On the road with BHL

Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) has always been controversial. Intellectual with prophetic accents who wants to be a knight errant in the service of the tortured of the whole world, the philosopher accumulates the grievances against him for 50 years. He is criticized for his fortune, inherited from a father enriched in the timber trade, his sense of spectacle, his social relations which ensure him advantageous media coverage and his untimely positions on major international issues. The man has so many enemies that we learn, in a portrait of Paris Match published in June 2021, that he must live permanently under the protection of six police officers.

I was 20 years old in 1989 when I read it for the first time. From the start of Barbarism with a human face, published in 1977, I was seduced by his plea for left-wing anti-communism. “I am the natural child of an evil couple, fascism and Stalinism,” wrote BHL. […] For the first time, the gods have left us, no doubt tired of wandering off on the charred plain where we make our home. And I write, yes, I write at the age of a barbarism which, already, silently, remakes the beds of men. The bewitching lyricism of this absolutely singular prose of ideas, punctuated by abundant commas that give it a heady breath and an elegant fluidity, instantly captivated me.

I read with avidity, thereafter, all the books of the philosopher. As the years went by, the critical spirit added to the admiration I had for him. His criticism of patriotism seemed to me lacking in nuance, his exacerbated cosmopolitanism seemed to me like a posture of rich man disconnected from the common fate, and some of his life choices made him foreign to me. BHL, for example, never listens to music, except that of his wife, singer and actress Arielle Dombasle, who does in the genre glamour in knock. Can an intellectual thus be insensitive to the sense of the human carried by quality music? Disappointing.

Despite everything, I never became a contemptor of the philosopher. I have my reasons to explain this fidelity and I find them in On the road of nameless men (Grasset, 2021, 272 pages), the most recent book by BHL, which brings together an essay on the meaning of its commitment and eight reports, first published in Paris Match in 2019-2020, on forgotten peoples, victims of absurd wars or misery.

To explain his “candid revolt in the face of the scandal of evil”, BHL looks back on his experience. The Maoism which seduced the intellectuals of his generation, around 1970, generated, he admits, “many monstrosities of thought” – those he denounced, precisely, in Barbarism with a human face -, but he also instilled in the minds of his followers “a beautiful slogan: war against egoism”.

Added to this momentum, reading the Damned of the earth, the famous essay by Frantz Fanon published in 1961, relaunched in 1968 and “explosively” prefaced by Jean-Paul Sartre, nurtured the philosopher’s “concern for the universal” and convinced him, once and for all, ” that man is not a local adventure; that a man is this man as well as all men “and that the greatness of humanism consists in defending all lives, including” tiny lives, the real ones, those which are too small for to have a history, an archive, a face on our screens ”.

Son of a heroic father, engaged in the International Brigades in Spain and resistant to Nazism, BHL could not be this bastard defined by Sartre as the one “who thinks himself out of place on this earth. […] and which, consequently, will not budge for anything in the world and for anyone ”. Hence his commitment to the martyred peoples, from Bengalis in 1971 to Christians in Nigeria today, including Kurds, Ukrainians, Somalis, Libyans, Afghans and refugees from Lesbos, to whom he dedicates his recent reports.

BHL has often been criticized, and I was one of them, for worrying about the misery at the end of the world while remaining blind to the fate of the French and Western victims of capitalism. For the philosopher, these struggles are not mutually exclusive and must be combined. However, noting that the defenders of Western victims of injustice outnumber those of the damned of the earth, he chose to devote his life to making their voices heard.

This is what binds me to him, despite his occasional failures and his sometimes Manichean analyzes. He opened my eyes to the world in distress. He constantly reminds me that indifference is inhuman and that fraternity must transcend borders. Others do it too and better? May be. The fact remains that, for me and for thousands of others, he was the one who did it.

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