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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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2d Class Struggle


Aron’s second part of the trilogy, La lutte de classes, is a continuation of the themes elaborated in the first part and their effect on social class in the two regimes, specifically, the ways in which class struggle is manifested on either side of the Iron Curtain. Aron judged this part of the trilogy to be scientifically superior to the other two,489 which makes it doubly unfortunate that it was never translated into English and does not feature prominently in the secondary literature.490 Nevertheless, it is a crucial steppingstone from Aron’s analysis of the economy and the particularity of industrial society in history, to his reflections on the political regimes of his era. The starting point is a combination of Tocqueville and Marx: the levelling of society and political equality coupled with class struggle, the hierarchy of consumers and producers, and inequality of outcome.491 But this time there is a disturbing third participant: Pareto.492 The inclusion of this neo-Machiavellian is meant to introduce the uncomfortable political element to compensate for the insufficiencies of Marx’s purely socio-economic conceptualization of class struggle. Uncomfortable because, while there are governments for the people, there has never been government by the people: all regimes have ←141 | 142→always been oligarchic to some extent.493 Consequently, aside from the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, there is also the conflict between circulating elites and the masses. And – because it is worth making this clear from the start – there is no reason to assume that wiping...

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