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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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2c Industrial Society


We have noted that Aron believes Marx made his mature analysis of the economy the cornerstone of his thinking for a reason, and that this does not necessarily negate his earlier philosophical reflections. For Marx, man is defined by labour. His economic theory, however, fails as a scientific project and its predictions are not borne out by the empirical evidence. Nevertheless, it is inspiring as a sociological project, misdirected as it may be. The previous section was devoted to exposing the theoretical weaknesses in Marx’s sociology even though Marx’s approach remained valid at least to begin thinking about modern society. What follows is Aron’s own conceptualization of modern society, or industrial society, using Marx as his starting point. We shall proceed by examining the following: Theories of capitalism’s demise. The economic nature of industrial society. The principle of industrial society: growth. Aron’s reflections on growth in Europe and sociology.

Theories of Capitalism’s Demise

Many of Aron’s students were Marxists, or at least well on their way to changing the world, and Aron was a marked man, having made his way as a journalist of the right – he had to make his research palatable.452 History gave him a hand, as it sometimes does, in the form of Khrushchev’s secret speech and the Hungarian Revolution.453 Aron’s carefully unbiased sociological investigation of industrial society in both the East and West was a perfect match for those who, in light of recent events, wished to desert the god...

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