The Problem in Bertrand de Jouvenel
By Pierre Lemieux
At Law and Liberty, Daniel Mahoney has an interesting and often challenging article on Bertrand de Jouvenel. Mahoney, like Jouvenel, tries to reconcile the danger of the state (“the Minotaur” in Jouvenel’s terms) with the ancient philosophical ideal of a “common good” that political authorities are supposed to protect.
My own reading of Jouvenel, specifically of his book On Power, has been mainly classical-liberal or libertarian, although I have emphasized the contradictions that professor Mahoney claims to resolve.
One fundamental problem, which Mahoney does not discuss in his Law and Liberty article, is: What is the “common good”? Can you find many trade-offs or values on which everyone in society agrees? If not, who does the agreeing, who makes the choice?
I remember Anthony de Jasay asking about Jouvenel, with insistent puzzlement, “What does he mean?”