Pompous French philosophe/windbag Bernard-Henri Levy has taken it on himself to scold the American Left (in a letter to its main rag, the Nation) for not being so je ne sais quoi as the French Left. Levy is the self-described new Alexis de Toqueville who came to America and found a land of freaks, fatties, and megachurches (tres creepy!). And while you might find Levy’s ideas a bit fatuous for a self-proclaimed man of great learning, his prose style is a scream!
He’s a maitre of the mixed metaphor (here scolding the Nation-ites for letting a well-organized right wing push le tyran George W Bush into office):
“And the fact is that nothing remotely like it has taken shape on the other side–to the contrary, through the looking glass of the American ‘left’ lies a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void that, for a reader of Whitman or Thoreau, is thoroughly enigmatic.”
Yes, a deafening but thoroughly enigmatic silence through the looking glass.
And this, believe it or not, is a single sentence, although curiously lacking a verb to go with its multiple subjects:
“The 60-year-old ‘young’ Democrats who have desperately clung to the old formulas of the Kennedy era; the folks of MoveOn.org who have been so great at enlisting people in the electoral lists, at protesting against the war in Iraq and, finally, at helping to revitalize politics but whom I heard in Berkeley, like Puritans of a new sort, treating the lapses of a libertine President as quasi-equivalent to the neo-McCarthyism of his fiercest political rivals; the anti-Republican strategists confessing they had never set foot in one of those neo-evangelical mega-churches that are the ultimate (and most Machiavellian) laboratories of the ‘enemy,’ staring in disbelief when I say I’ve spent quite some time exploring them; ex-candidate Kerry, whom I met in Washington a few weeks after his defeat, haggard, ghostly, faintly whispering in my ear: ‘If you hear anything about those 50,000 votes in Ohio, let me know’; the supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton who, when I questioned them on how exactly they planned to wage the battle of ideas, casually replied they had to win the battle of money first, and who, when I persisted in asking what the money was meant for, what projects it would fuel, responded like fundraising automatons gone mad: ‘to raise more money’; and then, perhaps more than anything else, when it comes to the lifeblood of the left, the writers and artists, the men and women who fashion public opinion, the intellectuals–I found a curious lifelessness, a peculiar streak of timidity or irritability, when confronted with so many seething issues that in principle ought to keep them as firmly mobilized as the Iraq War or the so-called ‘American Empire’ (the denunciation of which is, sadly, all that remains when they have nothing left to say).”
Glad Sister Mary Antonilda never made me diagram that one when I was in the eighth grade!
Levy’s proposed cure for the American left’s malaise is…for American intellectuals to get off their culs and do a lot more high-class yammering a la Bernard-Henri Levy. Here goes:
“How is it that so few ‘public intellectuals’ have been found, within the confines of this formidable, impetuous American democracy, who can bring up the idea of impeaching George Bush for lying?
“Some will retort that the ‘public intellectual’ is a European specialty, that we shouldn’t blame Americans for their infidelity to a tradition that is not their own. What do such killjoys make of the Norman Mailer of the 1960s? Of the Arthur Miller of The Crucible? Or of that golden age of civil rights awareness, when great writers enunciated what was right and good and true?
“Others will object that the massive, resounding mobilization of civil society is not an American custom. All you need to do to convince yourself of the untruth of this is remember the 1960s and the movement for civil rights, then for the rights of minorities in general, which were the honor of the country and did not stem, let it be emphasized, from any of the major political parties.
“Still others will wax ironic about the disease of writing up petitions, a French specialty, warded off by American pragmatism. Here the objection is more serious; and I know the fatuity that can exist in the mania for nonstop political engagement in the name of myriad causes–but aren’t you afflicted, my American friends, with the radically opposite sickness?”
Mais oui, Dems, here’s how to get beaucoup de votes: Have a bunch of profs, novelists, and artists pass around the “Impeach Bush” petitions and sound off at college graduations, the way E.I Doctorow did at Hofstra in 2004. I predict great things! I predict a victory for the “right and good and true”! No–not the right and good and true, Bernard-Henri! The left and good and true!