Bertrand de Jouvenel’s Frequent Good Conservatism

In various ways, this is confusing since Jouvenel’s works, in book or essay form, mix erudition, literary grace, and a seemingly simple capacity for the educational and unforgettable aphorism or bon mot. They are as wise and enlightening as any participation to political reflection in recent times. However, they’re also demanding, precisely since they’re free of these terrible simplifications which are a precondition for obtaining a hearing from the late modern world.
Since Pierre Manent has composed, we prefer ideology or the charisma of”scientificity” to the”clarity, finesse, and sophistication” that inform Jouvenel’s works. There’s one additional barrier pointed from Manent: Jouvenel’s writings”are sustained and ornamented with a classical culture which is less and less common .” However, if one takes the opportunity to participate Jouvenel’s important works,”at every flip,” Manent points out, you confronts”an opinion of this historian, a remark of a moralist, a notation of a charming and enlightening artist.” Jouvenel’s works of political philosophy, notably On Power: The Natural History of Its Development (1945 for the original French version ), Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good (1955 for the original), along with The Pure Theory of Politics (1963), that in significant respects form a trilogy, are thus a potent antidote to the spirit of abstraction, along with the heavy-handed jargon, which have deformed both contemporary and late modern politics, and a good deal of recent governmental reflection.
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 tended to be viewed as merely a specially erudite classical liberal. It has got something to do with the issues raised by Pierre Manent as well as the sheer variation in Jouvenel’s political responsibilities above a sixty-year period. As his excellent recent biographer Olivier Dard has pointed out, at one time or another Jouvenel belonged, or almost belonged, to every French political household, except that the Gaullists and the Communists. A man of those left in his childhood, he flirted with the intense right for a short period from the late 1930s, persuaded that French democracy was decadent beyond repair. But he compared the Munich Pact and had no illusions about Nazism. The Israeli intellectual historian Zeev Sternhell insisted, wrongly in my view, that Jouvenel had been for all intents and purposes that a fascist during this age.
However about the left, Jean-Paul Sartre’s indefatigable defense of every vile totalitarian regime of this left above a forty-year interval (such as Stalin’s, Mao’s, along with Castro’s) stays uncontroversial in the majority of intellectual and academic quarters. Likewise, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek are applauded even since they compose pseudo-philosophical discourses fawning over Mao’s addresses from the murderous Chinese Cultural Revolution, or genuflect before Lenin as the most bizarre of revolutionaries. An inexcusable double standard stays, one created more noxious because unlike Sartre, Badiou, also Žižek, Jouvenel became 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 another notable protector of conservative-minded liberalism in France at the years after WW II. It is well worth noting that Aron directed the intellectual resistance to the soixante-huitards through the revolutionary rebellion of May 1968 while Jouvenel interrogated his pupils in a somewhat naïve pseudo-Socratic way. Yet there can be no doubt that even Jouvenel watched the conceit that”it is forbidden to stop”
Firmer Ground
If one turns to Jouvenel’s three masterworks, one turns to much more solid earth, to elevated political doctrine informed by deep moral seriousness, yet completely attentive to the political positions of this era. A civilized European at an era of war and tyranny,”having lived through an era rife with political happenings, [he] saw his material forced” upon him, even as he placed it at the beginning of The Pure Theory of Politics. Yet Jouvenel recurred to the classics–Aristotle, Thucydides, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Burke, Tocqueville and Constant–as indispensable guides to understanding contemporary and modern political thought and political action. His thought was”normative,” which is, dedicated to mixing into the essence of the Political Good along with a natural”moral harmony,” and its accompanying affections, which must be the purpose of any stable and decent political order. At precisely exactly the exact identical time, it is preoccupied with the disruptive political behaviors which have to be known, controlled and”polished.”
Consequently Jouvenel’s oscillation involving his never-abandoned judgment that”politics is a moral science,””a natural science dealing with all moral agents” (as he placed it at a final chapter added to the English-language variant of Sovereignty in 1957), and his own search for an accompanying, if inferior,”pure concept of politics” that would provisionally mount the high”moral pulpit” of traditional political doctrine in order to understand”raw” political action in its own provisions. Like the unarmed bishop confronting the barbarians as they are about to sack Rome, normative political philosophy confronts”big men with a unkind laughter.” Since Jouvenel puts it, the discipline does its best to instruct such barbarians the art of”shrewd kingship.” At precisely exactly the exact identical time, it tends to moralize the analysis of political phenomena. This tension between the normative and the behavioral from Jouvenel’s political science really is still a more fruitful one, nonetheless. Consequently, Jouvenel is a master at resisting the dual temptations of ahistorical moralism and also a faux reality that forgets that individual beings and taxpayers are indeed constantly and everywhere moral agents.
The end result is clear: Electricity is indeed powerless when it eschews justice as well as the real, if indeterminate asserts, of this civic common great. Social and governmental affections, and rival claims to justice, are much more real than power known as some self-subsisting great. This is the reason Jouvenel forthrightly rejects”sovereignty on the planet,” a moral, philosophical, and juridical positivism that asserts laws are great only because they’ve been promulgated from the autonomous authority. That is absolute lawlessness and if completed to its logical conclusion law loses its soul and”becomes jungle,” since Jouvenel writes at the conclusion of chapter XVI (“Electricity and Legislation”) of On Power.

On Electricity is Jouvenel’s most renowned book. It is at once beautifully composed and marked with a deep pathos concerning the distension of the contemporary state, the ravaging and egotistical”Minotaur” that’s the principal theme of the book. However, Jouvenel is still a partisan of valid jurisdiction, a guardian of their myriad”social governments” that withstand the aggrandizement of state authority and which have a moral ethics all their own. Jouvenel’s political science constantly reminds us of their affections, the social trust, along with the leading social governments that need to”enframe, protect, and dominate the life span of man, thus obviating preventing the intervention of Ability.”
At precisely exactly the exact identical time, Jouvenel exposed the”legalitarian fiction” which reduced the relation between social governments, such as business ventures, and subordinates, like workers, to only”contractual” relations. The feeble and dispossessed will turn to the false and counterproductive way of a”social protectorate” or some”democratic” or”tutelary despotism” if the strong and privileged don’t honor the dual demands of the civic law and the law. The legalitarian fiction starts with a falsely egalitarian premise that all are in effect equal, and elites have no specific moral duties or responsibilities to off the least or to those in their charge. Actual inequalities of ability, status, and social influence continue despite the news which human relations are equal since they’re contractual in nature. However, this pretense can end up strengthening a morally obtuse kind of oligarchic domination.
Instead of becoming a treatise imbued with pragmatic or”rational choice” premises, as some have presupposed, Jouvenel brings extensively on classical and Christian wisdom in On Power. Likewise, in his excellent 1952 work, The Ethics of Redistribution, Jouvenel criticizes those who advocate significant government efforts of economic redistribution for a deficiency of creativity, given their terribly superficial identification of their great life with the monogamous satisfaction of individual needs. Their policies are not only bound to fail however, they signify a shallow utilitarianism that barely differs from tradition of political economy they oppose. Moreover, they’re not defensible on ethical grounds.
While Jouvenel traces the apparently inexorable, and deeply troubling and problematic expansion of Electricity, he knows this procedure is fueled and reinforced with a”political Protagorism” where individual is”declared’the measure of all things’.” Such human self-deification abolishes any measure outside or over the individual will, any purposeful and authoritative conception of”a true, or even a great, or even a simply.” We’re left with warring opinions of”equal validity.” Political and military forcecivil war by other means, takes the position of rational and civil disputation, however sometimes cluttered in real life. In place of this City, we once again go into the jungle, or”the state of nature” beloved by the first modern political philosophers.
The Limits of On Power
Jouvenel arrived to have reservations about his most famous book. He continued to believe that power has to be looked at”stereoscopically,” equally as a deep moral necessity and as a”possible social menace.” However he made to regret the surplus pathos that advised the book (written at the final decades of WW II). In subsequent work, like the leading 1965 article”The Principate,” he continued to warn about deifying Electricity whilst offering a more adequate and constructive account of their moral purposes served by public authority. Even the”barons,” also, he now emphasized, could threaten freedom and social balance. Within a frame of constitutionalism receptive to the specific sociological characteristics of contemporary society, the public authorities could serve social demands without succumbing to an all-encompassing”social protectorate.”
Since he wrote in”The Principate,” it is startling that the 20th-century encounter with ideological despotism did not direct intellectuals and men of letters to hugely turn to”constitutionalism,””to a belief in associations that limit rule.” Since Jouvenel composed in his both masterful 1965 article”The Means of Contestation,” began analyzing the Roman tribunate, the parliaments of this French old regime, as well as the mechanics of representation at the core of British independence, contemporary men and women shouldn’t lose sight of”the risks of an infinite imperium.” Jouvenel strikingly adds that peoples who”deify energy” are not people who have known liberty.
Reconnecting Liberty, Authority, and the Common Good
Sovereignty (recently republished in France at a brand new edition for the very first time in years ) will be Jouvenel’s chef’s d’oeuvre, a major and enduring function of high political doctrine. It is declared in its pages as a shy sequel On Power. Within this job, Jouvenel’s liberal, or conservative-liberal, review of liberalism becomes most evident. In it, Jouvenel speaks more of authority, legitimate jurisdiction, than he can of insatiable, self-aggrandizing Power. The Good, not known in an a priori way separate from prudence or practical wisdom, comes to sight if any citizen or statesman reflects on what”he expects to accomplish by the exercise of their power that is his.” The fundamental choice facing a human being and citizen is if to exercise ability”despotically by making the great just his own, or will he use it properly in the pursuit of a good that is in some way common?” , as Jouvenel writes from the opening pages of Sovereignty. Here is the strangest”Aristotelian” moment in Jouvenel’s notion. To bolster his point, Jouvenel cites Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Book 8, 1160B):”The despot is that he who pursues his own good.” Radical individualism and despotism share precisely exactly the exact perverse premise: There can be no great held in common by human beings. This premise is shared with despots and nihilists alike and may never animate a network of free men and women.
The common good has to be lived and theorized outside the city that, whatever the instance, was more aspiration than political reality. Jouvenel admirably bridges liberal practice and classical wisdom in a way that’s unique to his political philosophizing.Jouvenel’s conservative-minded liberalism takes the notions of authority and the common good really seriously, indeed. Person is”produced by cooperation” and human beings always reside in”social aggregates,” culminating in the Town or polity, which depend on social confidence, social affection, and a confident affirmation that governmental authority can and must be resolved for the frequent good. Authority has two primordial and both crucial faces, both the Dux along with the Rex since Jouvenel requires themthat of leadership and initiative (think Napoleon awakening his morally disheartened soldiers to action and guts at the famed Bridge of Arcola), along with great Saint Louis IX of France under the Oak at Vincennes Profession justice and thus attenuating social divisions and possible political clashes. Authority has both a”principle of Movement” and also a”principle of order,” one which upends the social order and another which incorporates these changes into a new moral and civic equilibrium, as Jouvenel involves it. Even though the Dux accomplishes activity, the Rex acts to keep the social confidence in the core of all enduring political purchase. Numa and Solomon represent the crucial stabilizing function of jurisdiction after the change and conflict initiated by Romulus and David, respectively. The lesson to get a liberal order is clear: No society can endure if the initiatives which invariably follow political and economic liberty are not followed up by the work of the Legislator as peaceful and humane”stabilizer.”
The liberal order is a necessarily dynamic one where certainty shouldn’t be stymied from the exercise of heavy-handed state jurisdiction. Nor is it a radical order where change can be permitted to war on continuity and settled principle. Jouvenel’s liberalism is so neither simply conservative nor simply innovative. The more energetic a society is that the more it requires statesmanship to do the humanizing job of conservative carpentry. Jouvenel does not find Public Authority as”the enemy of widespread initiative.” But authorities has to play a vital role in handling the issues which inevitably arise in a dynamic or innovative society. This shouldn’t be confused with”Big Government,” where government is burdened in a way which is”injurious to the operation of its appropriate duty.”
Bringing Old Gods to a New City
Likewise, it is not possible to think or act politically without reference to this still indispensable notion of the Common Good, the great shared by everybody within a political community or social aggregate. To resort to this frequent good is to deny despotism as we have already indicated, a stage underappreciated by the majority of soi-disant liberals. However, since Wilson Carey McWilliams has so memorably remarked, Jouvenel would bring”older gods to a new city.” “Moral harmony within town”–that the”judgment preoccupation of Plato and Rousseau”–needs to be freed from everything Jouvenel strikingly calls”the prison of their corollaries”: its historic identification with small dimensions and population, ethnic and social homogeneity, resistance to innovation, and insistence on social immutability. Jouvenel challenges that the dogma common to overdue contemporary sociology and political doctrine a society which values individual liberty must repudiate old thoughts like the common good and social trust. The regime of contemporary liberty must preserve a sense of community which surpasses individual self-assertion. Jouvenel thus resists both rationalist individualism and that which he calls”primitivist nostalgia.” The common good has to be lived and theorized outside the city that, whatever the instance, was more aspiration than political reality. Jouvenel admirably bridges liberal practice and classical wisdom in a way that’s distinctive to his political philosophizing.
Jouvenel is most classical and Christian in his deep expressions in Sovereignty on the duties that appeal to man as man. “The renowned battle-cry,’Man is born free,”’ is thought to be”the greatest nonsense if it is taken literally as a declaration of original and organic independence.” Guys are best known as grandparents, most dramatically as infants and children, but in fact until every people departs the ground. Each of us is”an heir entering on the accumulated legacy of previous generations, even taking his position at an enormously wealthy institution.” It is blindness and folly to emphasise individual or collective self-sufficiency, as Jouvenel creates clear in such passages with their Burkean resonances. Jouvenel sums up his analysis of this thing with an aphoristic insight at discerning and beautiful:”The wise man knows himself as debtor, as well as his activities will be motivated by a deep sense of obligation.”
Jouvenel deepens this analysis from the fabulous section of The Pure Theory of Politics known as”Ego in Otherdom.” There he writes that”social contract theories are all perspectives of childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood. Society isn’t founded like a club.” However, in accord with the dialectic of liberal and classical wisdom which defines Jouvenel’s political reflection, he cautioned us that”the community that arises out of friendship or love cannot be contrived by decree, the intensive emotions which it is proposed to prolong wear narrow.” Jouvenel adds the dream of a community of friendship or love in an extensive political community”has been shown to create more hatred than harmony.” We’re right back to the”prison of their corollaries” that has to be avoided at thinking about the typical good appropriate to the liberal order.
The Fragility and Vulnerability of Politics
The Pure Theory of Politics is that the least successful of Jouvenel’s books in no small part since the conception of”pure politics” that amuses it fails to differentiate satisfactorily between political and social interactions –both are thought to be”just a matter of relations between men.” But politics in the most capacious awareness is over a matter of”how men move men.” Having said that, this superbly written book (originally written in English to be delivered since the Storr Lectures at Yale University Law School) is full of comprehension and exceptionally memorable formulations. As an instance, Jouvenel sensibly tells us that”the most oblivious of all beliefs is the belief it can be moral to suspend the performance of all moral beliefs for the sake of a single ruling allegedly moral enthusiasm. However, this precisely is the philosophy that has run throughout the 20th century.” How relevant that insight remains in our new era of ideological passion and justification shows how Jouvenel fully appreciated how morally obsessive political immoralism is.
There’s the beautiful passage from the chapter on”The Manner of Politics” that clarifies Burke’s”violent” reaction to the French Revolution to real shock at”the newest expressions on faces, and the new tone of listeners” that emanated from the barbarous nihilistic French revolutionaries. “When the horse marched to Versailles and transported the Royal household with it mere pressure of force, once the heads of guards, carried on spears, were kept bobbing down and up at the windows of the Queen’s carriage, this outrage, either to formality and to density, was one that the deputies dared not condemn, and it is evident in Burke’s writing that this sort of scene and its condoning from the meeting swayed him entirely.” How frequently does eloquence and philosophical and historical insight come together in this inspired passage? The chapter on”The Manner of Politics” teaches the prized rarity, and accompanying fragility and vulnerability, of what Jouvenel calls”mild Politics.”
The Myth of this Option
Jouvenel ends the next book of his trilogy by talking”the fantasy of the solution.” In politics, there are no lasting options, just more or less reasonable”settlements.” However, as sour experience illustrates, decent and free political”settlements” may always be reversed or”unsettled.” Jouvenel thus calls us to be”better guardians of all civility,” that’s, protectors of these manners, affections, confidence and freedom that defines a City worthy of human beings. Along with also the French political philosopher hauntingly concludes:”this is not an simple job, a picture illustrates, the head and hands of this excellent guardian Cicero, nailed to the nostrum” about the orders of Octavius.
It is to Liberty Fund’s enduring credit the intellectual feast made available from Jouvenel’s three masterworks remain accessible English. Jouvenel deepens the liberal tradition with an older wisdom in touch with the deepest wellsprings of their soul, although liberalizing or modernizing classical political philosophy. These works remain a signal contribution to governmental wisdom these days, and a bridge between what’s greatest in classical conservatism and classical liberalism.