American Vertigo by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Back in 2004, with an eye to the growing rift between the United States and France in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, the Atlantic Monthly commissioned the French philosopher, journalist, and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy to spend a year traveling America and writing up his impressions. With a film crew and assistants in tow, Lévy followed the path set down 173 years earlier by his great predecessor, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America remains perhaps the most influential book ever written about the U.S. The five prolix articles that resulted, running throughout 2005 in the Atlantic, now form the core of American Vertigo, Lévy’s attempt to take the pulse of our democracy.
Lévy would seem in many ways a sensible choice to carry out a mission of cross-cultural understanding. The dashing, media-savvy fifty-seven-year old—“BHL,” as he is known in France, where he has enjoyed rock-star-like fame since the publication three decades ago of his fiery anti-Marxist polemic, Barbarism with a Human Face—has long held a friendly, if hardly uncritical, view of America. This affection has set him apart from the run of left-wing Parisian intellectuals, for whom virulent anti-Americanism has become second nature. Lévy has even taken to describing himself as an “anti-anti-American.” Also to his credit, he has recognized the menace posed by radical Islam to the West, supporting the U.S. war to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. Though opposed to the intervention in Iraq, he has made his case on prudential grounds and avoided the moral preening of other European critics.
About the Author
Brian C. Anderson is senior editor of City Journal and the author of South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias.