Bertrand de Jouvenel’s Frequent Great Conservatism

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”

Firmer Ground

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 in the start 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 contemporary political thought and political action. His idea was”normative,” which is, committed to inquiring into the nature of the Political Great along with a natural”moral harmony,” and its accompanying affections, which must be the purpose of any secure and adequate political order. At the same time, it’s preoccupied with the raw and disruptive political behaviors which need to be understood, controlled and”polished”

Hence Jouvenel’s oscillation between his never-abandoned judgment that”politics is a moral science,””a natural science dealing with moral agents” (as he placed it at a last chapter added to the English-language variant of Sovereignty in 1957), and his own search for an allied, if subordinate,”pure theory of politics” that would provisionally mount the large”moral pulpit” of traditional political doctrine so as to understand”raw” political action on its own provisions. As Jouvenel puts it, the discipline does its best to teach such barbarians the artwork of”wise kingship.” At the same time, it has a tendency to moralize the study of political happenings. As a result, Jouvenel is a master in resisting the dual temptations of ahistorical moralism plus a faux reality that forgets that individual beings and taxpayers are really always and everywhere moral agents.

The conclusion is evident: Power is really powerless when it eschews justice as well as the real, if indeterminate claims, of the civic common good. Social and political affections, and rival claims to justice, are a whole lot more real than electricity understood as some self-subsisting good. This is why Jouvenel forthrightly rejects”sovereignty on the planet,” a philosophical, ethical, and juridical positivism that claims laws are good simply because they have been promulgated from the autonomous authority. That is absolute lawlessness and if carried out to its logical conclusion legislation loses its soul and also”becomes jungle,” as Jouvenel writes at the conclusion of chapter XVI (“Power and Legislation”) of On Power.

The Pathos of On Power

On Power is Jouvenel’s most famous book. It’s at once beautifully composed and marked by a profound pathos concerning the distension of the contemporary state, the ravaging and egocentric”Minotaur” that is the principal topic of the publication. However, Jouvenel is still a partisan of legitimate authority, a guardian of their myriad”social governments” that withstand the aggrandizement of state authority and which have a moral ethics all their own. Far from being a 19th century liberal individualist, Jouvenel eloquently takes aim in”individualist rationalism,”a harmful metaphysic” which”refused to see anything but the condition and the individual.” Jouvenel’s political science always reminds us of their affections, the social trust, along with the directing social governments that need to”enframe, protect, and dominate the life span of man, therefore obviating and preventing the intervention of Power.”

At the same time, Jouvenel exposed the”legalitarian fiction” which reduced the relation between social governments, such as business enterprises, and subordinates, like employees, to only”contractual” relations. The weak and dispossessed will become the false and counterproductive solution of a”social protectorate” or some”democratic” or”tutelary despotism” whether the strong and privileged don’t respect the dual demands of the civic law and the law. The legalitarian fiction starts with a falsely egalitarian assumption that all are in effect equivalent, and elites have no specific moral duties or responsibilities to off the least or to people in their charge. Genuine inequalities of capacity, standing, and social influence continue despite the news which human relations are equivalent as they are contractual in character. But this pretense can wind up reinforcing a morally obtuse kind of oligarchic domination.

Instead of just being a treatise imbued with utilitarian or”rational choice” assumptions, as some have falsely presupposed, Jouvenel brings broadly on Christian and classical wisdom in On Power. Similarly, in his excellent 1952 work, The Ethics of Redistribution, Jouvenel criticizes people who urge significant government attempts of economic redistribution for a deficiency of creativity, contributed their horribly superficial identification of their good life with the monogamous satisfaction of individual needs. Their policies aren’t only bound to fail but they signify a shallow utilitarianism that barely differs from tradition of political economy they oppose. Moreover, they are not defensible on ethical grounds.

Such human self-deification abolishes any step outside or above the individual will, any meaningful and authoritative notion of”a real, or a good, or a just.” We are left with warring opinions of”equal validity” Political and military forcecivil war by other means, takes the place of rational and civil disputation, nevertheless occasionally messy in real life. Rather than the City, we again enter the jungle, or”the state of nature” treasured by the early modern political philosophers.

The Limitations of On Power

Jouvenel arrived to have reservations regarding his most famous publication. He continued to feel that electricity must be viewed at”stereoscopically,” equally as a deep moral necessity and as a”potential social menace.” However he came to regret the excess pathos that advised the publication (written at the last decades of WW II). Even the”barons,” too, he now emphasized, could threaten freedom and social balance. Within a framework of constitutionalism receptive to the specific sociological characteristics of contemporary society, the public authorities may serve social demands without succumbing to a all-encompassing”social protectorate.”

As he wrote in”The Principate,” it’s startling that the 20th-century experience with ideological despotism didn’t lead intellectuals and men of letters to hugely turn to”constitutionalism,””to some belief in institutions that restrict personal rule” As Jouvenel composed in his equally masterful 1965 article”The Means of Contestation,” deftly analyzing the Roman tribunate, the parliaments of the French regime, as well as the mechanisms of representation in the core of British independence, contemporary men and women shouldn’t eliminate sight of”the risks of an infinite imperium.” Jouvenel reluctantly adds that individuals who”deify energy” aren’t those who have known freedom.

Reconnecting Liberty, Authority, and the Common Good

Sovereignty (recently republished in France at a new edition for the very first time in decades) will be Jouvenel’s chef’s d’oeuvre, a leading and enduring work of high political doctrine. It’s declared in its early pages as a self-conscious sequel On Power. In this job, Jouvenel’s liberal, or conservative-liberal, review of liberalism becomes most evident. Inside, Jouvenel speaks much more of power, legitimate authority, than he can of insatiable, self-aggrandizing Ability. The Great, not understood in an a priori manner separate from prudence or practical knowledge, comes to sight if any citizen or statesman reflects what”he expects to reach by the practice of their power that is his.” The basic choice facing a human being and citizen is if to practice power”despotically by making the good merely his own, or will he use it properly in the interest of a good that is somehow common?” , as Jouvenel writes in the opening pages of Sovereignty. This is the deepest”Aristotelian” moment in Jouvenel’s notion. To bolster his point, Jouvenel cites Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Book 8, 1160B):”The despot is he who pursues his own good” Radical individualism and despotism share the same perverse assumption: There can be no good held in common by human beings. This assumption is shared by despots and nihilists equally and will never reestablish a community of free men and women.

The common good must be lived and theorized out of the closed city that, whatever the situation, was more aspiration than political truth. Jouvenel admirably bridges liberal classical and practice wisdom in a means that is distinctive to his political philosophizing.Jouvenel’s conservative-minded liberalism requires the ideas of power and also the common good very seriously, really. Man is”created by cooperation” and human beings invariably live in”social aggregates,” surfaced at the City or polity, which depend on social confidence, social affection, and also a positive confirmation that political authority can and ought to be resolved for the common good. Authority has two primordial and equally crucial faces, both the Dux along with the Rex as Jouvenel calls themthat of leadership and initiative (think Napoleon awakening his morally disheartened troops to action and courage in the famous Bridge of Arcola), along with good Saint Louis IX of France under the Oak in Vincennes administering justice and thus attenuating social divisions and potential political clashes. Authority has both a”principle of Movement” and a”principle of order,” one which upends the social order and the other which incorporates these changes into a new moral and civic equilibrium, as Jouvenel calls it. Even though the Dux accomplishes activity, the Rex acts to keep the social trust at the heart of all lasting political purchase. Numa and Solomon signify the key stabilizing function of authority after the shift and conflict initiated by Romulus and David, respectively. The lesson to get a liberal order is clear: No society can persist whether the initiatives which automatically follow political and economic freedom aren’t followed by the work of this Legislator as peaceful and humane”stabilizer.”

The liberal order is a necessarily dynamic one where certainty shouldn’t be stymied from the practice of heavy-handed state authority. Nor is it a radical order where change can be permitted to war on goodwill and settled principle. Jouvenel’s liberalism is consequently neither simply conservative nor simply progressive. The more dynamic a society is the more it requires statesmanship to do the humanizing job of conservative insertion. Jouvenel doesn’t see Public Authority as”the natural enemy of initiative” No government should try to assert”the monopoly of certainty”–which is an invitation to tyranny, stagnation, and penury. But government has to play a vital part in handling the issues which necessarily arise in a dynamic or progressive society. This shouldn’t be confused with”Big Government,” where government is unnecessarily burdened in a means which is”conducive to the functionality of its proper duty.”

Bringing Old Gods to a New City

Likewise, it’s impossible to think or act politically with regard to the indispensable belief of the Common Good, the good shared by everybody present in a political community or social aggregate. To resort to the common good would be to deny despotism as we have already indicated, a point underappreciated by the majority of soi-disant liberals. But as Wilson Carey McWilliams has so memorably commented, Jouvenel would attract”older gods to some other city” “Moral harmony within town”–the”judgment preoccupation of both Plato and Rousseau”–desires to be freed from what Jouvenel strikingly calls”the prison of their corollaries”: its historical identification with small size and population, cultural and social homogeneity, resistance to innovation, and insistence on social immutability. Jouvenel challenges the dogma common to late contemporary sociology and political doctrine a society which values individual freedom must repudiate old ideas such as the typical good and social trust. The regime of contemporary liberty must preserve a sense of community which transcends individual self-assertion. Jouvenel thus resists both rationalist individualism and what he calls”primitivist nostalgia.” The common good must be lived and theorized out of the closed city that, whatever the situation, was more aspiration than political truth. Jouvenel admirably bridges liberal classical and practice wisdom in a means that is unique to his political philosophizing.

Jouvenel is most classical and Christian in his deep reflections in Sovereignty about the duties that appeal to man as man. “The famous battle-cry,’Man is born free,”’ is thought to be”the greatest nonsense if it’s taken as a statement of first and organic liberty.” Men are best understood as dependents, most radically as infants and kids, but in truth until each one of us departs the ground. Each of us would be”an heir entering the accumulated legacy of past generations, even taking his place at an enormously wealthy association.” It’s blindness and folly to emphasise collective or individual self-sufficiency, as Jouvenel makes clear in these passages using their Burkean resonances. Jouvenel sums up his investigation of this thing using an aphoristic insight at equally discerning and amazing:”The wise man knows himself as debtor, as well as his actions will be inspired by a profound sense of responsibility”

Jouvenel deepens this investigation in the splendid part of The Pure Theory of Politics called”Ego in Otherdom.” There he remembers that”social contract concepts are views of childless men who have to have abandoned their own youth. Society is not founded just like a golf club.” But in accord with all the dialectic of classical and liberal wisdom which defines Jouvenel’s political manifestation, he warns us that”the area that arises from love or friendship cannot be contrived by decree, the intensive emotions which it is suggested to extend wear slim.” Jouvenel adds the dream of an area of love or friendship in an extensive political community”has demonstrated to create more hate than harmony.” We are right back to the”prison of their corollaries” that must be avoided at considering the usual good suitable to the liberal order.

The Pure Theory of Politics is the least effective of Jouvenel’s books in no small part as the concept of”pure politics” that animates it fails to distinguish adequately between political and social relations–both are thought to be”only an issue of relations between men.” But politics in the most capacious awareness is more than an issue of”how men move men.” That said, this beautifully written book (originally written in English to be delivered as the Storr Lectures at Yale University Law School) is filled with comprehension and exceptionally memorable formulations. By way of example, Jouvenel wisely tells us that”the most egregious 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. But this just is the philosophy that has run throughout the 20th century” How important that insight remains in our new era of ideological fire and justification shows how Jouvenel fully appreciated how morally fanatical political immoralism is.

There is the beautiful passage in the chapter on”The Manner of Politics” that clarifies Burke’s”violent” response to the French Revolution to genuine shock in”the new expressions on faces, and the new tone of listeners” that emanates from the violent nihilistic French revolutionaries. “After the horse marched to Versailles and carried the Royal household with it by mere pressure of drive, when the heads of guardscarried on spears, were kept bobbing up and down in the chimney of the Queen’s carriage, this outrage, either to formality and to density, was one that the deputies dared not condemn, and it’s apparent in Burke’s writing that this type of scene and its condoning from the assembly swayed him entirely.” How often does eloquence and philosophical and historic comprehension come together like in this inspired passage? The chapter on”The Manner of Politics” educates the prized rarity, and accompanying fragility and vulnerability, regardless of exactly what Jouvenel calls”mild Politics.”

The Myth of the Option

Jouvenel ends the third book of his trilogy by talking”the fantasy of the remedy.” In politics, there are no lasting alternatives, only more or less moderate”settlements” However, as sour experience illustrates, decent and free political”settlements” may always be undone or”unsettled.” Jouvenel thus calls us to become”more effective guardians of all civility,” that is, protectors of the manners, affections, confidence and freedom that defines a City worthy of human beings. And also the French political philosopher hauntingly finishes:”this is no simple job, an image atteststhe head and hands of the wonderful guardian Cicero, nailed to the nostrum” about the dictates of Octavius.

It would be to Liberty Fund’s enduring credit the intellectual feast made accessible from Jouvenel’s three masterworks continue being available in English. Jouvenel deepens the liberal tradition using an old wisdom in contact with the deepest wellsprings of their soul, while liberalizing or modernizing ancient political philosophy. These works remain a signal contribution to political wisdom today, and also a bridge between what’s best in classical conservatism and classical liberalism.