In 1981 Grasset publishes L’Idéologie Française, Lévy’s denunciation of “fascism in the colors of France.” The author quickly becomes the center of a polemic that consumes the French press. Raymond Aron expresses outrage that Lévy has “imperiled” France’s Jewish community through his writing. The author is defended by others, including Jean-Toussaint Desanti, Jorge Semprun, Jean-François Revel, and Philippe Sollers.
In September of the same year, Bernard-Henri Lévy leaves for Afghanistan with Marek Halter and Renzon Rossellini to deliver to the Afghan resistance under Ahmad Shah Massoud three radio transmitters purchased with funds donated by European citizens. Thus is born Radio Free Kabul. Lévy’s journal of his travels in a country devastated by Soviet occupation appears in Le Nouvel Observateur.
In October 1982, Bernard-Henri Lévy begins a weekly column in Le Matin, which he calls his “bloc-notes” (notebook). A collection of the early columns will soon appear under the title Questions de Principe (Editions Denoël), which is destined to go into five volumes. Lévy defends Israel in the face of a growing wave of anti-Zionism fueled by the war in Lebanon.
On the subject of Solidarnosc and its resistance to the Soviet Union, Lévy publishes a resounding “We are all Polish Catholics,” a title that echoes the “We are all German Jews” employed by the friends of Dany Cohn-Bendit in 1968. Growing ever more critical of Stalinism, Marxism, and their residues in the French ideological landscape, he leads, from the pages of Le Matin and to the annoyance of François Mitterrand, a revolt against what he calls the “old Left,” particularly the Common Program of shared governance between Socialists and Communists.
Also in 1982 Lévy meets Joëlle Habert, who becomes his assistant.
In 1984, the philosopher sets aside the essay form temporarily to publish his first novel, Le Diable en tête (Grasset), which, with the support of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marthe Robert, and Claude Mauriac, wins the Prix Médicis. In it he pursues the theme of evil broached in his philosophical works.
Bernard-Henri Lévy joins Simone Signoret and Coluche in sponsoring the SOS Racisme movement launched by Julien Dray and Harlem Désir.
In 1985 he visits seven Asian cities and writes Impressions d’Asie (Le Chêne-Grasset), illustrated with photographs by Guy Bouchet. In November of the same year he joins forces with Georges-Marc Bénamou and Pierre Bergé to launch the magazine Globe, in which he publishes a monthly column.
In 1986 Lévy travels to Ethiopia, where Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Red Negus, is carrying out deadly forced relocations of the population. On the basis of this experience and related travel in warring Eritrea and Tigray he produces a major piece of investigative reporting (“Trucks donated by Europe arrive in Illubabor loaded with human livestock,” L’Evénement du jeudi, 25 September 1986) in which he lays bare the perverse effects of humanitarian aid unlinked to political considerations. Publication of the story provokes vigorous debate within the anti-hunger aid organization that he founded, Action Internationale contre la Faim. Finding himself in the minority, he quits the organization, along with Gilles Hertzog and others. The second volume of Questions de Principe (Le Livre de Poche) gathers together articles and essays that have appeared in the French and international press.
In 1987, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes Eloge des Intellectuels, in which he explores and questions the role of intellectuals in the twentieth century. Against the traditional “committed intellectual” (a type that emerged with the Dreyfus Affair), he posits a new type of intellectual whose presence in the modern city is a “key to democracy.”