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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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2e The Constitutional-Pluralist Regime


The third part of Aron’s trilogy is a sociological (not philosophical) analysis of political regimes.517 It avoids the ancient question of the best regime,518 but it also does not permit of the Machiavellian cynicism that would reduce the study of politics to the study of the competition for power alone. Political regimes in industrial societies are differentiated on the basis of the number of parties: one or many. The number of parties is the key variable for Aron for a number of reasons: it is the institutionalization of the democratic principle;519 it is loyal to the ancient taxonomy of political regimes; it draws on Montesquieu’s recognition of representation – the role of parties being to represent the people – as a novel feature of modern societies; all modern societies have in common that there is one or more political parties; and parties are the active element in politics, in ←155 | 156→that political conflicts occur within or between parties.520 In this section we shall examine only multi-party regimes,521 which Aron prefers to call constitutional-pluralist regimes (instead of democratic regimes), for that term is a more accurate description of the functioning of modern democracy, i.e. legally organized and peaceful competition for the exercise of power and where the party in power acts in conformity with the constitution and the laws.522 Elections form the battleground that determines how power is to be apportioned.

We will proceed by examining the following: The nature, principle, and ideals of the...

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