
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“[Lévy’s] memories interlace with reflections on his long career of political activism . . . and are studded with passionately held positions on every issue current on the world stage. Whether or not you agree with him . . . you will be convinced of this: Ideas matter to him.”—New York Observer

“Lévy offers as fine a description as you’re likely to find anywhere of what the conventional international left . . . has adopted as its worldview. . . . [His] discussion of contemporary anti-Semitism is sophisticated, detailed and convincing.”—Los Angeles Times

“Continually asking himself as well as others to confront the hard questions, [Lévy] produces a text that . . . readers will find highly absorbing.”—New York Times Book Review

“Moving and inspiring . . . When political leaders commit atrocities, intellectuals remind the world of right and wrong. . . . Bernard-Henri Lévy, perhaps the most prominent intellectual in France today, seeks to revive this tradition of speaking truth to power.”—Boston Globe

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Tra edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006435X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064359
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,116,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Keith A. Comess VINE VOICE on October 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bernard Henri-Levy has a stellar reputation as a public intellectual in France; there is probably no domestic equivalent. Having read several of his articles, all of which were interesting, well-written and informative, I eagerly anticipated this book. I was greatly disappointed.

First, the book is written in a choppy and affected style. Perhaps in an effort to expand an essay-sized work into a book-length item, many paragraphs consist of single sentences. Worse, the sentence structure is annoying. Like this. And maybe also this. Perhaps this. Too. Get it?

Second, in what I assume must be a dazzling display of erudition, BHL name-drops galore. Just about every major and plenty of minor writers, opinion-makers, philosophers and arcane French intellectuals appear throughout the book. For no clear reason. I think.

Third, the elliptical threads of reasoning make the book hard to follow. I was simply baffled by BHL's continued allegiance to "the Left" after he took such pains to demonstrate it's manifest shortcomings. Of course, this rests on his definition of "the Left". That seems to encompass Enlightenment and secular ideals, empathy, a principled stance on anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, a frank characterization of political Islam; in other words, a gumbo of high-minded postures that are not unique to any particular political tendency. At least as far as I can tell. I suppose.

Fourth, his pivot point is the May, 1968 French demonstrations. Exactly why this should serve as the defining occurrence in relatively recent French Leftist tendencies was not made apparent. It seems, in some manner, to feature anti-authoritarian elements. But. Who knows?

Finally, the book has a distinctly parochial tendency.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Levy writes: "...this is a critique of those who, inspired by the desire to create a heaven on earth, were--and are, more than ever--led to a flirtation with darkness, barbarism, and hell."

In a complex yet compelling argument, Bernard-Henry Levy insists that progressive thinkers burdened with the task of defining the public discourse have abandoned their true calling - the pursuit of social justice - to go mucking around in the more tempting, indeed, lucrative pastures, previously reserved as the philosophical stomping grounds of the Right. That wonderland where every question is ultimately an economics question.

Levy's taxonomy of the events that necessarily shapes the Left is interesting, and leads to a critique as complex as it is damning of the New Left's tendency for the hasty adoption of historically heterodox ideas like "the sociality of money and its metaphysical, civilizing function". As an example of this, he takes on Derrida's cozy position toward "...money [and its function of the] neutralization of differences to achieve pure singularity as a dignity and a universal right" and his insistence that the "rejection of money or of its principle of indifference...[could]...connive with the destruction of morality and law."

In a word: the Left has sold out the quest for human rights and replaced it with profitable human economies. That is, Money. Commercially viable economics apparently solve everything in the New Left. Perhaps. Just look at the business McDonald's does in France.

I found his approach to geopolitics interesting. Levy labels "Anti-Americanism...
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Format: Hardcover
I bought it the other night when BHL debated Zizek (and won, hands down!) and read it in two nights. But I'll have to think about for weeks.
It's hard to imagine a reader so closed-minded and parochical that he or she would not be totally fascinated by the opening scenes of this book: presidential candidates wooing a philosopher, the philosopher forced to question his deepest convictions and take a stand, the unease at seeing his own political allies follow their worst not their best instincts. The drama is there even if you don't know a Sarkozy from a Chirac--but of course we all do know a Sarkozy from a Chirac!
After the initial drama, the two-thirds of the book devoted to the traps that liberal-progressive politics has laid for itself in the current "dark times" of dictatorships, Islamist fanaticism, ethnic cleansing and genocides, etc., is really provocative. There is so much to argue with here, for AND against. It's making me rethink what we all mean when we glibly call the U.S. an Empire. Is that a genuine analysis or just a slogan that gives people an alibi for ignoring anything they can't blame on America--like Darfur--or for sympathizing with a rightist-disguised-as-a-leftist like Chavez just because he is anti-American?
BHL makes a very troubling argument that if a new anti-Semitism takes hold in the world it will be under the banner of progressive ideology not reactionary ideology. Very scary. Really worth thinking about. He's a leftist quite unlike anything we are seeing in today's political debates and blogosphere.
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