Bernard-Henri Levy’s Left in Dark Times

Scott McLemee in The Nation:

We witness a historical re-enactment of the New Philosophical argument that Pol Pot’s regime was the logical culmination of the Marxist revolutionary vision at its purest. Here, the benighted American leftist reader may want to interrupt–to ask if, say, the destabilization of Cambodia by years of carpet bombing during the Vietnam War might be just as germane to understanding the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power as even the most nuanced appreciation of Louis Althusser’s structuralism. (Ideas have consequences, but so do B-52s.)

Such an objection would not be welcome, for one of the two very worst forces in the world, by Lévy’s account, is anti-Americanism. The other is anti-Semitism, which, it seems to BHL, is well on the way to becoming the ideological core of a new, global totalitarian movement. Sooner or later all those kids with Che T-shirts and Noam Chomsky lectures on their iPods are going to discover the Protocols of Zion–and then what happens? Nothing good.

To swim against this sinister tide, it is necessary to insist upon “the correct notion of Islamofascism, or, better, of Fascislamism” (why the latter should be preferable is not clear) and revitalize old leftist commitments to secular society. The good, true, BHLian left will be generously cosmopolitan. “You won’t find me denying that non-European civilizations have produced wonders, and whole worlds, that it would be disastrous to ignore, and even more disastrous to crush beneath the wheel of a lazy, brutal, eradicating Universal,” proclaims Lévy.

That last part is a relief, to be sure. But it places us right back in front of certain problems that are not so readily solved–not in theory and certainly not in practice. For there is a long history of particular societies coming to regard themselves as “concrete Universals” (to borrow from a certain idiom apropos here)–in short, as the fullest possible manifestation of the proper essence of humanity, given the world’s conditions. People in other societies tend not to take this well, at least not when it becomes a foreign policy enforced by B-52s. It makes them resentful, and worse than resentful, and being patted on the head for their colorful history and folkways may not soothe them.