Bertrand De Jouvenel's Melancholy Liberalism

By Anderson, Brian C. | The Public Interest, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Bertrand De Jouvenel's Melancholy Liberalism


Anderson, Brian C., The Public Interest


OF the major political thinkers of his generation--including Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Oakeshott, and Leo Strauss--Bertrand de Jouvenel suffers from relative neglect. During the 1950s and 1960s, the French philosopher and political economist enjoyed a considerable reputation in the English-speaking world. He lectured as a visiting professor at Yale and the University of California-Berkeley, and his books garnered serious reviews in prestigious journals. But by the time of his death in 1987, his star had dimmed. Read through a span of recent political-theory journals and you will rarely encounter his name.

The neglect is not surprising. Jouvenel's thought does not fit into the two categories that unfortunately came to dominate academic thinking on politics during the 1970s and continue to rule it today: the arid left-liberalism of analytic philosophers like Ronald Dworkin, which reduces political thought to abstract reflection on moral and legal principles, and the nihilist radicalism of post-structuralist thinkers like Michel Foucault, which irresponsibly seeks to blow up the bourgeois world to clear the way for who knows what.

Jouvenel's work, published over five decades in a series of learned, beautifully written books and essays, is anything but abstract. It harkens back to an older style of political thought (as old as Aristotle, really, but arching over the centuries to include Montesquieu and Alexis de Tocqueville) that brings together moral and political philosophy and painstaking historical and institutional analysis.

His work is also a model of political responsibility. The philosopher Pierre Manent places Jouvenel in the sober tradition of liberalisme triste--melancholy liberalism--whose great representative is Tocqueville and among whose recent exemplars I would include Irving Kristol and Manent himself. These anti-utopians fully acknowledge the basic decency and justness of liberal democratic civilization. But they are also aware of its profound weaknesses--the erosion of moral and spiritual life, the hollowing out of civil society, the growth of an overbearing state, and the "joyless quest for joy," as Leo Strauss once put it, of a society dedicated chiefly to commercial pursuits. The task of liberalisme triste is to illumine the tensions and possibilities of this liberal civilization, in the hope of advising citizens and statesmen how best to cultivate the goods and avoid or at least moderate the evils that attend it.

Thankfully, there are signs that Jouvenel is sparking renewed interest. Over the last half-decade, two publishers--Liberty Fund Press and Transaction Publishers--have made available again to English readers some of his most important work. It seems an ideal occasion, then, to reconsider Jouvenel's contribution to political thought.

A life in the age of extremes

Bertrand de Jouvenel was born in 1903 into an aristocratic French household swept up in the political and intellectual currents of the early twentieth century. His father, Baron Henri de Jouvenel, was a well-known Dreyfusard politician and newspaper editor, and his mother, Sarah Claire Boas, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish industrialist, ran a trendy Parisian salon, so young Bertrand met many of the leading artists, writers, and politicians of the day. Through his mother, a passionate supporter of Czechoslovak independence, he gained his earliest political experience, working as private secretary to Eduard Benes, Czechoslovakia's first prime minister, when barely out of his teens.

Jouvenel was close to both of his parents, who divorced in 1912, but his relationship to his father was sorely tested during the early twenties. After divorcing Bertrand's mother, Henri had remarried the novelist and sexual provocateur Colette. In 1919, the 16-year-old Bertrand, strikingly handsome-"all sinews and lank," observes Colette biographer Judith Thurman- entered a scandalous affair with his stepmother, then in her late forties, who had seduced the bookish teenager. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Bertrand De Jouvenel's Melancholy Liberalism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.