Guardians of the body politic: Political science and human liberty in the thought of Bertrand de Jouvenel

David M DesRosiers, Fordham University


The wisdom and grace of the French political philosopher Bertrand Jouvenel (1903–1987) are on full display in his three masterworks of political reflection, On Power (1945), Sovereignty (1957), and The Pure Theory of Politics (1963). Together, these works articulate a political science that effectively responds to what he called the modern “rationalist crisis.” According to Jouvenel, modern political thought has freed Power—by which he meant political Authority—from the institutional and moral hedges that have traditionally limited, harnessed and moralized its practice. These three books, taken together, outline a political science that can effectively re-limit, re-harness, and re-moralize Power. After exploring Jouvenel's treatment of political science and human liberty in his work as a whole, I present a critical commentary on The Pure Theory of Politics, the final installment of the “trilogy.” My dissertation focuses on Pure Theory precisely because this work offers the phenomenological “grammar” that undergirds Jouvenel's earlier works on political authority and ethics. Every prescriptive sentence of Power and Sovereignty builds upon the “elemental” grammar, or “pure theory” of man and politics, that is only fully articulated in the third volume. It is the thesis of the dissertation that Pure Theory is the key to unlocking and defending the depths of Sovereignty's dynamic notion of the common good, and for mitigating the tragedy that surrounds Power's presentation of the inexorable rise of the centralized state in modern times. Pure Theory articulates the elementary building block of politics: the capacity of “man to move man.” This insight is conducive to many fruitful developments, which I explore in the dissertation. The dissertation examines Jouvenel's rich analysis of political “behavior” and establishes how any effort to moralize or humanize politics depends upon an understanding of political phenomena in their raw state. By doing so, Jouvenel's thought provides the means for bridging the chasm between ancient and modern political philosophy and empirical and normative political science.

Subject Area

Political science|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

DesRosiers, David M, "Guardians of the body politic: Political science and human liberty in the thought of Bertrand de Jouvenel" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3017545.