Bertrand de Jouvenel (1903-1987) ranks as one of the most important–and understudied–political thinkers of the twentieth century. Daniel Mahoney, Augustinian Boulanger Chair and Professor of Political Science, Assumption College, calls the neglect of this seminal thinker “perplexing” because Jouvenel’s writings combine erudition, literary grace, and a seemingly effortless capacity for the insightful and memorable aphorism or bon mot.”  In “Bertrand de Jouvenel’s Common Good Conservatism,” Mahoney, a Senior Fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), identifies the timeless wisdom Jouvenel provided in his most important books.

A French intellectual who was one of the charter members of the Mont Pelerin society, Jouvenel possessed a staggering range of erudition. His magnum opus consists of a trilogy: On Power (1945), Sovereignty (1955), and The Pure Theory of Politics (1963).  These volumes (more than 1100 pages collectively) range widely over Western history, philosophy, and political theory from antiquity to modernity. Jouvenel’s scholarship combines a powerful critique of radical individualism, social contractarianism, and of modern utopian illusions about progress with deep reflections on the origins of totalitarianism and the meaning of justice and the common good.  In 2011, AHI President Robert Paquette ran a memorable seminar in which more than a dozen gifted undergraduates read Jouvenel’s trilogy cover-to-cover.

Mahoney’s article was published April 16 by Law & Liberty, a website devoted to the study of the principles that undergird a free society.