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The Empire and the Five Kings

The Empire and the Five Kings

America's Abdication and the Fate of the World

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Henry Holt and Co.


One of the West’s leading intellectuals offers a provocative look at America’s withdrawal from world leadership and the rising powers who seek to fill the vacuum left behind

The United States was once the hope of the world, a beacon of freedom and the defender of liberal democracy. Nations and peoples on all continents looked to America to stand up for the values that created the Western world, and to oppose autocracy and repression. Even when America did not live up to its ideals, it still recognized their importance, at home and abroad.

But as Bernard-Henri Lévy lays bare in this powerful and disturbing analysis of the world today, America is retreating from its traditional leadership role, and in its place have come five ambitious powers, former empires eager to assert their primacy and influence. Lévy shows how these five—Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Sunni radical Islamism—are taking steps to undermine the liberal values that have been a hallmark of Western civilization.

The Empire and the Five Kings is a cri de coeur that draws upon lessons from history and the eternal touchstones of human culture to reveal the stakes facing the West as America retreats from its leadership role, a process that did not begin with Donald Trump's presidency and is not likely to end with him. The crisis is one whose roots can be found as far back as antiquity and whose resolution will require the West to find a new way forward if its principles and values are to survive.

Praise for The Empire and the Five Kings

“In this exquisite gem of a book, Bernard-Henri Levy offers a poetic plea for moral courage and clear thinking in these dark times. He is an international treasure.”

--Robert Kagan, author of Of Paradise and Power and The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World

"Bernard-Henri Lévy puts his deep first-hand knowledge of the world together with his extraordinary gift for horizontal thinking -- leaping easily from epoch to epoch and from one philosophical idea to the next -- to offer a startling and persuasive picture of this moment of decisive historical transition."

--Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon and At the Strangers' Gate

"The Empire and the Five Kings is that rare book that few write anymore, and few even know how to. It is the product of a truly literate mind of the sort that has virtually gone extinct in this post-literate digital age. Unless one is a nativist or isolationist, the author’s sentiments are difficult to challenge. But the question is, Does the domestic condition of the United States allow for such an activist approach to the world?"

--Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-first Century

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker and author of more than thirty books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, and Who Killed Daniel Pearl? His writing has appeared extensively in publications throughout Europe and the United States. His documentaries include Peshmerga, The Battle of Mosul, The Oath of Tobruk and Bosna! Lévy is co-founder of the antiracist group SOS Racisme and has served on diplomatic missions for the French government.

image of Bernard-Henri Lévy o
Jean Christophe Marmara / Figarophoto