Reviews

The Genius of Bernard-Henri Lévy


The Genius of Judaism

by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Steven B. Kennedy

Random House, 256 pp., $28

The French have called Bernard-Henri Lévy simply by his initials, BHL, since the 1970s. They also call him a philosophe, which, even today, is no ordinary thing. In America, a philosopher is someone explaining that “Socrates is a man; all men are mortal; so Socrates is mortal” to an audience of bored 19-year-olds scrolling through their iPhones. In France, a glossy color magazine called Philosophie appears on news-stands—which France has in abundance. A philosophe is heir to the great figures of the Enlightenment, expected to be possessed of effortless learning and culture, a part of the country’s rich literary tradition, who is “engaged,” as well, in public affairs. 

When BHL first appeared on the scene, more old-fashioned philosophes envied or looked down upon him for his big, broad, flexible approach to public affairs, not to mention his very public private life. To this day, BHL is as likely to appear in the glamorous pages of Paris Match as in Philosophie. In his new book, The Genius of Judaism, he recalls the lesson an old, rich, and cultivated Jew of his acquaintance once gave him about how to combat anti-Semitism: “have nicer teeth than they do; get their women to love you . . . Live in castles as big as theirs.” A promise kept. 

Bernard-Henri Lévy and third wife, Arielle Dombasle, after her performance for the release of her album La Rivière Atlantique, October 2016, Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images.)

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About the Author

Neil Rogachevsky holds a doctorate in French history from Cambridge and is currently a Tikvah postdoctoral fellow at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

Comments

dovmaimon on January 8, 2017 at 1:38 am
Some Jews have had critical influence on post-war French political liberal ethos. Simone Veil supporting the abortion's legalization, Robert Badinter forbiding death's penalty, Mendes France regarding freeing Tunisia's colony. In literature and philosophy, two fields that are central to this country, France would be the same without leading Jewish French writers (Albert Cohen, Proust as mentioned, Raymond Aron,BHL, etc).
Today, the popular intellectuals who are able to defend the French identity's agenda against radical Islamism are Alain Finkielkraut and Eric Zemmour.
Indeed, Jews, despite their hard efforts to be more French than the French indigenes, have never been part of France's DNA, they are and apparently will remain in the role of the goodwill outsiders that people like to listen the advices but are not "a bone of our bones".
dovmaimon on January 8, 2017 at 1:39 am
Some Jews have had critical influence on post-war French political liberal ethos. Simone Veil supporting the abortion's legalization, Robert Badinter forbiding death's penalty, Mendes France regarding freeing Tunisia's colony. In literature and philosophy, two fields that are central to this country, France would be the same without leading Jewish French writers (Albert Cohen, Proust as mentioned, Raymond Aron,BHL, etc).
Today, the popular intellectuals who are able to defend the French identity's agenda against radical Islamism are Alain Finkielkraut and Eric Zemmour.
Indeed, Jews, despite their hard efforts to be more French than the French indigenes, have never been part of France's DNA, they are and apparently will remain in the role of the goodwill outsiders that people like to listen the advices but are not "a bone of our bones."

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