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Globe Editorial

French intellectuals: A bad case of “Botulism’’

Bernard-Henri Lévy Bernard-Henri Lévy
February 13, 2010

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In France, the celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy recently made himself a laughingstock by falling for a transparent hoax that everyone else seemed to recognize as a preposterous bit of satire. In his new book, “On War in Philosophy,’’ Lévy cited favorably the work of one Jean-Baptiste Botul, whose philosophy is known as Botulism, and whose post-war lectures in Paraguay were supposedly collected in a book entitled “The Sex Life of Imannuel Kant.’’

Lévy, who does not embarrass easily, was obliged to apologize and salute the “truly brilliant and very believable hoax’’ created by Frederic Pagès, a writer for the satiric weekly Le Canard Enchainé. But as Pagès pointed out, Jean-Baptiste Botul was not meant to be believable, and Lévy could have learned as much with “two mouse clicks on the Internet.’’

Lévy, whose 2006 book of observations of America was poorly received here, will no doubt survive his faux pas, and the French will go on looking for new figures to take on the role of political-ethical guide that was once played by a Victor Hugo or an Emile Zola. Sadly, however, Lévy’s carelessness and gullibility have lent credence to that malicious old saw about an idea so ridiculous that only an intellectual could fall for it.

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