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Product details

  • Paperback: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade (13 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974720
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 526,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, journalist, activist, and filmmaker. He was hailed by Vanity Fair magazine as “Superman and prophet: we have no equivalent in the United States.” Among his dozens of books are American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, and Who Killed Daniel Pearl? His writing has appeared in a wide range of publications throughout Europe and the United States. His films include the documentaries Bosna! and A Day in the Death of Sarajevo. Lévy is co-founder of the antiracist group SOS Racism and has served on diplomatic missions for the French government. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Nov. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Part intellectual autobiography, part political essay & part ideological polemic, Left In Dark Times is a survey of this prominent French intellectual's political roots, a look at authoritarianisms old & new and a plea for a fresh moral vision. Analyzing the development of Leftist thought, he identifies the foundations of its current manifestation as: (a) Indifference to suffering under the guise of relativism (b) A perverted notion of tolerance that excuses any type of barbarity perpetrated by non-Western cultures (c) Anti-Zionism which is really the New Antisemitism (d) Insane & obsessive Anti-Americanism.

Much of the book concerns French politics as Lévy struggles to justify his attachment to the term "left." I found that somewhat overwrought but on other issues his insight is brilliant. Since the implosion of the Soviet Empire, Western Leftists have been consumed by resentment to such an extent that they have rejected Enlightenment values. Israel & the USA are demonized as a matter of course whilst the most savage, cruel & barbaric regimes are excused merely because they oppose the so-called "great & little Satan." Amongst those he mentions is Harold Pinter who defended the butcher Slobodan Milosevic. Fur further evidence see The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion by Bernard Harrison.

A very shrewd observation of his is that the collapse of Communism has obscured the evidence of its crimes, permitting certain people to start nurturing that deadly utopian dream again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nice piece from BHL. Irreplaceable book I need it for my research so thanks a lot. Everything OK in every way.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ivor R. B. Hibbitt on 11 Dec. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A French intellectual in full cry is a faintly fearsome experience for those folk fortunate enough to win the lottery of life by being born English, as a sardonic member of the Cote d'Azur Men's Book Group might have commentated,. Fearsome not in the frightening sense but in the inability to understand the effusive stream of Gallic rhetoric that turns the air a rabid blue. Left in dark times is the quite clever title of a confusing, to unfamiliar ears, book that gives a philosophic commentary on the world as was and now is, by that noted intellectual Bernard Henri-Levy, who is know by his initials, BHL. Its subtitle is "a stand against the new barbarism" and, it must be said, he would certainly pull the crowds at London's Speakers' Corner. Yet our members found themselves not only liking the book but also largely agreeing with his sentiments. One vital point to make: The Left as perceived in Paris bears little relationship to the Left wing of other countries, it is much more a cultural Left than a socialist Left The same applies to other terminology, Right, Liberal, so that the reader faces a high degree of confusion and misunderstanding. How then you may ask were our members able to agree with most his comments?
Is it that French intellectuals can rant so hypnotically that we are swept up into a cloud of admiration, entranced by the beauty of his words however convoluted they may be? Can it be that his form of literary charisma overwhelms the senses? How can it be that all members of the book group agreed with his conclusions even though his history reveals that M Levy has been wrong so many times that an admission that now he is right, is embarrassing?
Why should be put any credence on what he says now?
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful By another reader on 19 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Beginning with a long story about BHL and Sarkozy, this book is clearly intended for an audience greatly interested in French politics and its filiations with French intellectuals. Not all that many outside France are likely to be entranced by pages about Segolene Royal, Chirac, and Mitterand or remarks about other French politicians. Those at universities whose business is theory may find his remarks on anti-Semitism and Islamic fascism of some use. .
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 25 reviews
72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Disappointed 8 Oct. 2008
By Keith A. Comess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bernard Henri-Levy has a stellar reputation as a public intellectual in France; there is probably no domestic equivalent. Having read several of his articles, all of which were interesting, well-written and informative, I eagerly anticipated this book. I was greatly disappointed.

First, the book is written in a choppy and affected style. Perhaps in an effort to expand an essay-sized work into a book-length item, many paragraphs consist of single sentences. Worse, the sentence structure is annoying. Like this. And maybe also this. Perhaps this. Too. Get it?

Second, in what I assume must be a dazzling display of erudition, BHL name-drops galore. Just about every major and plenty of minor writers, opinion-makers, philosophers and arcane French intellectuals appear throughout the book. For no clear reason. I think.

Third, the elliptical threads of reasoning make the book hard to follow. I was simply baffled by BHL's continued allegiance to "the Left" after he took such pains to demonstrate it's manifest shortcomings. Of course, this rests on his definition of "the Left". That seems to encompass Enlightenment and secular ideals, empathy, a principled stance on anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, a frank characterization of political Islam; in other words, a gumbo of high-minded postures that are not unique to any particular political tendency. At least as far as I can tell. I suppose.

Fourth, his pivot point is the May, 1968 French demonstrations. Exactly why this should serve as the defining occurrence in relatively recent French Leftist tendencies was not made apparent. It seems, in some manner, to feature anti-authoritarian elements. But. Who knows?

Finally, the book has a distinctly parochial tendency. The opening segment on why BHL could not possibly vote for Sarkozy was fine, but not especially germane to the non-French citizen. I guess.

On the other hand, BHL does make some outstanding points and occasionally states them quite lucidly, for example his characterization of the general "world view" of The Left: "We are in a world in which, on the one hand, we have the United States, its English poodle, its Israeli lackey -- a three-headed gorgon that commits all the sins in the world -- and, on the other side, all those who, no matter what their crimes, their ideology, their treatment of their own minorities, their internal policies, their anti-Semitism and their racism, their disdain for women and homosexuals, their lack of press freedom and of any freedom whatsoever, are challenging the former."

In conclusion, this was not the profound indictment of the politically correct, intellectually befuddled, ideologically-driven and distracted Left that I had expected from the book's subtitle: "A Stand Against the New Barbarism". While it serves as a reminder of the very long catalogue of Leftist mistakes (ranging from "fellow-traveler" support of Uncle Joe Stalin to subsequent support of the USSR/Gulag State to impassioned identification with The Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao), it fails in it's presumed purpose.
53 of 63 people found the following review helpful
The book a great read 22 Sept. 2008
By Edward Green - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought it the other night when BHL debated Zizek (and won, hands down!) and read it in two nights. But I'll have to think about for weeks.
It's hard to imagine a reader so closed-minded and parochical that he or she would not be totally fascinated by the opening scenes of this book: presidential candidates wooing a philosopher, the philosopher forced to question his deepest convictions and take a stand, the unease at seeing his own political allies follow their worst not their best instincts. The drama is there even if you don't know a Sarkozy from a Chirac--but of course we all do know a Sarkozy from a Chirac!
After the initial drama, the two-thirds of the book devoted to the traps that liberal-progressive politics has laid for itself in the current "dark times" of dictatorships, Islamist fanaticism, ethnic cleansing and genocides, etc., is really provocative. There is so much to argue with here, for AND against. It's making me rethink what we all mean when we glibly call the U.S. an Empire. Is that a genuine analysis or just a slogan that gives people an alibi for ignoring anything they can't blame on America--like Darfur--or for sympathizing with a rightist-disguised-as-a-leftist like Chavez just because he is anti-American?
BHL makes a very troubling argument that if a new anti-Semitism takes hold in the world it will be under the banner of progressive ideology not reactionary ideology. Very scary. Really worth thinking about. He's a leftist quite unlike anything we are seeing in today's political debates and blogosphere.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This Left Has No Right, or Levy Taxes the Progressives 15 Nov. 2012
By Il'ja Rákoš - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Levy writes: "...this is a critique of those who, inspired by the desire to create a heaven on earth, were--and are, more than ever--led to a flirtation with darkness, barbarism, and hell."

In a complex yet compelling argument, Bernard-Henry Levy insists that progressive thinkers burdened with the task of defining the public discourse have abandoned their true calling - the pursuit of social justice - to go mucking around in the more tempting, indeed, lucrative pastures, previously reserved as the philosophical stomping grounds of the Right. That wonderland where every question is ultimately an economics question.

Levy's taxonomy of the events that necessarily shapes the Left is interesting, and leads to a critique as complex as it is damning of the New Left's tendency for the hasty adoption of historically heterodox ideas like "the sociality of money and its metaphysical, civilizing function". As an example of this, he takes on Derrida's cozy position toward "...money [and its function of the] neutralization of differences to achieve pure singularity as a dignity and a universal right" and his insistence that the "rejection of money or of its principle of indifference...[could]...connive with the destruction of morality and law."

In a word: the Left has sold out the quest for human rights and replaced it with profitable human economies. That is, Money. Commercially viable economics apparently solve everything in the New Left. Perhaps. Just look at the business McDonald's does in France.

I found his approach to geopolitics interesting. Levy labels "Anti-Americanism...the progressivism of the imbecile", and offers the United States as a central, vital, partner in any return to the fight for human dignity which has served as the core, historical identity and purpose of 'the Left'. The American nation's very existence serves as a stinging rebuke to any who have misread the lessons of the Enlightenment, or who would minimize the American role in European survival, he argues. He continues further on this path, tracing the careless, and admittedly less-than-thoughtful European tendency of anti-Americanism to the pathologies of pure envy and resentment toward a benefactor. Unafraid to identify the disastrous consequences of this ideological capitulation, which he traces in part from simplistic, dismissive attitudes toward its own history of rapacious colonialism, and which was convincingly borne out in European ineffectiveness in Bosnia, Levy's jeremiad serves as well-targeted rebuke of the deplorable lack of substantive European engagement in events in which it could, must, take a role. None of this is probably news to specialists in this field, but it certainly was provocative to me. I mean, this is a European writing this.

But before we accuse Levy of crude Anglo-American jingoism, he broadens the scope of his argument, insisting that the siren-song to "stay out of other people's business" is "a failure of intelligence and of heart." A failure which he insists betrays a conscious decision by its advocates "to undo what in politics is the hardest thing of all to construct: a way to get people to worry about other people's suffering."

There is weight in this approach. This is a French intellectual, characterizing the general European disinterest in the ethnic cleansing, massacres, and forced exile of 80% of the Kosovan population - on European soil - as a kind of reverse colonialism, de facto state-sponsored European racism. And racism of the most discrete sort: impossible to blame on anyone. After all, we didn't do anything. Not our fight. The crises in Dafur, Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and the pathetic and received justifications of non-intervention in those crises raised by the European left, are nothing less than transparent attempts at disparaging American foreign policy in order to project an indifference that would pass itself off as 'nuanced internationalism'. Yet, by Levy's lights, all this European sophistication manages to evince is, in fact, a pathological (there's that word again) and self-righteous cowardice steeped in contempt for the problems of former colonies which it can no longer exploit with impunity. For Levy, the core of Europe's sterile geopolitical function, and his contempt for that self-enforced sterility, (in stark contrast to American activism), is summed up well in a quote from Jules Renard: "I don't have any enemies, since I've never helped anyone."

Finally, he extends the argument to Israel & Palestine, equating contemporary anti-Semitism with Anti-Americanism, which is almost certain to irritate.

My thoughts? Levy is right about a lot of things in this book. The Left can, could, must do more. His tone is scolding at times; he unloads with both barrels on the likes of Jimmy Carter and Noam Chomsky, as well as settling a few other scores here. But perhaps it need be. Something has to shake things up, and he just feels he's doing his bit to stem the tide of the very real devaluation of personal liberties world-wide, of the loss of dignity in identity, and of stifled opportunity for advancement. Levy would insist that these are all a certain result of our hastily-designed and ill-defined materialist culture, and a nasty, general lassitude toward newly emergent, deeply-cryptic forms of fascism. If he's right, this isn't something which thoughtful people can tolerate. Ever. Not knowing what we know. Not having seen what we have seen.

Finally, one has to wonder how much Robert Kagan's "Of Paradise and Power" influenced Levy. One wonders who may have commissioned this book. One wonders if maybe every question is, ultimately, an economics question. Yet none of these rule out the fact that Levy, and we all, might have some things to be peeved about.

Very dense, very "French" and filled with passion. Damn good book.

Here's the fun part: I saw it on "the Colbert Report".
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant analysis of the sins of the Left 31 Oct. 2008
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Like many of those on the sane Left Bernard Henri- Levy has become disturbed with the strange alliance of the Left with the neo- Fascists, the xenophobic, the American bashers, the Anti- Semites, the preachers of Radical Islam. The Left's abandonment of traditional values and allies is considered here by a writer who has shown not simply integrity in thought, but courage in action. Henri- Levy is one of the few well- known thinkers living today who is also a journalist in the best sense of the world, one who goes and covers the territory. He does this when its the friendly territory of the United States , and also when its the potentially hostile territory of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is here I think especially lucid in analyzing the Left's Anti- Semitism which expresses itself as showing repulusion towards the one democratic state in the Middle East, Israel and currying favor with Radical Islam.
As a person of the Left Henri- Levy particularly feels distressed at being abandoned by those who are his true intellectual home. But he makes an effort here to point out the way to a new sane Left, one as much concerned with Equality and Social Justice as he himself is.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Insightful, but self-important - and not quite as reflective as expected 25 Jun. 2011
By Peter Monks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In some respects, in 'Left In Dark Times' Bernard-Henri Levy has performed a similar service to George Orwell - to provide a critique of the political left's toleration of, and at times enthusiastic acceptance of, totalitarian thought, practice and personalities from a centre-left or social democratic perspective. Levy is not quite Orwell, however, and perhaps a better comparison is with his near-contemporary Christopher Hitchens. As with Hitchens' writing, here Levy poses some excellent challenges for the left today, together with a (admittedly limited and somewhat conditional) 'mea culpa' for personal support for (or ambivalence to) illiberal movements of the left (or otherwise approved of by the left, such as various Arab or Islamist movements or regimes). While I disagree with his conclusions, his argument defending his identification with the left of centre and it's consistency with individual liberty is passionate and a useful contribution to social democratic thought, while his defence of religion (of whatever stripe) as a matter of individual conscience and enlightenment while decrying its use as a vehicle for intolerance or violence is considerably more nuanced, reflective and humane than Hitchens' somewhat absolutist atheism. Levy's recognition that the US is ultimately a vigorous and important vehicle for individual liberty and human dignity - even when significant criticism of US policy or domestic conditions are possible - is a useful corrective to the reflexive anti-Americanism of assorted Chomsky's, Pinter's and Fisk's - even if his own dismissal of Bush appears to owe more to an offended stylistic sensibility than substantive criticism of policy.

There are quite a few jarring notes, however. Perhaps the circular and indirect style reflects a particular Francophone style (although Camus never seemed to have this problem), or is it a matter of imprecise translation? While one would expect a book by a self-described French philosopher to focus on the arguments and personalities of French intellectual life, he is inclined to make too much of their importance - and his own. Who else could think that Levy's references to the important speech made by Levy - or the little-known magazine founded by Levy - were really profound or pivotal moments that significantly influenced western thought or policy? While his self-regard and self-certainty is of the same order of magnitude as that of Hitchens, he has not been quite as reflective in abandoning his tribal loyalty to the left rather than repositioning his personal allegiances to amongst fellow liberals and democrats from the centre-left to the centre-right (which would seem to be the logical destination of his arguments, even if he personally remained firmly on the centre-left). This centre-right reader certainly tired of his apologia of centre-leftists who continued to flirt with the illiberal (such as Segolene Royal's Socialists) while never quite bringing himself to admit that right-of-centre personalities and ideas were at least equally as important to the Enlightenment, the defeat of Nazism, or the collapse of the Soviet Union as those of the left. His inability to recognise anything other than xenophobes or plutocrats on the right detracts from otherwise thoughtful arguments and encourages him to take excessive comfort in left-of-centre tribalism - as a consequence the book speaks far less persuasively to any reader even slightly right of centre than it could otherwise.

Recommended? Readers of a leftist persuasion should find resonant arguments to support a social democratic position while eschewing the extreme, although the moderate right will probably find it less compelling. Enthusiasts and apologists for authoritarianism of the Right, Left (or any other backward-looking direction) could benefit from reading it as well, although I fear the final product is neither clear, rigorous or persuasive enough the convince the latter of their error.
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