on April 4, 2012
In his 2010 book "De la guerre en philosophie," the French writer and gadabout Bernard-Henri Lévy made a huge gaffe. In attacking Immanuel Kant, he cited the "Paraguayan lectures" of a fake philosopher, Jean-Baptiste Botul. In fact, Botul (creator of Botulisme) was the brainchild of Frédéric Pagès, a journalist with the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. For a time, the blunder resonated in Paris, where Mr. Lévy is a ubiquitous presence on talk shows and in magazines, and is known simply as BHL
Americans are more familiar with "American Vertigo," his clumsy and tone-deaf effort to emulate Alexis de Tocqueville. In 2006 Garrison Keillor wrote a telling critique in The New York Times Book Review, citing "the grandiosity of a college sophomore, a student padding out a term paper."
If BHL is not in fact an impostor, he is doing a very good imitation. How has he succeeded in this grandstanding for so many years? In brief, there are two answers: 1) he is very rich; and 2) he is a consummate networker, with many friends and supporters who can always be counted on to rise to his defense.
In this book Lindgaard and de la Porte do their best to bring BHL to book. I am not sure that they have succeeded, though clearly they deserve to.