cover image The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World

The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World

Bernard-Henri Lévy, trans. from the French by Steven B. Kennedy. Holt, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-20301-4

French intellectual Lévy (The Genius of Judaism) melds history, theology, politics, philosophy, and personal experience in this striking but flawed book-length essay on the past and future of world politics. Lévy believes in universal history, the idea that the world’s history is one coherent story whose arc is a change in power from East to West. In this view, the U.S. is a continuation of Europe; it became a reluctant empire almost by default after WWII; and the nature of its imperialism is changing thanks to the apolitical monopoly of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Drawing on Western philosophy (Bentham, Hegel, Heidegger) and the Bible, he lays out an explanation for the U.S.’s withdrawal from its role as global watchdog and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the five kings—Iran, Russia, Turkey, China, and “those nostalgic for the caliphate”—that he sees lying in wait, eager to take its place. Surprisingly, after much buildup of the threat, the last chapter concludes that it would be difficult for any of the kingdoms to truly become an empire, and the book’s premise falls flat. Though Lévy’s analysis of the internet landscape and its impact on truth is deeply insightful, those who don’t share his belief in the West’s exceptionality and his despair at its loss of power will not connect with the analysis he constructs atop them. (Feb.)