Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bertrand de Jouvenel

Daniel J. Mahoney: Bertrand de JouvenelFive score and half a dozen years ago today, Bertrand de Jouvenel was born.

To quote:

Where is liberty?

For two centuries now this European society of ours has been seeking it; what it has found has been the widest, the most cumbersome, and the most burdensome state authority ever yet experienced by our civilization.
The mistake is one which was exposed in advance by Montesquieu: "As it is a feature of democracies that to all appearance the people does almost exactly as it wishes, men have supposed that democratic governments were the abiding-place of liberty: they confused the power of the people with the liberty of the people." This confusion of thought is at the root of modern despotism.
When at a given moment of historical development we find Power making laws with the assent either of the people as a whole or of an assembly, and being unable to make them except with this assent, we are apt to interpret these rights of the people or assembly as a limitation on Power, as a decline from its primitive state of absolutism. But this primitive absolutism is pure myth. It is not true that mankind has emerged from a former state in which magistrates and monarchs dictated out of their own heads the rules of behaviour. They had not in truth such a right, or, more accurately perhaps, of such power.
It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.
[Authoritarianism] could, no doubt, have been avoided if there had been a stable, vigorous, and unified executive to which the legislature acted merely as limitary principle. But in fact, as we have seen, the contrary happened: the legislature made itself the ruling sovereign.

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