Paris: Moses and Polytheism

Barbarism with a Human Face

by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by George Holoch
Harper and Row, 210 pp., $3.95 (paper)

Le testament de Dieu

by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Grasset, 308 pp., 52 francs

Les idées à l'endroit

by Alain de Benoist
Hallier, 298 pp., 45 francs

Vu de droite

by Alain de Benoist
Copernic, 626 pp., 150 francs
Bernard-Henri Levy
Bernard-Henri Levy; drawing by David Levine

“Almost two thousand years, and no new god!”

Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Voltaire said that if God did not exist, man would have to invent Him. If we are to believe the French press, 1979 may be remembered as the year when two very different Parisian intellectuals applied for their respective patents on their own brand of deity.

With Le testament de Dieu, Bernard-Henri Lévy, thirty-one years old, ex-Maoist, ex-journalist, and self-proclaimed “New Philosopher,” has become the latter-day prophet of a God who, though now deceased, was kind enough to leave behind His last will and testament, the Bible, as a bulwark against totalitarianism. With Les idées à l’endroit Alain de Benoist, ex-Catholic, ex-reactionary, and self-proclaimed “theoretical journalist,” has presented a compendium of essays that attempts to lay the sociobiological foundations for a new paganism, a new aristocrat, and what is called the “New Right.” “The debate between monotheism and polytheism,” de Benoist writes, “is a truly essential discussion.” But strangely enough, neither man actually believes in the deity or deities he proposes: they are merely convenient foils to help man muddle through the mess of the modern world. Nietzsche was right after all. You can take your pick: the barren heights of Mount Sinai with Lévy, or the misty haunts of Celtic forests with de Benoist—a dead Yahweh or a vitalistic Wotan. In either case, to adapt a phrase from James Joyce, these are very posthumous gods.

For all their differences, Lévy and de Benoist have a lot in common. Each declares himself a moralist in philosophy, a nominalist in world view, and an antitotalitarian in politics. Both are skillful Parisian publicists (Lévy is an editor at Grasset, de Benoist at Copernic), and both have written much-acclaimed books (Barbarism with a Human Face won the 1977 Prix d’Honneur de l’essai, and Vu de droite won the 1978 Grand Prix de l’essai from the Académie française). Each has set flame to his recent past (for Lévy, Maoism, for de Benoist, the “Old Right”) and risen like a Phoenix from the ashes to go on to condemn Marxism and modern liberalism, the Gulag and Coca-Cola, fascism of the left and right, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, and the rule of the masses.

Yet as we might expect from these heralds of monotheism and polytheism, they have spent much energy excommunicating each other. There they were last July in the offices of France-Soir for a round-table discussion, glaring at each other uncivilly from their respective worlds, only a few days after Sartre and Aron had managed to shake hands over the issue of the Vietnamese boat-people. In the course of the exchange Lévy declared himself “shocked by the ideological and theoretical poverty” of de Benoist’s writings, while de Benoist found Lévy’s books “not worth a trifle.” “I am filled with hatred for you,” Lévy hissed. “I hate no one,” de Benoist replied, for…

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