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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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1 An Introduction to Raymond Aron

Raymond Aron was a French intellectual of the 20th century who lived from 1905 to 1983. No one doubts his role as a chapter in the history of ideas and intellectuals in France.1 Although there have been more studies about his counterparts, Aron remains more influential today in many fields of study in France and the Anglo-Saxon world.2 Exceptionally intelligent from an early age,3 Aron was a contemporary of other leading French intellectuals at the time such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Emmanuel Mounier. Unlike these other intellectuals, however, Aron was both a French liberal and often characterized as an anti-Communist thinker.4 While he was most certainly anti-Communist, it would be foolish and hasty to lump him in with the right-wing French Gaullists; for while he sympathized occasionally with de Gaulle – and was at the General’s side in London during the Second World War – he was never a Gaullist partisan in the strictest sense of the word, save for a brief period after the war when he worked in Malraux’s Ministry of Information.5 In many ways Aron’s political thought hovered in the middle at a time, and in a country, where politics was heavily polarized. For this refusal to align himself with the intellectual establishment, and his steadfastness in remaining a spectateur engagé, Aron was rebuked by many and would not come to enjoy the praise that his schoolmate Sartre had enjoyed until late in...

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