Charlie Rose’s Légion d’honneur, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and the French ruling class

charlierose's Legion d'honneur ceremony3 Americans foiled a terror attack in a train in France, and were awarded the Legion d’honneur for it, the Republic’s highest award. What does Charlie Rose have in common with these three servicemen? Answer: the Légion d’honneur. What act of valor puts Charlie Rose on par with these heroic servicemen? We may not know for 50 years, it’s the national archive’s policy. But we can speculate, and to do so we have to make a detour by France’s ruling class, and philosopher extraordinaire Bernard-Henri Lévy (BHL), who is recurrent guest on the Charlie Rose show.

Recently, one of the finance ministers under Sarkozy’s presidency, Eric Woerth, was cleared of a series of corruption charges. A high profile honorary magistrate criticizes between the lines the clemency of this judgment as exemplifying the French elite flirting with the mafia as the code of honor binding its members. Among the charges was the allegation that Woerth awarded the manager of Bettencourt’s fortune the Légion d’honneur, in exchange for favors, including hiring his wife. Regardless of the merit of the court’s decision, in an actual democracy, the official document justifying the contentious award would have been made public. Not in France, to our knowledge. Apparently, no news source raised this obvious point.

It’s very unlikely one would learn about France’s drift towards a kleptocracy, that was long ago identified as an inevitable by-product of the ÉNA-dominated sociological structure of French civil service, by watching Charlie Rose’s many interviews of BHL. Or any French intellectual, for that matter: should the word ‘oligarchy’ be spoken or printed in ink, that would be in the context of abstract reflections. Giving specifics about corruption, naming names, that would be beneath them. And “what corruption anyway?”, when much of their livelihood depends, directly or indirectly, on cooptation by the ruling class, the impotent oligarchs, as unusually plain spoken journalist, Sophie Coignard, puts it (1). And that is certainly the case of BHL, who derives much of his influence from his connections to power. Not from his intellect, as he is, in fact, the naked emperor of the French intelligentsia. In 2006, he was described as follows by two French journalists:

A philosopher who’s never taught the subject in any university, a journalist who creates a cocktail mingling the true, the possible, and the totally false, a patch-work filmmaker, a writer without a real literary oeuvre, he is the icon of a media-driven society in which simple appearance weighs more than the substance of things. BHL is thus first and foremost a great communicator, the PR man of the only product he really knows how to sell: himself.

On his book relating his journey throughout America, “on the footsteps of Tocqueville”, the New Yorker wrote in 2006: “self absorbed, stale, predictable”. Foreign policy expert Pascal Boniface is the author of the “Intellectual impostors”, the clique of spin doctors who dominate the French media. They push through their agenda by calling “fascist ” anyone they don’t like. And they are never held accountable: once a media pundit, always a media pundit. But BHL is in a class of his own since his role as ad hoc foreign minister under president Sarkozy that lead to the toppling of Kadhafi. Never mind the human rights disaster, and ongoing immigration nightmare, that ensued. Comes the next international crisis, in Ukraine, and he is again in the good graces of the president, this time François Hollande.

BHL’s aura around French statesmen is a symptom of the nation’s decayed elite, the bourgeoisie d’État. It serves a smokescreen behind which special interest groups or foreign powers dictate their wishes. Hollande’s “my enemy is the financial lobby” turned out to be a sick joke. Compelled by Brussels to enact supply side reform (or else…), Emmanuel Macron, whom the NYTimes complacently labels “the face of new socialism”, promised the people, as part of a broad red tape cutting drive, to «give them back purchasing power», notably by taking down the monopoly of a quiet, but rich and powerful, corporation known as the notaires. In hindsight, that too was smoke and mirrors. On the European front, Varouflakis gives a first hand account of Hollande’s impotence during the latest Greek crisis a.k.a ‘This is a coup’. On the international front, the French taxpayer faces a hefty bill after its leader bowed to American pressure (via the EU) to cancel the multi €Bn Mistral deal with Russia. This reversal was finalized around the time it was revealed by Wikileaks that the NSA had engaged in economic spying against France for 10 years: it didn’t make a dent in Hollande’s urge to be Obama’s puppet in chief. The ship France has a mock captain, and the candidates for the next presidential election are cut from the same cloth, the bourgeoisie d’État (2).

BHL’s humanitarian advocacy is for self promotion. His intellectual impostures are notorious. His artistic endeavors are resounding failures. He back-stabs his critics. He is as removed as it gets from the common people. Each of his public utterances, delivered with emphatic mannerism,  galvanizes the far right in spite of himself, but he sees it as his mission to write a passionate plea for French voters to reject it! His omnipresence in the media, his mingling in international affairs, can only be explained by the extraordinary culture of nepotism that defines the French ruling class. It’s an open secret the Légion d’honneur is by default an instrument of corruption, prompting Piketty to refuse it (3). BHL is Charlie Rose’s darling French guest. The latter regards the former as a brother, he said, in his speech for receiving the Légion d’honneur (from the hands of IMF head Lagarde). With all that in mind, can you take a fair guess at the question raised at the beginning of this post: what is the justification for Charlie Rose’s Légion d’honneur?

(1) On corruption: print media is the long standing recipient of government subsidies, by the billions of euros (see here and here). These are probably illegal by EU law, which forbids state aid by default. Most of the media is pro-euro: would that explain the EU competition watchdog’s absent mindedness? European citizens may file a complaint here. On a related note, BHL is, or was, on the board of major media outlets, such as Arte (public), Lemonde, Libération, writes in Le Point etc.

(2) The favorite candidate for the 2017 election is Juppé, the énarque who had been Jacques Chirac’s sidekick for 40 years. The pair was convicted for diverting public money to their political party, and, allegedly, there is much more some judges have turned a blind eye to. Sarkozy is embroiled in 9 political scandals. The third among the traditional contenders to the incumbent (assuming he runs again), Bayrou, whose centrist political base remains ever elusive, epitomizes cynicism and futility. While the far right’s base are the disenfranchised, its leader is the heir of a political dynasty, and we have not seen convincing evidence she wants to take on the bourgeoisie d’État. Hence the expedient “all cut from the same cloth”.

(3) On Piketty snubbing the Légion d’honneur, the knee jerk reaction of an énarque, Jean-Yves Archer, who writes op-eds for Les Échos: “Insults to the Légion d’honneur are wounds that never heal, a day will come when Piketty will regret his”. Break the law of silence, and you shall perish!


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