A trip to Asia takes him to several metropolitan cities and culminates in an new book entitled Impressions d’Asie [Impressions of Asia] (Le Chêne-Grasset), illustrated with the photographs of Guy Bouchet.
In November, in association with Georges-Marc Bénamou and soon joined by Pierre Bergé, he participates in the magazine Globe, in which he publishes a monthly commentary.
Voyage to Ethiopia where the Négus Rouge, Mengistu, is organizing gigantic and deadly forced migrations of the population. Based on this trip, and on travels to the warring provinces of Eritrea and Tigris, he writes an extensive article entitled “Les camions venus d’Europe arrivent en Illubabor bourrés de bétail humain” [The trucks sent from Europe arrive in Illubabor full of human livestock] (L’Evénement, Thursday, September 25, 1986). Here, he calls into question the perverse effects of humanitarian aid which, when given blindly and regardless of political considerations, has unforeseen consequences and fuels violence. The publication of his report sparks a heated debate within the humanitarian organization Action Internationale contre la Faim. Marginalized, he leaves the organization he founded, along with Gilles Hertzog and a few other members.
His Questions de Principe Deux [Questions of Principle, II] is published, bringing together articles and essays that previously ran in the French and international press.
In Eloge des Intellectuels [Elegy for Intellectuals] (Grasset), BHL examines the role of intellectuals in the 20th century. Here, he opposes the traditional concept of the politically engaged intellectual that emerged after the Dreyfus affair with “a third type of intellectual”, whose “presence” in the “modern city” is, according to him, a “key to democracy”.
His second novel, Les Derniers jours de Charles Baudelaire (Grasset), misses winning the Prix Goncourt by one vote, but manages to carry the Prix Interallié. This work retraces the long suffering of Baudelaire, in Brussels, notably in the Hôtel du Grand Mirror, then in France with Madame Aupick, his mother. It is warmly received by the critics, as well as by Claude Pichois, Baudelaire’s biographer and editor of his works published in the La Pléiade collection.
In February, when the Imam Khomeini launches his fatwa against the British writer of Indian origin Salman Rushdie, Bernard-Henri Lévy is among the very first intellectuals to come out in support of the persecuted novelist. The struggle for and with Salman Rushdie will be a constant for BHL over the next fifteen years.
In the initial days following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the French Secretary of State responsible for international cultural affairs assigns Bernard-Henri Lévy a mission within the countries of central and eastern Europe liberated from Soviet rule: in Budapest, Berlin, Sofia, Warsaw and Bucarest, he explores the possibility of reinforcing the French presence and examines the feasibility of a European Academy of Cultures, for which he drew inspiration from a 1937 project by Franz Werfel. BHL’s inquiry seems to inspire François Mitterrand in his January 29, 1993, address given at the Louvre, inaugurating the Académie Universelle des Cultures.