Who decides? Who is the Sovereign? What is a good act? In quest of answers to these vitally important questions, Bertrand de Jouvenel examines successively the nature and history of authority, the political good, the sovereign, and liberty. His concern is with “the prospects for individual liberty in democratic societies in which sovereignty purportedly resides in the whole people of the body politic.” His objective is a definition and understanding of “the canons of conduct for the public authority of a dynamic society.”
This is the final volume in Jouvenel’s magnum opus, the trilogy that begins with On Power, moves to Sovereignty, and concludes with The Pure Theory of Politics. In this volume, Bertrand de Jouvenel proposes to remedy a serious deficiency in political science: “the lack of agreement on first principles, or ‘elements.’” The author’s concern is with political processes as they actually exist, not as they are conjectured to be in hypothetical models.
Documenting the process by which government and controlling majorities have grown increasingly powerful and tyrannical, Bertrand de Jouvenel demonstrates how democracies have failed to limit the powers of government. Jouvenel traces this development to the days of royal absolutism, which established large administrative bureaucracies and thus laid the foundation of the modern omnipotent state.
In this concise and elegant work, first published in 1952, Bertrand de Jouvenel purposely ignores the economic evidence that redistributional efforts sap incentives and are economically destructive. Rather, he stresses the commonly disregarded ethical arguments showing that redistribution is ethically indefensible for, and practically unworkable in, a complex society.