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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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2b Aron’s Marx392

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2b  Aron’s Marx392

We will proceed by examining the following: Marx in the context of Aron’s Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire. Causal systematization: Aron’s critique of Marx’s sociology and view of history. Marxism as existential choice.

Marx in the Context of Aron’s Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire

We return to the influential German years. It was in 1931 during his stay in Germany that Aron would begin his lifelong dialogue with Karl Marx, whose influence on the young French scholar’s intellectual trajectory would be unmatched.393 He delved into this great German thinker’s works “less in order to arrive at an opinion on the Soviet Union than to mark out the borderline between the analytics and dialectics (in the Kantian sense) of historical knowledge.”394 He also wondered if a reading of Das Kapital might aid him in explaining the economic crisis.395 Sadly, Marx’s analysis provided neither a sufficient explanation for the crisis nor much of a boost to Aron’s vague socialism.

What it did offer, however, was a bold and comprehensive philosophy of history, which is precisely the sort of project at which Dilthey’s critique was aimed.396 Aron was ahead of almost all of his compatriots in his reading of Marx’s earlier texts which, fortunately, were published in 1932 in Berlin during his sojourn there.397 This wide range of material would likely have indicated to Aron very early on three crucial components of the totality of Marx’s thought: his philosophical-anthropological assumptions, his...

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