“A Letter to the American Left” (Feb. 27) by Bernard-Henri Levy (aka BHL) ignited a firestorm of (mostly) angry mail. Readers described Levy’s writing as “inane,” “tripe,” “blather,” “windbaggery,” “merde,” “condescending and crass,” “shortsighted” and “best left to line the bird cage.” They called Levy a “fashionable lightweight,” “motor-mouth,” “posturing populist,” “narcissistic” and an “arrogant,” “self-promoting” “rock-star philosopher.” Kevin Beavers of Freiburg, Germany, suggests that BHL has been “bumbling about America more like Inspector Clouseau than Tocqueville.” Many wrote to inform Levy that Susan Sontag is dead (an ambiguity of translation caused some to mistake his complimentary invocation of Sontag as referring to her in the present tense). –The Editors
THE ABCS OF BHL
You heard it here first: Bernard-Henri Levy is actually an agent provocateur. The NSA has planted him to convince all us lefties that everything the right wing says about the French is true: They put on airs; they sneer; they are given to breezy, supercilious pronouncements about broad currents in American society and politics on the basis of little or no information. Don’t be taken in. There are many thoughtful, intelligent, sympathetic French people out there. Levy just isn’t one of them.
I find Bernard-Henri Levy’s view from the outside looking in very enlightening. Our country needs more mirrors held up to show us how we look to the larger world. I agree that there is indeed a strong undercurrent hoping for “great voices capable of echoing their impatience in a momentous way.”
As someone who follows French intellectual life closely, I can assure you that “BHL” is a buffoon, a human caricature, all the more amusing because he cannot realize what a ridiculous mediocrity he is. He is taken more seriously by the French punditocracy than by actual perceptive intellectuals, philosophers, thinkers or critics. He is the sort of media intellectual that is ruining discourse in this country, as well as in France. Neil Godin, “le gloupier,” a Belgian pie-throwing prankster, has pied BHL on five occasions, for his pretentious tendentiousness. I realize BHL is having one of his Tocquevillean moments, but that is no reason to print this rubbish
New York City
In France serious people, especially on the left, find Bernard-Henri Levy to be an egomaniacal poseur and an intellectual fraud, as is meticulously documented by two recent irrefutable books: Le B.A.-BA du BHL (The ABCs of BHL), by Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, and Une Imposture Francaise, by Nicolas Beau and Olivier Toscer. BHL has made a career of attacking the left. So I find The Nation‘s decision to publish this latest fantasy appalling. BHL’s article, however, does contain proof that for him anything goes in his war on the left. He writes, apropos the CIA’s special prisons in Eastern Europe, “Since when does the press excuse citizens from their political duties? Why haven’t we heard from more intellectuals like Susan Sontag…?” It seems that it never occurred to BHL or the editors that it would be a tad difficult for my friend Susan Sontag to have commented on this issue for the simple reason that she is dead. Susan succumbed to a long illness on December 28, 2004, long before the special prisons were exposed by the press. As someone who has written dozens of articles for The Nation, I say shame on it for promoting BHL’s garbage and for publishing this embarrassing slander on one of the jewels in America’s intellectual firmament–who is, unfortunately, no longer here to defend herself.
San Rafael, Calif.
I read Bernard-Henri Levy’s piece with shame and a sinking heart. I am no intellectual, public or other, but I have read many books on the subjects Levy refers to and finish each of them with a greater despair. We’ve been struck dumb by the sheer virulence of the attacks from the right. Their utter lack of integrity shocks us such that any reasonable rejoinder we might make seems, even to us, like incoherent babble. If might makes right, what is there to say? In my 71 years I’ve never been faced, at least in this country, with such consummate evil. Is it any wonder we stumble?
Glendalough, Western Australia
May I suggest one reason the American left is so invisible–namely, that most of those who have an interest in progressive social change are too busy working several jobs, or many hours, in order to feed themselves and their families and pay the rent. To speak out against the dominant order requires time and energy. It is perhaps easy for someone from France, the land of the thirty-six-hour workweek, a substantial social security system and an amply funded public broadcasting and education system, to be outspoken against the status quo. It is not simply that American popular culture and discourse is firmly against the left. It is that many more of their institutional structures are geared to the crushing of anyone who isn’t safely rich or at least well-off.
BLACK PAC ON TRACK–NOT WACK
New York City
I wholeheartedly support Walter Mosley’s proposal to form a black voting bloc [“A New Black Power,” Feb. 27]. However, most of the items on his list are race-neutral: universal healthcare, enhanced Social Security, better distribution of wealth and services, reform of the criminal justice system. This is the kind of class-based politics that allowed Bill Clinton to disavow any policies specifically targeted for African-Americans. The message was “Vote for me. If we get universal healthcare, blacks will benefit disproportionately.” What we got was welfare “reform,” which has visited incalculable harm on African-Americans, and a crime bill that has sent countless poor blacks and Latinos to the prisons that Mosley wants to reform. Where is the “black” in Mosley’s black voting bloc? Let me propose items 7 and 8, which Mosley wisely left blank for readers to fill in: (7) Restore and expand affirmative action; (8) A reparations program entailing massive social reconstruction of black communities across the nation, providing jobs, schools and services.
Walter Mosley’s “A New Black Power” was right on. Under (7) and (8) I would add total public financing of all Congressional and presidential elections and a ban on all executions.
As a middle-aged white woman, I am just as worried as Walter Mosley about healthcare, Social Security, equal distribution of wealth and good jobs “disappearing from this nation like fleas off a dead dog’s back.” I agree with every item on his list of six demands and would add (7) Outlaw discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation and (8) Declare a woman’s basic human right to complete jurisdiction over her own body.
East Lansing, Mich.
(7) Adopt instant-runoff voting; (8) Eventually set up proportional representation: make Congress truly representative.
New York City
(7) The blues (Blind Lemon Jefferson et al.) should be taught in public schools as part of social studies.
“A New Black Power” blew me away. I was sitting at my UCLA desk job reading it when my boss walked in. What was I reading? he wondered. My heart was burning. I wanted to tell him that I’m reading about empowerment. I am reading about the youth–me, sir, I wanted to say. This little girl who gets your mail. I am sitting here reading about how I need to stand up for humanity. Yes, Mosley addressed black Americans, but he was speaking to me too! I mean, what about me? What about Armenian-Americans, or Azerbaijani-Americans, Iraqi-Americans? What about the rest of us, who are not represented by any “party”? Mosley says to the young people, “You have to take the reins.” I am ready to take the reins, but I don’t know how. What do I do? Where do I turn? I have my fists clenched, my eyes focused, my heart on fire and I can’t wait to be shown how to do something about the atrocities committed in my name!
Regarding Max Holland’s reply to my letter [March 20], an honorable person would have felt obliged to prove such a serious allegation rather than simply assert an unsupported and vicious conclusion, preceded by a couple of typographical errors. In the absence of such proof, I demand a retraction.