In various ways, this is perplexing since Jouvenel’s functions, in essay or book form, unite erudition, literary elegance, along with a seemingly effortless capacity for its insightful and unforgettable aphorism or bon mot. They are as wise and instructive as any contribution to political manifestation in recent times. But they are also demanding, just because they are free of these terrible simplifications which are increasingly a precondition for getting a hearing in the late modern world.
As Pierre Manent has composed, we prefer the attractiveness of”scientificity” to the”clarity, finesse, and elegance” that inform Jouvenel’s functions. There is one additional barrier pointed from Manent: Jouvenel’s writings”are sustained and ornamented by a classical culture which is less and less shared” But if a person takes the opportunity to participate Jouvenel’s major functions,”at each turn,” Manent points out, one faces”a view of the historian, a remark of a moralist, a notation of some charming and instructive artist”
A Varied Intellectual and Political Itinerary
For a long time, Jouvenel was better known and appreciated as a political philosopher at the Anglo-American planet than in France, even as he pretended to be viewed as a particularly erudite classical liberal. It has got something to do with all the issues raised by Pierre Manent in addition to the utter variation in Jouvenel’s political commitments above a sixty-year period. As his excellent recent biographer Olivier Dard has pointed out, in one time or the other Jouvenel belonged, or almost belongedto every French political household, except the Gaullists and the Communists. A man of those left in his youth, he flirted with the extreme right for a brief period in the late 1930s, convinced that French democracy had been conducive beyond repair. But he compared the Munich Pact and had no regrets about Nazism. The Israeli veteran historian Zeev Sternhell insisted, erroneously in my view, that Jouvenel had been for all intents and purposes that a fascist during this period. Jouvenel was famously defended by Raymond Aron throughout his libel trial from Sternhell at October 1983 (Aron died of a heart attack descending the stairs of the Palais de Justice promptly after his testimony).
However on the left, Jean-Paul Sartre’s indefatigable defense of every vile totalitarian regime of those left within a forty-year interval (such as Stalin’s, Mao’s, along with Castro’s) stays uncontroversial in the majority of academic and intellectual quarters. Similarly, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek are applauded even as they compose pseudo-philosophical discourses fawning over Mao’s addresses from the murderous Chinese Cultural Revolution, or genuflect before Lenin since the purest of revolutionaries. An inexcusable double standard stays, one created more noxious because unlike Sartre, Badiou, and Žižek, Jouvenel turned into a principled anti-totalitarian of their very first purchase.
Jouvenel, for most of his philosophical profundity, lacked the surety along with solidity of political ruling that marked Raymond Aron, his friend and the other prominent protector of conservative-minded liberalism in France at the decades after WW II. It’s worth noting that Aron led the intellectual resistance to the soixante-huitards during the revolutionary rebellion of May 1968 while Jouvenel interrogated his pupils in a rather naïve pseudo-Socratic manner. Yet there can be no doubt that even Jouvenel watched the conceit that”it’s forbidden to stop”
If a person turns to Jouvenel’s three masterworks, one ends up to much stronger ground, to elevated political doctrine informed by deep moral seriousness, yet fully attentive to the political positions of the age. A civilized European at an age of war and tyranny,”having lived through an age rife with political occurrences, [he] saw his substance driven” upon himas he put it …