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Book Review. Family Ties

Fred Siegel

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Ed: Many people might not know about Bernard-Henri LÚvy. He was one of the first to break with Marx in the leftist establishment of Europe after Solzenitsyn's "Gulags" appeared with the publication of his book "Barbarism With a Human Face" that shook many from their blind infatuation with Marxism. LÚvy is an anomaly — an atheist (at least at the time he wrote "Barbarism") who recognizes that without God there is not ground for freedom and who sees the obscurantism that occupies so much of leftist thought yet remains on the left. Why publish it here? Because the history of ideas is important.

Bernard-Henri LÚvy explains his enduring, if troubled, relationship with the Left.

Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism
Bernard-Henri LÚvy
Random House, 256 pp., $25)

The terms Left and Right were coined in 1789 to describe seating arrangements for the National Assembly during the early stages of the French Revolution. Those seated to the podium’s right wanted to preserve parts of the past; those on the left hoped, in the name of progress, to invent a new future. But the maneuverings of politics soon muddied the initial transparency of these terms into an enduring illegibility. The ideas of the bloody minded right-wing reactionary Joseph de Maistre, the intellectual arch-enemy of the Revolution, for instance, became an inspiration for the early socialists—and so it has gone ever since.

The flamboyant French litterateur Bernard-Henri LÚvy, widely known in Paris as BHL, acknowledges the problem. In his new book, he writes that “the famous split between Left and Right that has structured French politics...has become harder and harder to believe in.” That is because, to his dismay, much of the Left, cuckolded by history, no longer believes in progress or modernity. He describes the contemporary Left, with its signature scowl of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-liberalism, as “that great backward falling corpse which the worms have already started to chew.”

Despite his disdain for much of the current Left, and despite the fact that many of those closest to his point of view in France endorsed the presidential candidacy of the “right-wing” flag bearer Nicholas Sarkozy, a personal friend, LÚvy refused to abandon the Socialist ticket. His dilemma, he told Sarkozy, was that no matter how much he liked, respected, and even agreed with the French president, he couldn’t support him because “the Left is my family.” LÚvy’s new book is an effort—part memoir, part essay, part polemic—to explain the nature of those family ties.

“And does my insistence, on sticking with the Left that has done everything to empty itself of its substance mean I’m clinging to yesterday...to nostalgia?...Yes, maybe,” LÚvy writes. “But not only.” LÚvy’s “not only” refers to the images he treasures of his father in the uniform of the Spanish Republicans who fought Franco; of the great resistance hero Jean Moulin; of the brave socialist Prime Minister of the 1930s, Leon Blum. He acknowledges that “images are not enough” and describes the events that shaped his loyalties and those of his parents. These include the Dreyfus Affair, Vichy France, and the Algerian War, as well as being a young man during the uprisings of May 1968. He wonders if he is worthy of his illustrious ancestors, such as the “young left-wing captains in Portugal 1975 bringing down the Salazar dictatorship.” But here again, he backtracks and adds, “It is true that none of these events can completely justify the clear division of Right and Left.” He recognizes that some on the Right supported Dreyfus and the events of May ’68, while “many socialists...pacifists and sometimes Communists” took part in Vichy’s crimes. “These events,” he concludes, “are split by the same dividing line that they purport to draw.”

Read the entire article on the City Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 13-Nov-2008

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