Revisiting de Jouvenel’s 1945 classic, On Power
“the spirit of domination never slumbers”
An ambitious first 100 days is upon us.
It would be a great time revisit Bertrand de Jouvenel’s 1945 classic, On Power.
Progressive to . . . Something Else
Bertrand de Jouvenel was born in 1903 to an aristocratic family that embraced the “progressive” mores of the day. His parents divorced. His father married the famous novelist Colette in 1912. In 1920, de Jouvenel and Colette started an affair (de Jouvenel was just 16), which became a public scandal and (understandably) ended his father’s marriage.
In de Jouvenel, we aren’t dealing with a stodgy member of the bourgeois.
De Jouvenel was taught to view progress as inevitable, which was the accepted paradigm in those halcyon days of the early 1900s.
World War I shattered that paradigm. No longer was history viewed as constant progress.
De Jouvenel struggled with different political philosophies. In his twenties, he embraced a modified concept of laissez-faire political economy. In his thirties (which coincided with the 1930s and the Great Depression), he concluded that the market economy had failed miserably, but didn’t embrace the Communism or Fascism that became the fashionable theories of the day.
When the Germans occupied France, de Jouvenel pretended to support the Vichy government but secretly joined the Resistance. When he learned that the Nazis had become aware of it, he and his wife fled to Switzerland.
In Switzerland, he researched and wrote On Power, which was his attempt to explain the rise of the modern state. By understanding how the modern state arose, he hoped readers would understand why the modern state is a problem.
He would later use On Power as a launching point to explore how government could work better for the common good. … Read the rest