Out of Harm’s Way

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.”

Mahoney is right on this point, however.  Although an astute critic of the managerial state and a once-known critic of economic redistribution, Jouvenel, as Mahoney observes, finds less and less recognition among French neoliberals, outside of the maverick editorial boards of Commentaire and Futuribles.  Although France’s most systematic and prolific 20th-century liberal (in the classical sense) commentator—one, moreover, equipped with an accessible and even elegant prose style—Jouvenel has...

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