Biography of Bernard-Henri Levy
Lévy has a level of public visibility perhaps unmatched by any philosopher outside of France; he is popularly known simply by his initials, BHL. Deeply concerned with political and cultural issues in most of his writings, he has rejected and challenged the extremes of both leftand right-wing philosophies, in France and around the world. Unusual for French thinkers, Lévy has been generally supportive of the United States, and several of his books, including Who Killed Daniel Pearl? and American Vertigo, have brought him a wide readership in the English-speaking world.
In the run-up to the European elections, Bernard-Henri Lévy conducted a months-long campaign for Europe, performing his play Looking for Europe in 22 European cities between March and May. Inspired by Hotel Europe, which he had revived in London and New York in 2018, the work is a monologue. More precisely, it is the inner monologue of a French writer who might be the author’s brother. He is holed up in a hotel room to prepare a major speech on Europe, which he is supposed to deliver in two hours. As the clock ticks, the author’s ideas, even his very purpose, begin to slip through his fingers until, in the final act, he has a brilliant idea that gives him a measure of hope. Performances were given in French or English, with electronic supertitles in the language of the host country. Appearing with the writer on stage or in video backdrops are actors, political or moral leaders, and local figures, both famous and obscure. These appearances enable the script to confront the questions posed by the European project across the continent. The script was adapted, reframed, and rewritten for each performance so as to deal with current issues in that country or city.
On the whole, in the 1970s Lévy joined André Glucksmann and others in a loose-knit group that became known as the New Philosophers (Nouveaux Philosophes). They launched a severe critique of the Marxism and socialism that had dominated French intellectual life since World War II and to which Lévy himself had previously subscribed. His principal contribution to that movement was La Barbarie à visage humain (1977; Barbarism with a Human Face). Having suffered the criticism of the left for his attack on Marxism, Lévy aroused the ire of the right with L’Idéologie française (1981; “The French Ideology”), in which he criticized the long history of French anti-Semitism. Lévy made perhaps the clearest statement of his own philosophy in La Testament de Dieu (1979; The Testament of God), in which he argued for a humanistic ethics based on a biblical monotheism despite the fact that he was not a believer.