Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bernard-Henry Levy's Left In Dark Times, The Ground Zero Mosque/Community Center and Obama's Defence Of It

Finally having read Levy's book, I have been trying to reconcile, what I extrapolate, is Levy's answer to the Community Center controversy--secularism--and Obama's answer--religious freedom--as embedded in his speech framed by his celebration of the profundity of faith in American life, the fruits of constitutionally protected religious freedom. For Levy concludes his book, disappointingly and unconvincingly to my mind, with his nostrum for the rehabilitation of the Left. That nostrum answers, or is meant to answer, the sub textual question running through his book: how does he reconcile his thunderous disaggregation of the modern Left with his location of himself "as a man of the Left". His answer: an unremitting atheism with all its consequences.

From page 213 of the hard cover edition:

"First lesson. The empty heaven....smashing the remaining stars in the firmament of Politics.

Second lesson. The mourning period...pain without nostalgia...Regret, yes, probably--yet the regret of nothing, a complete focus on the future.

..third...lesson. Action. Even activism...A poetry which becomes the opposite of the "'lyrical illusion' of doing...all the more buning because shorn of the pretense of transcendence."

I can reconcile Levy's trumpeting of secularism with Obama's freedom of religion as an answer to the problem posed by the Community Centre by understanding that below the constitutional values and principles of religious freedom is necessarily the underlying essential separation of church and state, however much constitutionally unstated is that separation, and without which separation the principle of religious freedom is incoherent. That brings the essential *legal* secularity of America into harmony with Levy's general assertion of secularity as applied to the problem of the Community Centre.

Why I find Levy's nostrum unconvincing is because I don't believe,contrary to his diagnosis, that the Left can't bear a world without God, or more precisely and more broadly too, a world without transcendence:

From page 211:

"If progressivism eventually, once more, starts to flirt with evil--and if it's already starting to turn its back on that Dreyfusard, antitotalitarian, antifascist tradition that was its greatest honor and that still is its only reason for existing--it will be because it can no longer stand the idea of an empty heaven and the twilight of its idols."

As I say, this is too grand and sweeping a diagnosis from where I come.