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on June 25, 2011
In some respects, in 'Left In Dark Times' Bernard-Henri Levy has performed a similar service to George Orwell - to provide a critique of the political left's toleration of, and at times enthusiastic acceptance of, totalitarian thought, practice and personalities from a centre-left or social democratic perspective. Levy is not quite Orwell, however, and perhaps a better comparison is with his near-contemporary Christopher Hitchens. As with Hitchens' writing, here Levy poses some excellent challenges for the left today, together with a (admittedly limited and somewhat conditional) 'mea culpa' for personal support for (or ambivalence to) illiberal movements of the left (or otherwise approved of by the left, such as various Arab or Islamist movements or regimes). While I disagree with his conclusions, his argument defending his identification with the left of centre and it's consistency with individual liberty is passionate and a useful contribution to social democratic thought, while his defence of religion (of whatever stripe) as a matter of individual conscience and enlightenment while decrying its use as a vehicle for intolerance or violence is considerably more nuanced, reflective and humane than Hitchens' somewhat absolutist atheism. Levy's recognition that the US is ultimately a vigorous and important vehicle for individual liberty and human dignity - even when significant criticism of US policy or domestic conditions are possible - is a useful corrective to the reflexive anti-Americanism of assorted Chomsky's, Pinter's and Fisk's - even if his own dismissal of Bush appears to owe more to an offended stylistic sensibility than substantive criticism of policy.

There are quite a few jarring notes, however. Perhaps the circular and indirect style reflects a particular Francophone style (although Camus never seemed to have this problem), or is it a matter of imprecise translation? While one would expect a book by a self-described French philosopher to focus on the arguments and personalities of French intellectual life, he is inclined to make too much of their importance - and his own. Who else could think that Levy's references to the important speech made by Levy - or the little-known magazine founded by Levy - were really profound or pivotal moments that significantly influenced western thought or policy? While his self-regard and self-certainty is of the same order of magnitude as that of Hitchens, he has not been quite as reflective in abandoning his tribal loyalty to the left rather than repositioning his personal allegiances to amongst fellow liberals and democrats from the centre-left to the centre-right (which would seem to be the logical destination of his arguments, even if he personally remained firmly on the centre-left). This centre-right reader certainly tired of his apologia of centre-leftists who continued to flirt with the illiberal (such as Segolene Royal's Socialists) while never quite bringing himself to admit that right-of-centre personalities and ideas were at least equally as important to the Enlightenment, the defeat of Nazism, or the collapse of the Soviet Union as those of the left. His inability to recognise anything other than xenophobes or plutocrats on the right detracts from otherwise thoughtful arguments and encourages him to take excessive comfort in left-of-centre tribalism - as a consequence the book speaks far less persuasively to any reader even slightly right of centre than it could otherwise.

Recommended? Readers of a leftist persuasion should find resonant arguments to support a social democratic position while eschewing the extreme, although the moderate right will probably find it less compelling. Enthusiasts and apologists for authoritarianism of the Right, Left (or any other backward-looking direction) could benefit from reading it as well, although I fear the final product is neither clear, rigorous or persuasive enough the convince the latter of their error.
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on September 15, 2016
brilliantly written and very throught provoking. Should be required reading for elected officials
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on February 13, 2015
it is wonderful to read a book by an author who is actually an educated, serious writer. He makes me question and rethink my own positions and this is the mark of a great writer.
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on March 18, 2015
Not for the masses, tends to ramble at time, you need interested on the subject matter
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on January 10, 2011
As you can see from the other reviews, because of the author's writing style this is not an easy book to like. French philosopher's are notoriously dense writers who will leave your head spinning. Most of Levy's sentences were one paragraph long, demanding more intense focus than I am used to. But that said, this is an important and historic work deserving 5 stars. The author is a european liberal icon who is fed up with modern (neoprogressive) liberals for their (New Barbarism) wholesale betrayal of historic liberal principles. Chief among them the failure to advocate "Liberty."
In a point-by-point analysis he includes attacks on the modern left (1) for clinging to marxism even though it is now settled that capitalism is the only viable economic system, (2) for not rejecting totalitarianism in all its forms after Solzenitsyn's expose of the gulag system, (3) for its anti-Americanism without justification, (4) for its anti-semitism based on fallacious victimhood of islamism. Here is an example of some of Levy's juicy sarcasm:
"You can't in general, be black, yellow, or Arab; belong to the world of poor or formerly poor countries; proclaim your allegiance to the Third World; think that Castro is a hero--and be a murderer: so, long live the Hutu with the machete! Viva Chavez banning the free press and television, dreaming of presidency-for-life and declaring that the world economy is dominated by the descendants of the people who "killed Christ"! Hurray for the righteous struggle of Ahmadinejad against his country's women!"
For a Libertarian like me, Levy is a surprising revelation. I especially like his dismissing of Noam Chomsky (mentor of modern-day Trotskyites and anarchists) as that "maniacal negationist who had already distinguished himself, we recall, . . . by his revision of the history of the Cambodian tragedy. . . and . . . rewrite. . . of the history of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo . . ."
This is just a taste of this man's powerful indictment of neoprogressivism. In the end he believes that liberalism cleansed of its modern fallacies is still vital and necessary to advancing the traditional principles of liberalism. He may not know it but I think he is very close to being a Libertarian.
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Inspired to read some of Levy's work because of his involvement in Libya - especially that President Sarkozy was convinced to act by Levy's encouragement - I found this for 1 penny plus postage. I suspect it would have been better in French. Who knows what has been lost in translation? Not because of the translator but because of the process itself. English is not French of course. Authors sing best in their own language. But in general I found his essays to focus on European events and history (doh!) that have little meaning to me - to my own chagrin of course. His critiques strike me as full of the lack of pragmatic awareness of things we find in authors like Jared Diamond or Francis Fukuyama - or even Christopher Hitchens. The most important aspect of reading this was becoming aware of all the things I was not before. Sorry if this is not very helpful! But he is important - and has really great hair. So I should be aware of his point of view and how so much of Europe may be in agreement with him. But further, reading this (admittedly already years old) and comparing it with other European thought - such as that of Zizek "Living in the End Times" leads me on an enquiry to find out why European thought seems so negative at the beginning of this century. By contrast books like David Brooks' "The Social Animal" are wonderfully positive.
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on November 22, 2008
Interesting review of the [ mostly[ French "Left" but requires not only a knowledge of French politics but all of the interpersonal feuds and nitpicks among the French intelligentsia to understand much of the book. It is full of " I'm right and the're wrong" casting more heat than light on the differences.
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on October 18, 2013
I am sorry to say that this one I did.
I just put it down.
I am no PC bleeding heart.
I want to understand. I understood very early on that the author is very biased.
The rest was an exercise in self vindication.
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on September 22, 2011
Don't know what audience he wrote this book for but it wasn't for me. Wordy and seems he was writing for himself. I only read a couple of chapters.
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on October 17, 2013
Nothing new to be found here, even from an ultra leftist French view of the world. Don't bother reading it.
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