Bertrand de Jouvenel

The Conservative Liberal and the Illusions of Modernity

By Daniel J. Mahoney

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In his effort to detach the indispensable notion of the common good from its historical identification with the more closed, homogeneous, and static societies of the premodern past, the French political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel (1903–87) pointed the way towards a viable "conservative liberalism." So argues Daniel J. Mahoney in this compelling introduction to the life and work of Jouvenel, one of twentieth-century France's most profound philosophers and political essayists.

Bertrand de Jouvenel

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In his effort to detach the indispensable notion of the common good from its historical identification with the more closed, homogeneous, and static societies of the premodern past, the French political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel (1903–87) pointed the way towards a viable "conservative liberalism." So argues Daniel J. Mahoney in this compelling introduction to the life and work of Jouvenel, one of twentieth-century France's most profound philosophers and political essayists.

Although he vigorously defended the historical achievement of liberal society against its totalitarian critics, Jouvenel also challenged the modern conceit that man is an autonomous being beholden neither to the moral law nor to the humanizing inheritance of the past. Mahoney’s study focuses on Jouvenel’s three masterworks—On Power (1945), Sovereignty (1955), and The Pure Theory of Politics (1963)—and on his broader effort to defend civility and social friendship against rationalist individualism and its logical fruit, collectivist politics. Mahoney explores Jouvenel’s affinities with and debts to Aristotle, Burke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville, and he contrasts Jouvenel’s signal theoretical achievements with the twists and turns manifested in his (sometimes questionable) practical political engagements from the 1930s until his death.

Mahoney's characteristically engaging appraisal of this important political philosopher, the fifth entry in ISI Books' Library of Modern Thinkers series, is the first book on Jouvenel to appear in the English language.

Additional Information

Pages 232
Publisher ISI Books
What They're Saying...

"Mahoney has provided a succinct, informative, stimulating and thematic account of a major French political philosopher…The gracefulness of Mahoney's prose may obscure the angst Jouvenel must have experienced between 1936 and 1945. But this highly readable account will be welcome to all who want a competent and balanced introduction to this major, but neglected, political theorist."
Emmet Kennedy,, The European Legacy

"Daniel J. Mahoney’s book is a cogent introduction to the breadth and depth of Jouvenel’s thought. The book is lucid and clear and makes a good case for the worthiness of its subject."
Review of Metaphysics

“Anything by Daniel Mahoney is worth reading, and this is doubly true when the subject is Bertrand de Jouvenel. Mahoney understands that encountering Jouvenel is like tasting a rare vintage, subtle and exhilarating, its lights mingled with a hint of sadness. And Mahoney’s interpretation, like Jouvenel’s writing, is profoundly serious, engaged with the crisis of the West, yet also profoundly cheerful, always mindful of human and political possibility.”
Wilson Carey McWilliams,, Rutgers University

“Daniel Mahoney’s book is a splendid achievement. It provides a deep and balanced appreciation of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s political science and philosophy. While taking into account Jouvenel’s complex personality, Daniel Mahoney has perfectly grasped the richness, subtlety, and ambivalence of his “liberal conservatism,” an approach that escapes the tyranny of the Modern/Pre-modern and Left/Right dichotomies, and is constantly in search of points of equilibrium: between liberty and the common good, the open society and “bonnes moeurs,” human freedom and the ‘givenness’ of the world, limitations on power and a recognition of its civic and moral responsibilities...As Daniel Mahoney explains so thoughtfully, the great matter for Jouvenel is to moderate modern politics by classical wisdom. The political problem is without solution.”
Philippe Bénéton,, Professor of Political Science,, University of Rennes, France

“This book shows brilliantly how a conservative-minded Frenchman, well aware of modern circumstances, particularly as they evolve in the New World, sets out to weave together old wisdom with modern liberty. An illuminating account of, and an answer to, our present perplexities. "This book shows brilliantly how a conservative-minded Frenchman, well aware of modern circumstances, particularly as they evolve in the New World, sets out to weave together old wisdom with modern liberty. An illuminating account of, and an answer to, our present perplexities."
Pierre Manent,, author of Tocqueville and The Nature of Democracy

"Dan Mahoney presents a clear and compelling account of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s post-war reflections on politics: a great service not only to scholars but to all thoughtful citizens who, like Jouvenel, seek to draw enduring lessons out of the wreck of 20th century politics."
Dennis Hale,, Associate Professor of Political Science, Boston College, coeditor of The Nature of Politics: Selected Essays by Bertrand de Jouvenel

"In this book, as before, Mahoney shows himself unmatched among his generation of political scientists in his ability to introduce a thinker to new readers while illuminating him for old readers. Having suffered neglect for thirty years or more, Jouvenel reappears as one of those rare, sober spirits who can watch politics and think at the same time."
Will Morrisey,, Hillsdale College

"Daniel Mahoney has done a brilliant job of bringing to life the 'conservative liberalism' of Jouvenel…Especially valuable is the discussion of the idea of sovereignty in political life, and of the limits and possibilites of politics itself. This is political philosophy of a high order, very readably presented."
First Things

"[It] is admirable in the first instance for its judiciousness, its clarity, and for an economy of expression that clearly and often subtly unveils the most important aspects of Jouvenel's life and thought. It is to be commended, above all, because it will invite a wider audience to gain familiarity with one of the most incisive, moderate, and clear-minded political thinkers of the twentieth century."
Patrick J. Deneen,, Society

"Conservative liberals reject philosophical Liberalism because it fosters the ‘illusions of modernity’—a notion of autonomy which admits no higher authority than the human will (‘the self-sovereignty of man’) as well as blind worship of progress that destabilizes society, undermines virtue, and tempts modern man with utopian ideologies that lead to totalitarian systems of government.”
Robert Kraynak, The New Criterion

"In this factually and conceptually rich biography of French political thinker Bertrand de Jouvenel (1903-1987), Daniel J. Mahoney has at least begun the task that he sets for himself in the Preface: performing an ‘act of intellectual recovery’ to ‘rectify the unwarranted neglect of one of the most thoughtful and most humane political thinkers of the previous century.’ Perhaps it seems strange to describe a figure who long graced the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Paris; lectured at Yale, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Oxford; wrote regularly in the French press; and produced such widely praised tomes as On Power, Sovereignty: An Inquiry Into the Political Good, The Pure Theory of Politics, and Marx et Engels: La longue marche as someone who is now ‘largely unknown in fashionable intellectual circles.’”
Paul Gottfried, Chronicles

"…incisive reassessment"
European Journal of Political Theory

Eligible for Readers Club Discount Yes

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