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on October 8, 2008
What does it mean to be a Leftist after the end of the 1960's New Left in this post Cold War era? That is the central question that Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL) attempts to answer in this extended essay. Arguably, BHL is a humanist, against all forms of Totalitarianism or what he calls "Barbarism".

The book begins with BHL having a conversation with Nicolas Sarkozy whom BHL considers to be an old acquaintances. When BHL refuses to write a puff piece for his "friend" Sarkozy lashes out at BHL criticizing him for being "soft" after being discredited by his supposed "Leftist family". This prompts BHL to confront his past as a Leftist and to outline a pessimistic vision of the future of the Left in Europe.

What is great about the book is the text is translated in a very colloquial way. Sure, you'll need to have a little background on European intellectual history, but he doesn't muddle the text with too much academic jargon. I definitely recommend reading this book especially if you consider yourself a Leftist.
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Part autobiography, part political essay & part ideological polemic, Left In Dark Times is a survey of this prominent leftwing French intellectual's political roots, a look at old & new varieties of authoritarianism and a plea for a fresh moral vision. Having observed the mindless and juvenile parroting of consensus ideas by the Stepford Left, he analyzed the development of Leftist thought, identifying the four pillars of its current manifestation as:

(a) Indifference to suffering using the excuse of relativism (b) A perverted notion of tolerance that excuses any type of barbarity perpetrated by non-Western cultures (c) Irrational & obsessive Anti-Americanism articulated in a juvenile & oddly uniform manner (d) Anti-Zionism which is the New Antisemitism, the favorite pastime of the parasites from the rubbish dumps of the planet that infest transnational bodies like the United Abominations.

Much of the book concerns French politics as Lévy struggles to justify his attachment to the term "left." I found this quest totally overwrought & pointless. He is attached to a certain romantic vision of this ideology but for most it brings to mind Stalin, Pol Pot and yes, the National SOCIALISTS of Germany - murderous collectivists all of them. He however redeems himself with unique insights & unusual perspectives on other issues.

Since the implosion of the Soviet Empire, the resentment of Western Leftists has consumed them to the point of rejecting Enlightenment values. The convenient scapegoats Israel & the USA are demonized as a matter of course whilst the most savage, cruel & barbaric regimes are excused merely because they oppose the West, or their atrocities utterly ignored. Amongst those he mentions is the mediocre playwright Harold Pinter who defended the butcher Slobodan Milosevic. Fur further evidence, check out The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.

A very shrewd observation of his is that the collapse of Communism has obscured the evidence of its crimes, permitting certain apologists, predominantly academia's tenured termites in the humanities, to start nurturing that deadly dystopian dream again. Amongst these are also found the supporters of thugs like Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Putin and hardcore Islamists.

Lévy diagnoses European anti-Americanism as "power envy", resentment at having been liberated and protected by the USA plus the conspiracy theory of a Zionist cabal controlling the country - the latest version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is common to both the Left & Far Right, not only in Europe but in the USA too, lest we forget Patrick Buchanan & the grinning peanut Jimmy Carter.

Lévy shows how (his) Left's ideals of sympathy for the oppressed and striving for justice have been replaced by hatred; how its body is being consumed by pathogens that grow by devouring what little remains of the good. Its intellectual bankruptcy & practical failure everywhere have turned Leftism into the champion of nihilism. (There was nowhere left to go).

Leftists despise (Classical) Liberalism - here to be understood as individual freedom - and the Enlightenment that gave birth to it. That is why they embrace collectivists of all stripes, from Baathist Fascists like Saddam to Fanatical Jihadists like Ahmadinejad to terrorists like Hezbollah, as Mr Wormtongue himself, the Pol Pot fan Noam Chomsky has done. On the international stage the most visible manifestation is an emerging gas cartel which might encompass China, Russia, Belarus, the Turkic states of Central Asia, Venezuela, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries - a new Axis of Evil. More recently, in his book The New Anti-Semitism: The Globalisation of the Oldest Hatred Denis MacShane has suggested that antisemitism has become a component part of international politics, a global export industry with an impact on geopolitics which the West underestimates at its great peril.

Lévy proposes a new vision based on a commitment to fight the new barbarism which is spreading worldwide. His warnings and sentiments have already been raised by an array of respectable writers on that side of the political spectrum, for example in the book A Matter of Principle edited by Thomas Cushman. I am afraid Lévy will find no takers for his sensible proposals amongst the leftists at media like Le Monde, The Guardian, The New York Times or the BBC. Even just recognizing the link between terrorism and religion is avoided by these & similar media that cannot now reveal their vacuity in judgment as this will further undermine their credibility.

Robert Kagan's The Return of History and the End of Dreams paints a very foreboding picture of the future, one that neither the mass media nor the new US administration will face squarely. But facts stubbornly continue to exist despite being ignored. Left in Dark Times confirms much of what others have already exposed - a global sinisterist convergence between collectivists around the spectrum, united by their hatred of capitalism, individual freedom, Israel & the USA.

I found the author's style slightly jarring in places but that pales besides what he has to say. In 2003 Jean-François Revel raised many similar points to ponder in his witty book Anti-Americanism, arguing that the phenomenon is a squalid psychological need. Another French author that I very highly recommend is Chantal Delsol, in particular her two magnificent works Icarus Fallen and The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century. She writes with great empathy and understanding.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 15, 2008
I hate to admit it, by I had a very hard time reading this book, for at least two reasons. First, the author is completely incapable of limiting each sentence to a single thought. He interrupts nearly every thought to throw in another, then back to the first thought, then off to another.

In addition, the author keeps making references to European events and people, without any introduction or explanation. Much of the time, it seemed more like showing off than providing information. I felt like I was constantly fighting through the conversational-meets-stream-of-consciousness style to figure out what he was on about.

Putting aside the writing, there is some content here. The author explores the ways in which the Left has gone off tracks in recent years. Of course, he is writing about the European Left, not the American Left. I consider myself, and most of my friends, to be pretty far to the Left. And, if you read my blog, you'll see I am not at all shy about criticizing the United States. Yet, it never even occurred to me to think that the USSR was anything other than a totalitarian nightmare. I guess some on the Left in Europe fell into the trap of thinking that any country that said it was communist deserved our respect, but I sure don't remember anyone around here thinking that way. Furthermore, I am not sure anyone who does fall into that kind of trap was all that bright to begin with!
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