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Tragedy and History

The German Influence on Raymond Aron’s Political Thought

Scott B. Nelson

This work examines the cohesion of Raymond Aron’s political thought and argues that its unifying principles are to be found in certain intellectual problems he came upon early in life through his study of German thought. These problems consist of the relation between man and history, knowledge and action, and philosophy and politics. They are explored in three intertwined facets of Aron’s thought – History, Sociology, and Praxeology – which are elaborated by setting Aron in dialogue with three key German thinkers: Dilthey, Marx, and Weber respectively. This work argues that the roots of Aron’s political thought reach back to the 1930s and that his ongoing meditation on the philosophical problems raised at that time endure and provide the framework for his thought for the rest of his life.

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This work is the culmination of my doctoral research at the University of Vienna.

Any writer is bound to have received assistance from several corners in the completion of such a work. In my case thanks are first to be offered to my primary supervisor, Wolfgang Schmale, whose continued support over many years in the face of my detractors was greatly appreciated. Without the faith he invested in me over the course of my doctoral research this project simply would not have been possible.

Similarly, I should mention the kindness and openness shown to me by several generous souls at CESPRA in Paris: above all, Elisabeth Dutartre-Michaut, that centre’s indispensable librarian, as well as Dominique Schnapper and Pierre Manent. My conversations with them were brief but always illuminating, and their spirit represents what is best and most inspiring in the Aronian tradition. My dissertation was positively reviewed, although not without some criticism, by Barry Cooper and Sylvie Mesure. I am grateful for their feedback. Since the completion of my dissertation, I was fortunate to be a co-recipient of Le Prix Raymond Aron 2017, along with Frédéric Cohen. And as I have been given to understand that Sylvie Mesure and Elisabeth Dutartre-Michaut were ardent supporters of my views on Aron in the talks surrounding the awarding of the prize, I am doubly grateful to them.

I also had the great fortune at CESPRA to make the acquaintance of a gentleman who...

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