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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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1e Dilthey Revisited: The Incomplete Trilogy


We have but fragments of the great philosophical project that Aron initiated in his early years and picked up once again in the 1960s and 1970s. We can trace some of the outlines of where his interests would have led him had history not driven him to choose a different path. Still in 1964 Aron had envisaged his Philosophie critique de l’histoire as the first part of a study that would move from the critical philosophy of history to historicism, that is, the philosophy of historical relativism.269 It would have examined four additional thinkers: Ernst Troeltsch, Max Scheler, Karl Mannheim, and Oswald Spengler.270

His Introduction was also to be succeeded by a work on the social sciences that would stamp out the relativism with which his dissertations had been charged.271 This sequel would move from a theory of the social sciences to a theory of historical interpretations of epochs, civilizations, and humanity in history.272 If the 1940s and 1950s saw fewer purely philosophical reflections in this vein, it is because Aron was putting into practice his methodology and trying to understand the world in which he lived, on every level from journalism all the way up to the more academic writings of the time.273 The historical approach itself, ←79 | 80→however, is never absent from his work; if anything, it is reinvigorated by his stressing the primacy of the political.274

Come the 1970s Aron works out his formal meditation on man and history with...

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