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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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2a The Sorbonne, Modern Society, and Sociology

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We shall proceed by examining the following: Sociology in France after the Second World War. The study of modern and industrial society in postwar Europe. Two ideal types for studying industrial society: Marx and Tocqueville. Aron’s Montesquieuan approach to sociology. The primacy of the political.

Sociology in France after the Second World War

The French world of sociology into which Aron set foot in 1955 was little different from the one he remembered on the eve of the war.336 Sociological work ←97 | 98→had been conducted largely outside of the context of the university, for instance at the Centre d’études sociologiques, a division of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), founded in 1946 by Georges Gurvitch.

During Aron’s tenure as a sociologist at the Sorbonne, sociology began to plant deeper institutional roots with the creation of three important journals – Sociologie du travail, Revue française de sociologie, and Archives européennes de sociologie (this last one set up by Aron and de Dampierre in 1960) – and sociology institutes such as the foundation for the Société Française de Sociologie,337 le Laboratoire de Sociologie Industrielle, le Groupe de sociologie des organisations, and le Centre de Sociologie Européenne (this last one also set up by Aron in 1959). The relative adolescence of the institutes meant that the individuals running them were disproportionately influential in shaping the sort of work that would be done and their general direction. It...

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