The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Levy [5/10]

In his pell-mell, inevitably too early discourse on the Coronavirus pandemic, “The Virus in the Age of Madness,” philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has a go at dissecting the true nature and hidden meanings of this moment. Those more technically philosophically inclined and trained will do this book more justice than a layperson like me, but I found it both highly interesting (a very different take than other early writerly musings) and baffling. Baffling because it seems to me that Levy is always careful to adhere to the “risk management” ethos of pandemic response (that is, with unknown mortality/morbidity risk of a virulent virus, let’s show extreme care and save lives), while at the same time eviscerating careless memes that have arisen. “It is the epidemic of fear,” he asserts at the beginning of the book, “not only of Covid-19, that has descended upon the world.” He takes aim at sloppy logic: health professionals are not always worth revering; the virus does not intrinsically possess hidden virtues; Covid-19 need not be delivering a special message; it was not inevitable; it is not a judgment of God; the dichotomy between “life” and “the economy” might be false; lockdown should not be “basked in”; “stay at home” rebuffs centuries of philosophical lessons and “we will have to muster our courage and go for real life”; and it is not true that “the world is made for us to huddle up in, say King Corona.” I used the word “baffling” above and I mean it, no narrative thread of logic seems to be employed. Nonetheless, Levy is a spirited, polymath orator and The Virus in the Age of Madness is well worth reading, if only to reinforce the need to keep questioning every step in our 2020 world.

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