Bertrand de Jouvenel

French politician
Not to be confused with Juvenal, the Roman poet.

Bertrand de Jouvenel des Ursins (31 October 1903 – 1 March 1987), a late French aristocrat, was a philosopher, political economist, and futurist. Among other places, he taught at Oxford, the Cambridge, Yale and Berkeley.

HELENAE oculi illius in ea sunt a principio anni usque adfinem ejus
~ Introductory Motto to his "pure theory" ~ clearly adapted from: "It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:12)

Quotes edit

On Power: Its Nature and the History of Its Growth (1949) edit

(Sometimes also alternatively entitled: "The Natural History of Its Growth"). Translated by J. F. Huntington. New York: The Viking Press. (Original French work published 1945)
  • Power changes its appearance but not its reality. Politics are about power; we cannot evade that truth or its consequences. We dream of a better world but it is in Utopia – that is, nowhere.
    • preface, p. xvi.
  • Barbarian invasions would be superfluous: We are our own Huns.
    • p. 8
  • In later times, Power's growth has continued at an accelerated pace, and its extension has brought a corresponding extension of war. And now we no longer understand the process. We no longer protest, we no longer react. The quiescence of ours is a new thing for which Power has to thank the smokescreen in which it has wrapped itself. Formally, it could be seen manifest in the person of the king, who did not disclaim being the matter he was, and in whom human passions were discernible. Now masked in anonymity, it claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will.
    But that is clearly a fiction.
    • p. 9
      • Cf. Yarvin's "conservation of sovereignty"
  • Democracy, then, in the centralizing, pattern-making, absolutist shape which we have given to it is, it is clear, the time of tyranny's incubation.
    • p. 11
  • As we shall see, theories like those of Divine Right and Popular Sovereignty, which pass for opposites, stem in reality from the same trunk, the idea of sovereignty—the idea, that is, that somewhere there is a right to which all other rights must yield. It is not hard to discover behind this juridical concept a metaphysical one. A supreme Will, it runs, rules and disposes human societies, a Will which, being naturally good, it would be wrong to resist: this Will is either the Divine Will” or the “general will.”
    Power in being must be the emanation of this supreme sovereign, be it God or society; it must be the incarnation of this will. And its legitimacy is proportionate to its satisfaction of these conditions. Whether as delegate or mandatory, it can then exercise the right to rule. It is at this point that the two theories, in addition to their divergent conceptions as to the nature of the sovereign, become much differentiated. As to how, for instance, and to whom, and, above all, to what extent the right to rule is given. ...When can it be said, and by what signs can it be known, that Power, by betraying its trust, has lost its legitimacy, and, having now become no more than an observable fact, can no longer claim a right transcendent?
    • p. 27
  • Ransack the history of revolutions, and it will be found that every fall of a regime has been presaged by a defiance which went unpunished. It is as true today as it was ten thousand years ago that a Power from which the magic virtue has gone out, falls.
    • p. 76
      • Cf. also Mosca's "Political Formula"
  • Command is a mountain top. The air breathed there is different, and the perspectives seen there are different, from those of the valley of obedience. The passion for order and the genius of construction, which are part of man’s natural endowment, get full play there. The man who has grown great sees from the top of his tower what he can make, if he so wills, of the swarming masses below him.
  • If there is in Power's make-up an egoistical urge combined with the will to serve society, it is a natural supposition that, the weaker the former, the stronger will be the latter: perfection of government would consist in the complete elimination of the egoistical principle. The chimera of elimination has been unceasingly pursued by minds whose limited range is only equalled by their good intentions. They do not realize that the nature of man and the nature of society combine to make any such project chimerical. For without the egoistical principle Power would lack the inner strength which alone enables it to carry out its functions.
    • p. 119
  • As every advance of Power is useful for war, so war is useful for the advance of power; war is like a sheep-dog harrying the laggard Powers to catch up their smarter fellows in the totalitarian race.
    • p. 142
  • [A]ttempts at the limitation of armaments are, it is clear, a vain thing. Armaments are merely an expression of Power. They grow because Power grows. And yet those parties are loudest in demanding their limitation which, with unperceived inconsequence, are the most ardent supporters of Power’s expansion!
    • p. 143
      • Clearly Predicting the cold war; already in 1945
  • Power is linked with war, and a society wishing to limit war's ravages can find no other way than by limiting the scope of Power.
    • p. 143
  • All command other than its own, that is what irks Power. All energy, wherever it may be found, that is what nourishes it. If the human atom which contains this energy is confined in a social molecule, then Power must break down that molecule. Its levelling tendency, therefore, is not in the least, as is commonly thought, an acquired characteristic which it assumes on taking democratic form. It is a leveller in its own capacity of state, and because it is state.
    The leveling process need find no place in Power's programme: it is embedded in its destiny. From the moment that it seeks to lay hands on the resources latent in the community, it finds itself impelled to put down the mighty by its natural tendency as that which causes a bear in search of honey to break the cells of the hive.
    How will the common people, the dependents and the laborers, welcome Power's secular work of destruction? With joy, inevitably. Its work is that of demolishing feudal castles; ambition motivates it, but the former victims rejoice in their liberation. Its work is that of breaking the shell of petty private tyrannies so as to draw out the hoarded energy within; greed motivates it but the exploited rejoice in the downfall of their exploiters.
    The final result of this stupendous work of aggression, does not disclose itself till late. Visible, no doubt, is the displacement of many private dominions by one general dominion, of many aristocracies by one "statocracy." But at first, the common people can but applaud: the more capable among them are, in a continuous stream, enrolled in Power's army - the administration - there to become the masters of their former social superiors.
    It is the most natural thing, therefore, that the common people should be Power’s ally, should do its work in the expansion of the state—a process which they facilitate by their passivity and stir up by their appeals.
    • pp. 159-160
  • We have just been seeing political power concerned to break a "clandom" which preceded it in time. Let us now see how it behaves in regard to a clandom which is its contemporary. It may be said in effect, paraphrasing Shakespeare: "Monarchy and feudal aristocracy are two lions born on the same day."
    There was something of an act of piracy about the foundation of the European states. The Franks who conquered Gaul, the Normans who conquered England and Sicily, and even the Crusaders who went to Palestine, all behaved like bands of adventurers, dividing the spoil. What was there to divide? First of all, the ready cash. Afterwards, there were the lands; no deserts, these, but furnished with men whose labor was to maintain the victor. To every man, then, his share in the prize. And there we have the man-at-arms turned baron. This is shown to the evolution of the world of the word baron, which in Germany meant "freeman" and in Gaul denoted the name of the class.
    There remains for seizure the apparatus of state, which there was one: naturally it is the share of the chief. But when a barbarian like Clovis found himself confronted with the administrative machine of the Late Empire, he did not understand it. All he saw in it was a system of suction pumps, bringing him a steady flow of riches on which he made merry with no thought for the public services for which these resources were intended. In the result, then, he divided up along among his foremost companions the treasure of the state, whether in the form of lands or fiscal revenues.
    In this way, civilized government was gradually brought to ruin, and Gaul of the ninth and 10th centuries, was reduced to the same condition as that in which William of Normandy was to find England of the 11th.
    ...By a slant common to the barbarian mind, or rather by an inclination which is natural to all men, but in barbarians encounters no opposing principle, these influential men soon confound their function with their property and exercise the former as though it were the latter. Each little local tyrant then becomes legislature, judge and administrator of a more or less extensive principality; and on the tribute paid by it he lives, along with his servants and his men-at-arms.
    Power thus expelled soon returns, however, under the spur of its requirements. The resources at his disposal are absurdly out of proportion to the area, which depends on it and to the population, which calls it the sovereign.
    • pp. 165-166
  • Where will it all end? In the destruction of all other command for the benefit of one alone - that of the state. In each man's absolute freedom from every family and social authority, a freedom the price of which is complete submission to the state. In the complete equality as between themselves of all citizens, paid for by their equal abasement before the power of their absolute master - the state. In the disappearance of every constraint which does not emanate from the state, and in the denial of every pre-eminence which is not approved by the state. In a word, it ends in the atomization of society, and in the rupture of every private tie linking man and man, whose only bond is now their common bondage to the state. The extremes of individualism and socialism meet: that was their predestined course.
    • p.172
  • Every historical society seems, by successive stages, to have dragged its slow length into a form of institutions in which all life is absorbed by, and all movement emanates from. Power. It is a despotic form; in it there is neither wealth, nor authority, nor even liberty, outside Power, which is in consequence the goal of all ambition; nor can its holders find shelter from the rivalry which breeds anarchy, except by buttressing themselves with divine status.
    • p. 172
      • Preceding the analyses of Foucault by a number of years
  • The natural requirements of Power made the fortunes of the common people. All those “little people” sooner found their niche in the state than they set about advancing their own fortunes along with their employers. At whose expense? The aristocrats’. With a boldness born of obscurity they encroached progressively on the taxing rights of the barons and transferred to the royal treasury the incomes of the great. As their invasions grew, the financial machine grew larger and more complicated. There might be new posts for their relations, they discovered new duties, so that whole families take their ease in a bureacracy that grew continually in numbers and authority. Spawning a whole hierarchy of underlings – deputies, clerks, registrars. So it was that everywhere the service of the state became the road to distinction, advancement, and authority of the common people. ...What a sight it is, the rise of the clerks, this swarming of busy bees who gradually devour the feudal splendour and leave it with nothing but its pomp and titles! Does it not leap to the eye that the state has made the fortunes of all these common people, just as they have made the state’s?
    • pp. 183-184
  • Historians of the sentimental school have sometimes regretted that royalty became absolute, while at the same time rejoicing that it installed plebeians in office. They deceive themselves. Royalty exalted plebeians just because it aimed at becoming absolute; it became absolute because it had exalted plebeians.
    It is always utterly impossible to build an aggressive Power with aristocrats. Care for family interests, class solidarity, educational influences, all combine to dissuade them from handing over to the state the independence and fortunes of their fellows.
    The march of absolutism, which subdues the diversity of customs to the uniformity of laws, wars against local attachments on of a concentration of loyalties on the state, douses all other fires of life that one may remain alight, and substitutes for the personal ascendancy of the notables the mechanical control of an administration – such a system is, I say, the natural destroyer of the traditions on which is founded the pride of aristocracies and of the patronage which gives them their strength
    Resistance is, therefore, the business of aristocracies.
    • pp. 187-188
  • Divine law must not be confused with custom. Custom is the crystallization of the whole of a society’s habits. A people among whom custom is altogether sovereign endures the despotism of the dead. Law, on the other hand, while prescribing and fixing such habits as are essential to the preservation of society, does not bar the door to favourable variations: it acts, so to speak, as a discriminating filter.
    • p. 206
  • [O]nce man is declared “the measure of all things,” there is no longer a true, or a good, or a just, but only opinions of equal validity whose clash can be settled only by political or military force; and each force in turn enthrones in its hour of triumph a true, a good, and a just which will endure just as long as itself.
    • p. 212
      • He further clarifies in a footnote: 'This aphorism is ascribed to Protagoras. Montaigne, in the Apology for Raimond Sebond, quotes Pliny on it: ‘ As if he could take the measure yf any other thing, who cannot take his own!” Montaigne comments on this: “Truly, Pythagoras stuffed us very nicely when he made man the measure of all things, who never knew even his own.”' (ibid.)
  • Does thought preside over the successive transformations of human communities? Hegel asserted it did, and changes in the form of a state are for him only the shadows cast by the majestic march of ideas engendered by the world spirit which advances through an unceasing synthesis of opposites bred by itself. With Marx ideas are no longer queens but servants, the mere formal expressions of needs and feelings brought into being by situations: their effectiveness is not their own but has been lent them by the social impulsions which give them birth.
    Marx was wrong to deny the creative quality of the spirit, but Hegel misunderstood the way in which the mechanism of politics works.
    It is true that ideas are queens by birth: but they only gain favour when they enter the service of interests and instincts. Follow an idea through from its birth to its triumph, and it becomes clear that it came to power only at the price of an astounding degradation of itself. A reasoned structure of arguments ...does not as such make its way into the social consciousness: rather it has undergone pressures which have destroyed its internal architecture, and left in its place only a confused babel of concepts, the most magical of which wins credit for the others. In the result, it is not reason which has found a guide but passion which has found a flag.
    The history of the democratic doctrine furnishes a striking example... Born for the purpose of standing as a bulwark against Power, it ends by providing Power with the finest soil it has ever had in which to spread itself over the social field.
    • pp. 237-238
  • [T]here are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.
    • p. 256
  • It is passing strange that our philosophers of the Revolutionary period should have formed their conception of a free society by reference to societies where everyone was not free – where, in fact, the vast majority were not free. It is no less strange that they never stopped to ask whether perhaps the characters which they so much admired were not made possible by the existence of a class which was not free. Rousseau, in whose philosophy were many things, was fully conscious of this difficulty: "Must we say that liberty is possible only on a basis of slavery? Perhaps we must.”
    • pp. 323-3

Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good (1957) edit

Translated by J. F. Huntington, London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • It is as futile and dangerous to aim at making of society one large family, as sentimental socialism seeks to do, as to aim at making of it one large team, as positivist socialism seeks to do.
    • p. 64
  • The man who has dedicated himself to the success of the protect, the master builder, no longer has any freedom: his conduct is now determined altogether by the constraining force of the end. Logically, therefore, he is bound to require at every moment from his companions whatever will best serve that end, and he demands of them imperiously whatever he thinks is of that nature. This imperiousness, though to immediate view that of the master, springs ultimately from the project itself, for it is the project which is in command. In the eyes of those under him, however, it is the master who hustles them, and they think him inhuman by reason of his disregard of their moods and personalities and his inability to see them other than as servants of the project (like himself).
    • p. 66
  • The modern absolutism, which we find the most natural thing in the world, would have been quite beyond the dreams of the most absolute of kings.
    • p. 90
  • Rejoicing in his absolute authority, the single egoist will exploit it methodically, whereas a mêlée of egoists will bring about a ruinous disorder and a disastrous cleavage, because the contrariety of the appetites to be satisfied will prevent the satisfaction of any single one. Clearly, then, the effect of the pursuit of private ends under cover of the public good will be worse if there are many with a hand in power than if there is only one.
    • p. 95
  • The idea so commonly found that scepticism leads to toleration arises from considering the effects of scepticism in the intellectual who takes no active part – not its effects in the man of action. In the man of action, moral relativism and scepticism as to the absolute and universal value of his principles are no obstacle to a fanatical belief in their immediate value as his own clan at the actual moment; they do not weaken in the least his will to impose his principles. How should he glimpse a soul of truth in the principles of others, entitling them to respect, when he does not believe in noble origins of this kind even for his own principles?
    • p. 289

The pure Theory of Politics (1963) edit

New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • No century has been more concerned than ours to do away with war: it has proved signally unsuccessful. All too little attention has been given to the phenomenon that internal politics have become increasingly more warlike.
    • p. 181

The Ethics of Redistribution (1990) edit

Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. (Original work published 1951)
  • The trend of our day is ... toward the reproduction of the medieval situation: Nul homme sans seigneur. It is appropriate here to recall that the so-called Dark Ages began with the flight of individuals into the protection of lords or chapters and came to an end when the individual again found it to his advantage to set forth on his own. We live at a time when everything conspires to push the individual into the fold.
    • p. 67
  • The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.
    • p. 72

See also edit

External links edit

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Auron MacIntyre. De Jouvenel On Monarchy, Oligarchy, And The Expansion Of Power