Bernard-Henri Lévy, between philosophy and diplomacy (Haaretz, le 26 août 2011)

haaretz-150x42When Bernard-Henri Levy published his book « De la guerre en philosophie » (« On War in Philosophy » ) earlier this year, he never imagined he would become the French president’s unofficial adviser on warfare.

The philosopher visited Libya in early March in the midst of the uprising against Muammar Gadhafi, and returned appalled by the destruction and cruelty. This drove him to go to the Elysee Palace and persuade President Nicolas Sarkozy to meet with Libya’s fragile revolutionary council. After Levy’s relentless efforts, Sarkozy and the British put together a coalition, which received a UN mandate and helped topple Gadhafi this week.

The French began their attacks in Libya a few weeks later, and this caused consternation among French diplomats and officers. The direct involvement of Levy – the academic whom many on the left love to hate – only amplified the criticism. The media, for their part, were particularly disturbed by the perception that Sarkozy had been dragged into a dangerous adventure, thanks partially to a lapse in judgment by his friend the philosopher.

Many recalled the French president’s impressive December 2007 red-carpet reception for Gadhafi, which included closing off parts of the City of Lights so the tyrant could stroll along the Seine. In editorials, Sarkozy was called a « super-Rambo, » and Levy was called « the expert on everything » or « the old-new philosopher, » mocking his ideas, which critics consider obsolete and dangerously reactionary.

Sarkozy was not deterred, nor was Levy, who vigorously defended « the right of intervention » to prevent crimes against humanity and reminded everyone of the terrible slaughter in Rwanda, to which France and the rest of the world evinced criminal indifference. To ensure the issue would not drop from the international agenda, Levy went back to Libya to visit and write about the rebels.

He was very keen that we publish his reports in Haaretz in Hebrew, and we did so gladly. Whenever it seemed like public interest in Libya was waning, he called to tell us how important the matter was. Calling at 11 P.M., Levy would ask, « Are people in Israel still interested in Libya? » He was annoyed – and surprised – if we said no.

This summer Levy visited Israel and met with top government leaders. He came to talk to them about Libya, and was surprised to find they were more interested in what was happening with his friend Dominique Strauss-Kahn than with Gadhafi. That was the other big story of the past week, and the French philosopher was also on the winning side.

Bernard-Henri Levy was nearly the only public intellectual who remained outside the chorus judging Strauss-Kahn before he was convicted. Levy did so bluntly and energetically, which drew him innumerable critics. Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima, who was invited to a public dialogue with him at Tel Aviv University, harshly attacked him.

This week Levy received backing from a U.S. court, which decided to drop the rape charges against Strauss-Kahn. One can wonder what would have happened had Levy bought a lottery ticket this week. Most probably he would have won.

Sefi Hendler


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