On 10 January 2017, an English translation of L’esprit du Judaïsme is published by Random House under the title The Genius of Judaism.
On 4 March, Lévy’s fourth war documentary, La Bataille de Mossoul (The Battle of Mosul) is broadcast on Arte. An epilogue to his earlier road movie dedicated to the Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga, which was filmed in 2015 along the thousand-kilometer front separating the Kurds from the Islamic State, La Bataille de Mossoul begins on 17 October 2016 in the middle of the Plain of Nineveh on the first day of the battle for the liberation of Mosul. It ends in mid-January 2017 with the complete liberation of the eastern half of the city and, on the Tigris, of the burial ground of the prophet Jonah, a temple of memory for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Between these dates, Bernard-Henri Lévy and his team criss-cross the terrain. For much of the time they are embedded with the Kurds; at other times, they accompany the Iraqi special forces of the Golden Division. They are in the theater of operations at every crucial step in the battle, tracking—step by step, village by village by village, street by street, and house by house—the fall of the capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and the epicenter of global terrorism. The two documentaries are shown as official selections at international film festivals in Cannes, Spoleto, Amsterdam, Duhok, Milan, Copenhagen, Warsaw, Belgrade, Tel Aviv, and New York.
During the French presidential campaign, Lévy announces his support for Emmanuel Macron and leads a determined fight against populism, including the far right variant espoused by Marine Le Pen. Between the first round of voting and the run-off, he organizes the republican front at a large meeting at the Maison de la Chimie on 5 May 2017, bringing together major political personalities from the left and right as well as figures from civil society.
On 16 May 2017, he receives a Doctorat Honoris Causa from Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, his third such honor from an Israeli institution (following awards from Tel Aviv University in 2000 and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2001.
On 26 September 2017, he returns to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, as an official observer of the referendum on the region’s independence. He publishes several essays in defense of the Kurds and denouncing the aggressiveness of the surrounding countries, which the calls the new “band of four” (Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey), as well as the passive posture of the international community.
On 28 November 2017, Lévy pleads the cause of the Kurdish people before an audience of ambassadors at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, following a screening of Peshmerga.
On 3 February 2016, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes L’Esprit du Judaïsme (Grasset) (The Spirit of Judaism, Random House, 2017). Reworked several times, the book, which he describes as “a battle plan and program,” is the fruit of 10 years of research during which the author says he entered into “the mystery of the square letters” (i.e., Hebrew), delving into the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Jonah, and the writings of The Malbim (the 19th-century Russian commentator on the Torah).
Lauded by the critics, the work is described by Haim Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France, as “important because it gives us the hope of continuing a struggle that many would have abandoned.”
On 8 June 2016, Lévy’s documentary Peshmerga premiered in Paris theaters after receiving an ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown as an Official Selection on 20 May. A war film and a wake-up call, Peshmerga was filmed in the second half of 2015 on the front lines of the face-off between the Kurdish troops and Daesh. Bernard-Henri Lévy and his team captured live the major battles in and around Kirkuk, Mosul, and Sinjar. The documentary’s exclusive images of territory held by Daesh and aerial footage of the city of Mosul taken by drones flying at low altitude are the first of their kind in this conflict.
On 29 Septembrt 2016, Bernard-Henri Lévy served as the special envoy of French President François Hollande at a ceremony marking the 75the anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, one of the bloodiest events of “holocaust by bullets.” In Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, the Nazis killed thirty-four thousand Jews on 29–30 September 1941.
2005 – 2015
In 2005, Atlantic Monthly publishes excerpts from American Vertigo, where Lévy predicts the election of Barack Obama in an article entitled “A Black Clinton.” The full text appears the following year in French (Grasset) and English (Random House). Hélène Brenkman becomes the author’s foreign literary agent.
In April 2006, having taken (along with Fred Vargas and others) a staunch position against the extradition to Italy of Cesare Battisti, Lévy publishes and prefaces the former far-left militant’s book, Ma Cavale (On the Run).
In July of the same year, with the outbreak of Israel’s war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, Lévy visits bombed cities in northern Israel, filing dispatches that appear simultaneously in the New York Times Magazine and Le Monde.
In November, he receives the Scopus Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In spring 2007, operating under cover in Darfur, Lévy files stories that appear in Le Monde and, like many of his major pieces, in a group of other major European newspapers (including Corriere della Sera, El Mundo, and the Financial Times Magazine).
Returning from Sudan, he takes up the cause of boycotting the Olympic Games in Beijing in light of China’s role in supporting the butchers of Khartoum. Toward this end, in cooperation with François Zimeray (SOS Darfour) and Jackie Mamou (Urgence Darfour), he organizes a major meeting in Paris at which the candidates in France’s 2007 presidential election are invited to speak.
Breaking with some of his closest and longest-running comrades in thought and action, Bernard-Henri Lévy chooses not to support Nicolas Sarkozy and instead endorses Ségolène Royal, the only candidate who took a clear position on the tragedy in Darfur and on what Lévy sees as the drift of Vladimir Putin’s Russia toward the use of Mafia tactics.
In the fall he publishes Ce grand cadavre à la renverse, earning him strong and sometimes violent criticism from the far left, particularly from the movement surrounding Le Monde Diplomatique.
In 2008, Bernard-Henri Lévy is awarded an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In September, Random House publishes Left in Dark Times, the English version of Ce grand cadavre à la renverse. The book is a Los Angeles Times bestseller and reinforces the author’s standing in the United States.
In August, he travels to Georgia upon the outbreak of the war of secession initiated by Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists and their Russian backers. Again his reports appear in Le Monde and other European newspapers. In the United States his dispatches are published by the Huffington Post, marking the beginning of a regular collaboration with the online newspaper founded by Arianna Huffington.
In October, Flammarion and Grasset co-publish Lévy’s correspondence with Michel Houellebecq under the title, Ennemis Publics. The book sells 70,000 copies in French and is later published in English as Public Enemies (Random House).
In 2009, Bernard-Henri Lévy travels to Tel Aviv and the Israeli cities targeted by Hamas’s rocket and mortar attacks.
In June of the same year he pens numerous articles, appeals, and calls for solidarity with Iranians struggling for democracy and demanding an honest recount of the election that returned to power the man he calls “nonelected president Ahmadinejad.”
Bernard-Henri Lévy launches a reconfiguration of La Règle du Jeu with a Web presence (laregledujeu.org). Maria de França assumes editorial responsibilities for both formats from Gilles Hertzog. In June, Lévy is elected to a fifth consecutive term as chairman of the advisory council of Arte-France.
From the moment Roman Polanski is arrested at the Zurich airport, Bernard-Henri Lévy embraces the cause of the director. Soon joined by Alain Finkielkraut, he issues an international petition of support for the director of Tess. Among the first signers of the petition are Isabelle Adjani, Milan Kundera, Pascal Bruckner, and Salman Rushdie.
In October 2009, Lévy returns to Afghanistan, visiting Surobi and Kapisa provinces. His eyewitness report (Le Point, 9 September 2009) is less alarmist than those of other observers.
Lévy spends more and more time in New York, where he appears regularly on the talk shows of Charlie Rose and Fareed Zakaria. At the end of November, the prestigious American journal, Foreign Policy, ranks Lévy thirty-first in its list of the world’s one hundred most influential people. His is the first French name to appear in a list that includes Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, Zhou Xiaochuan, and Bill Gates.
In 2010, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes two books simultaneously. De la Guerre en philosophie, the text of a lecture delivered at the Ecole Normale Supérieure on 6 April 2009, and Pièces d’identité, a collection of essays focusing particularly on his theoretical explorations of Jewish thought.
With La Règle du Jeu, he launches an international campaign on behalf of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Beginning in early 2011 Lévy devotes most of his time and energy to the war in Libya. In October he publishes La Guerre sans l’aimer, a detailed diary, factual but spirited, of his activities during that war. In 2012 he finishes Le Serment de Tobrouk, a documentary account of those same activities, filmed for the most part in the field and later presented at the Cannes Festival. The film is produced by François Margolin and co-directed by Marc Roussel, with Gilles Hertzog.
In 2013 Lévy becomes curator of an exhibition at the Fondation Maeght entitled The Adventures of Truth. The catalogue is published by Grasset. That same year he is made an honorary citizen of Sarajevo. He advocates for Bosnia’s admission to the European Union.
In November 2013, he begins a forceful defense of Christiane Taubira, France’s minister of justice, as other voices of the country’s conscience are slow to condemn the racist attacks against her. In cooperation with SOS Racisme, La Règle du Jeu mobilizes its contributors—writers, artists, thinkers—“to fight shameful self-congratulation, to prevent the banalization of racism and hate, and to understand how, collectively, we got to this point.”
In 2014, Lévy returns to the stage and to Bosnia with a play, Hôtel Europe, which premieres in at the National Theater in Sarajevo in June with Dino Mustafic directing. The play is presented at the venerable La Fenice theater in Venice on July 11 before opening in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Atelier in September, with Jacques Weber in the role of Lévy’s doubt-wracked writer. The play is published in fall 2014 by Grasset.
The same year, Lévy takes a stand with the Ukrainian revolutionaries occupying Kiev’s Independence Square, known also as the Maidan. Twice he addresses rallies in the Maidan and opposes the sale of French Mistral warships to Russia.
Petro Poroshenko, whom Lévy brought to the Elysée Palace to meet the French president before the election in Ukraine, credits Lévy with having devised the Normandy Format for four-way discussions among Ukraine’s new president, Putin, Hollande, and Merkel. On 26 January 2015, Lévy joins George Soros in an appeal to save the new Ukraine born in the Maidan.
In the course of extensive travel to Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine, Bernard-Henri Lévy proposes, in March 2015, an ambitious Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
In an event rare for the United Nations, Lévy speaks before the General Assembly on 22 January 2015 about the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher market in Paris. Thirty-seven member countries (including France, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Israel) formally request the UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon, and the president of the 69th session of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, to convene an extraordinary plenary session on the rise of anti-Semitism around the world. Kutesa asks Lévy to deliver the opening address at the session.
On 11 January 2015, immediately following the terrorist attacks in France on 7 and 9 January, Lévy participates in a mass demonstration in Paris.
As part of the official commemoration of the “revolution of dignity” in the Maidan, Lévy stages a reading of Hôtel Europe at the National Opera in Kiev. The event on 21 February 2015 is attended by a distinguished group of European officials, diplomats, and citizens—among them Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and prime minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, and French secretary of state for European affairs Harlem Désir.
Over a period of several months, “Hôtel Europe,” adapted and updated in the course of successive performances, travels across the European continent. It is presented in highly symbolic venues: Venice’s famous La Fenice theater, Sarajevo, Odessa, Kiev (for the anniversary and commemorations of the revolution in the Maidan), Lviv, the 58th Spoleto Festival in Italy, and Paris (in a production directed by Maria De França).
In October 2014, in parallel with his Ukrainian initiative, Lévy publishes, in Liberation, a resounding “last chance for Kobanî” urging the international coalition in Iraq to step up its aid for the Kurds in their fight against Daesh.
He also requests that the PKK, a Kurdish political party founded in Ankara in 1978 to fight for an independent Kurdistan, be removed from the list of terrorist organizations.
A few weeks later he travels to Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, to meet with the leaders of the Peshmerga and lend them his support. Upon his return he arranges a historic reception in Paris for Peshmerga representatives by high-ranking French officials.
On 25 June 2015 in Positano, Italy, Bernard-Henri Lévy is awarded the International Prize for Citizen Journalism by the prestigious Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies.
On 15 October 2015, Antonio Caño, editor of the Spanish daily El Pais, confers upon Lévy the prize for thought awarded by his newspaper’s magazine supplement, ICON. The award recognizes Lévy’s long association with Spain’s leading daily.
1998 – 2004
In 1998, Lévy publishes in Le Monde two major investigative reports about Algeria, then ravaged by terrorism. His investigations, which take a firm stand against radical Islam and pin most of the blame for the violence on its adherents, trigger a furious debate. Through La Régle du Jeu, Lévy wages a tireless campaign in support of democratic forces in Algeria.
In April of the same year he returns to Sarajevo to receive from Bosnia’s president the country’s highest honor, the Coat of Arms, for services rendered to the Bosnian nation. He is one of three Frenchmen to have been so honored (the others being Bernard Kouchner and General Philippe Morillon). After years of maintaining that he sought no decorations and repeatedly declining induction into the French Légion d’Honneur, he makes an exception to accept the Bosnian award.
Ten years after the fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie, Bernard-Henri Lévy joins the author in publishing Questions de Principe VI (Livre de Poche), which describes the years of suffering of the hunted author and the shared views and friendship of the two authors.
In 2000, Grasset publishes Lévy’s Le Siècle de Sartre. To mark the twentieth anniversary of Sartre’s death the Sartrean Study Group asks Lévy to deliver the opening address at a colloquium it sponsors at the Sorbonne.
Also in 2000, Bernard-Henri Lévy travels to Jerusalem to inaugurate the Institute of Levinassian Studies, which he founded with Benny Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut.
In September 2001, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes Réflexions sur la Guerre, le Mal et la fin de l’Histoire, a collection of his war reporting from Angola, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Colombia and Sudan that first appeared in Le Monde, Corriere della Sera, and El Mundo (Madrid). The original reports are supplemented by notes, portraits, anecdotes, and reflections on war and literature, as well as autobiographical passages. The work, praised by the French and European press as a major contribution to politically committed literature, receives the Prix d’Aujourd’hui.
Keeping a promise made during the Bosnian war to help Serbia recover from its totalitarian nightmare, Lévy produces Goran Markovic’s documentary, Serbia, Year Zero.
In February 2002, French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine ask Lévy to go to Afghanistan to assess how France can best contribute to the reconstruction of free Afghanistan. Upon his return, Lévy presents a report that is published jointly by La Documentation Française and Grasset.
In May, Lévy is awarded an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
In September, Lévy founds a French-language monthly in Afghanistan, Les Nouvelles de Kaboul. The publication, which he edits, is supported by the Fondation André Lévy, established by Bernard-Henri Lévy in honor of his father. Simultaneously, in Burundi, and with support from the same foundation, he and David Gakunzi found a radio station called “Renaissance and Citizenship” that broadcasts across the lakes region to counter the influence of Radio Mille Collines.
Still in 2002 and again with the resources of the Fondation André Lévy, Bernard-Henri Lévy’s companions from the war in Bosnia, Susan and Samir Landzo, establish the Kid’s Festival of Sarajevo, which aims to help Bosnia’s children rebuild a society torn apart by war, death, and the thirst for vengeance.
In January 2002, American journalist Daniel Pearl is taken hostage in Pakistan and then decapitated by a group of Islamic fundamentalists close to Al Qaeda. For a year, in Karachi, Kandahar, New Delhi, London, Washington, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, and Islamabad, Bernard-Henri Lévy retraces the journalist’s steps. The result of this long investigation appears in French in May 2003 (Grasset) and in English under the title Who Killed Daniel Pearl? (Melville House; translated by James Mitchell).
Also in 2003, the Sartrean Study Group and the International Simone de Beauvoir Society ask Bernard-Henri Lévy and Julia Kristeva to deliver the opening address at a colloquium at the Sorbonne entitled “From Beauvoir to Sartre and from Sartre to Beauvoir.”
In 2004, Grasset publishes Récidives, subtitled Question de Principe IX, a collection of essays and articles on literature, philosophy, the cinema, Bosnia, and Israel, among other subjects, many of them previously unpublished.
In July of the same year, responding to a commission from the Atlantic Monthly, Bernard-Henri Lévy begins a voyage across the United States “in the footsteps of Tocqueville.” He also produces, through Films du Lendemain, a Franco-Afghan film entitled Terres et Cendres (Earth and Ashes), adapted from the novel of the same name by Atiq Rahimi. Through the same company, he also commences production of the filmed version of his American odyssey, directed by Michko Netchak with assistance from Gilles Hertzog.
1992 – 1997
With Le Jugement Dernier (The Last Judgment), BHL becomes a playwright. Staged at the Théâtre de l’Atelier under the direction of Jean-Louis Martinelli, the play presents a vast tableau of the twentieth century: communism, Nazism, Pol Pot, and the century’s other great episodes of deadly delirium. The fourth volume of Questions de Principe IV: Idées fixes (Livre de Poche, 1992) gathers together a new set of articles on Europe after communism, the Gulf War, and the Touvier Affair, along with tributes to several major contemporary thinkers: Roland Barthes, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan.
In 1993, Lévy divorces Sylvie Bouscasse and, in June, marries actress Arielle Dombasle. The wedding takes place at à La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul de Vence, with Jean-Paul Enthoven and Gilles Hertzog serving as Lévy’s witnesses at the ceremony. Les Hommes et les Femmes, a book of conversations about love with Françoise Giroud is published by Olivier Orban.
Also in 1993, François Mitterrand appoints Lévy as chairman of the supervisory board of Sept-Arte, where he serves alongside an old friend, film producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who is vice chairman. The appointment marks the beginning of a long and friendly working relationship with Jérôme Clément, the president of the network. Lévy begins to write a weekly column for Le Point and organizes, under the aegis of La Règle du Jeu, a visit to Paris and a tour of Europe for Bosnian president Izetbegovic.
From September 1993 to March 1994, Bernard-Henri Lévy devotes nearly all of his time to filming Bosna!. Shot on the front lines and in besieged Sarajevo, in the heat of battle and in the caves where the city’s residents took shelter, the film provides a unique perspective on the Bosnian tragedy. Assisting Lévy are Gilles Hertzog, his long-time collaborator and co-screenwriter, and Alain Ferrari, co-director. The film is produced by Films du Lendemain, a production company created for the purpose by Lévy’s father, André Lévy, and François Pinault. The film is shown at the 1994 Cannes Festival in the section known as “Un certain regard,” curated by Gilles Jacob.
In May 1994, following the appearance of the film and in response to questions from journalists Albert du Roy and Alain Duhamel during a memorable “Heure de Vérité” (Hour of Truth, at the time the leading political show on French television), BHL proposes the idea of a “Sarajevo list” in the European elections. The idea and the resulting list contribute to a strong shift in public opinion in favor of Bosnia. But believing that the requirements put forward by the list have been taken into account by the major parties, Bernard-Henri Lévy then advocates the withdrawal and dissolution of the list. Some candidates—notably Léon Schwartzenberg, Marina Vlady, and Amiral Sanguinetti—decline to withdraw and remain on the list through the election.
Together with Alain Finkielkraut, André Glucksmann, Jacques Juillard, Pascal Bruckner, and others, Lévy founds the Committee on Reflection and Intervention to protest the ongoing massacres in Bosnia, Algeria, and Rwanda. In fall 1994, in reaction to the unfolding tragedies, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes La pureté dangereuse (Grasset) in which he proposes the concept of a will to purity that is equally evident in the identity-fueled madness of Rwanda’s Hutus as in the ethnic cleansing being carried out in Bosnia.
In 1995, BHL publishes volume five of Questions de Principe, followed the next year by Le Lys et la Cendre: Journal d’un écrivain au temps de guerre en Bosnie. In addition to a fervent plea for war-torn Bosnia, the essay contains sketches from life of Margaret Thatcher, Pope Jean-Paul II, and François Mitterrand, as well as heartfelt recollections of André Malraux.
In 1997, Bernard-Henri Lévy films Le Jour et la Nuit in Mexico, co-written by Jean-Paul Enthoven and starring Alain Delon, Arielle Dombasle, and Lauren Bacall. The film is an official selection at the 1997 Berlin Festival but is a commercial and critical flop.
After the failure of the film, Lévy leaves for Tangier, where he writes Comédie (Grasset), a very personal essay in which he mocks what he calls his “marionette” self and delivers a merciless critique of “BHL.” Comédie also provides a lucid analysis of the “entertainment society” and the Romain Gary/Émile Ajar affair. In this moving confession, the author takes off his mask. “Self-portrait,” he insists, “not self-fiction,” a self-portrait that “poses questions and questions posed.”
1988 – 1992
In 1988, Bernard-Henri Lévy publishes his second novel, Les derniers jours de Charles Baudelaire, which fails to win the Prix Goncourt by one vote, that of André Stil, winner of the Stalin Prize for Literature in 1952, who announces that his intention was to make the author pay for his anticommunist stance. Lévy’s novel, which goes on to win the Prix Interallié, retraces Baudelaire’s long death agony in Brussels (and particularly at the Hôtel du Grand Miroir) and then at his mother’s home in France.
In February of the following year, Ayatollah Khomeini issues his fatwa against British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie. Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the first thinkers to take a public position in support of the persecuted novelist. Support for Rushdie will be one of Lévy’s constant preoccupations for fifteen years. In October 1992, with Lévy’s help, Rushdie will appear again in public for the first time.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bernard-Henri Lévy is asked by Thierry de Beaucé, France’s secretary of state for international cultural relations, to tour eastern and central Europe. In Budapest, Berlin, Sofia, Warsaw, and Bucharest, Lévy explores ways to strengthen France’s role. He also considers the feasibility of establishing an academy of European culture, the model for which he finds in a 1937 proposal by Franz Werfel.
In 1990, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Gilles Hertzog, Jean-Paul Enthoven, Guy Scarpetta, Gabi Gleichmann, and others found La Règle du Jeu. The title is a double salute to Michel Leiris and Jean Renoir. The editorial committee includes Czelaw Milosz, Carlos Fuentes, Amos Oz, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag, and Salman Rushdie. In it Lévy publishes the text of his report to Thierry de Beaucé and François Mitterrand.
The third volume of Questions de Principe: La suite dans les idées (Questions of Principle: Ideas and Consequences) appears in the spring, offering a new collection of writings ranging from political reporting to reflections on the art of the novel and an analysis of the painting of Frank Stella. Lévy’s admiration for Stella gives rise to a book, Stella: The 1980s. Lévy writes that never has he found in literature Stella’s “alliance of grace and composure … except in Baudelaire.”
In 1991, Grasset publishes Les Aventures de la Liberté, Lévy’s literary version of a series of four films directed by Alain Ferrari and produced by Simone Harari. This “subjective history of intellectuals” (as the book is subtitled) extends from the time of the Dreyfus Affair through the death of Jean-Paul Sartre. In this fresco of the twentieth century appear Althusser, Barthes, Camus, Malraux, Foucault, Sartre, and Drieu la Rochelle, among many others. Les Bronzes de César is published by Editions de la Différence.
Also in 1991, Minister of Culture Jack Lang appoints Lévy to a two-year term as chairman of the French film fund. This new function does not prevent Lévy from turning his attention once more to painters, devoting a book in 1992 to the master of the Italian Renaissance, Piero della Francesca and another to Mondrian (Editions de la Différence).
In May 1992, Bernard-Henri Lévy and several companions (Gilles Hertzog, Jean-François Deniau, and the young mayor of Lourdes, Philippe Douste-Blazy) are the first western Europeans to enter besieged Sarajevo. Upon his return to France, Lévy passes on to François Mitterrand an appeal for help from the president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic. This message and Lévy’s insistence convince the French president to make his historic visit to Sarajevo. With Alain Ferrari and Thierry Ravalet, Lévy films his first documentary, Un jour dans la mort de Sarajevo, which is broadcast on France 3 on 20 December 1992. The 63-minute film depicts the agony of the cosmopolitan and multicultural city and the suffering of its residents under incessant bombardment.
1981 – 1987
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.”
1973 – 1980
Recruited by Françoise Verny in 1973, Lévy joins Editions Grasset as editor of three collections (Enjeux, Figures, Théoriciens) before becoming, in 1976, the head of the Nouveaux Philosophes (New Philosophers) line featuring Jean-Paul Dollé, Christian Jambet, Guy Lardreau, André Glucksmann, and Jean-Marie Benoist, among others. The following year he begins to edit the “Ideas” section in the Quotidien de Paris and works with Le Nouvel Observateur.
In 1975, with Michel Butel, Lévy founds a short-lived daily, L’Imprévu.
That summer he goes to Portugal, where he befriends a leftist officer, Otelo de Carvalho. With Gilles Hertzog, he produces a long report on the turmoil in Portugal that is published in Le Monde Diplomatique.
Leaving Portugal, Lévy travels in Angola with Gilles Hertzog and Dominique de Roux. The three are embedded with the rebels led by Jonas Savimbi.
In 1976, he meets Louis Aragon, who casts him the role of Paul Denis in an adaptation of “Aurélien” by Michel Favart and Françoise Verny.
It is Grasset’s 1977 publication of La Barbarie à visage humain (Barbarism with a Human Face) that launches the “BHL” phenomenon. This essay, which critiques “progressivism” as well as fascism, Stalinism, and Marxism, provokes passionate discussion. The book is an immediate success.
Praised by Roland Barthes and Philippe Sollers, the book sells hundreds of thousands of copies and is translated into many languages. Leonardo Sciascia writes the preface to the Italian edition. Octavio Paz champions it in Spain and Latin America.
In 1978, Lévy travels to Argentina for the World Cup bearing the false credentials of a sportswriter. But he is arrested upon arrival in Buenos Aires. After a brief stint in jail, he publishes a report on the Argentinian regime’s violations of human rights in Le Nouvel Observateur and The New Republic.
Le Testament de Dieu (Grasset) is published in 1979. Taking up where La Barbarie à visage humain left off, Lévy studies and mines the Bible for a response to contemporary nihilism and disenchantment. The book is hailed by Emmanuel Levinas, whose works figure prominently in Lévy’s text.
Bernard-Henri Lévy makes frequent visits to Italy, where he frequents leftist and far-left circles, often in the company of psychoanalyst Armando Verdiglione, to mount an intellectual argument against terrorism. Wishing, as he says, to “fight the enemy on his own ground,” he contributes articles to the alternative daily Lotta Continua, in which he emphasizes the fascist genealogy of far-left terrorism.
In Paris, Lévy becomes friends with Romain Gary. The friendship will last until Gary’s death in 1980.
In 1980, with Jacques Attali, Françoise Giroud, Marek Halter, Maria-Antonietta Macciocchi, and others, Lévy founds Action internationale contre la Faim, an aid organization devoted to fighting hunger.
With François Mitterrand as a witness, Bernard-Henri Lévy marries Sylvie Bouscasse. The couple soon have a son, Antonin-Balthazar-Solal.
1948 – 1972
Born on 5 November 1948 in Béni-Saf, Algeria, near Oran, Bernard-Henri Lévy spends his first years in Morocco before moving with his family to France in 1954. He attends the Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly near his family’s home. He then spends a year of rigorous preparatory study at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris before enrolling in the Ecole Normale Supérieure on the rue d’Ulm, where he studies under Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser and flirts with, without actually joining, the Maoist groups that are then drawing many students from the school.
In 1969, he spends a long period in Mexico, producing an essay on “the nationalization of imperialism” that is published the following year in Jean-Paul Sartre’s journal, Les Temps Modernes. In summer 1970 he travels to Israel, which he first visited two years before at the time of the Six Day War. These visits caused him to break with the reflexive anti-Zionism of most of his contemporaries.
From the second visit he produces an essay that appears in the review of the “Committee of the Left for a Negotiated Peace in the Middle East,” led by Clara Halter with the participation of Vladimir Jankélévitch, Jean-Pierre Faye, Jean-François Revel, and others. Entitled “Forms of Zionism in Palestine,” the essay stakes out a position from which Lévy will never deviate: unconditional support for the existence and security of Israel and the absolute necessity, for reasons both political and ethical, for a sovereign Palestinian state.
In 1970, while still a student at the Ecole Normale, Lévy enrolls at Sciences Po in Paris, from which he is expelled mid-year for disciplinary reasons. Under the direction of Michel Serres, he writes his thesis on the theme of “formation and transfer of scientific concepts according to Georges Canguilhem.” During the same period, he works for the daily newspaper Combat, edited by Philippe Tesson, for which he writes in-depth reports on the violence in Northern Ireland and the state of rural France.
In June 1971 he finished eighth in the qualifying examination for teaching positions in philosophy. In September he submittted a proposal for a graduate thesis on “domestic imperialism and colonialism” under the direction of economist and historian Charles Bettelheim (who introduced him to Althusser).
In November of the same year, responding to André Malraux’s appeal for the formation of an international brigade to defend Bangladesh, Lévy leaves for India and then Bangladesh, where he will spend several months, first as a war correspondent for Combat and subsequently as a Bangladeshi civil servant responsible for planning in the new administration of Mujibur Rahman, the new country’s first president. His extended stay in Bangladesh provides the material for his first book, Bangla-Desh, Nationalisme dans la Révolution, which appears in 1973 in the “Cahiers Libres” collection of Editions Maspéro, which was at this time a rallying point for far-left intellectuals. The book was republished in 1985 under the title Les Indes Rouges (Livre de Poche).
Upon his return to France in 1972, Lévy taught at the Lycée de Luzarches in the Paris region and then, for two years, at the University of Strasbourg, where he gives a course in epistemology, and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he lead a seminar on Nietzsche’s politics.
Having broken with far-left ideology, he was asked by François Mitterrand to join an expert group that includes Michel Rocard, Laurent Fabius, Edith Cresson, Pierre Bérégovoy, Jacques Attali, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Kathleen Evin, and Jacques Delors. He remained a member of the group, which was responsible for the question of joint worker-management control, until 1976.
Justine-Juliette Lévy is born to Bernard-Henri Lévy and Isabelle Doutreluigne (d. 2003).