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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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3a Drama in History – Thinking like a Statesman


In this section we will proceed by examining the following: Beginning to think like a statesman. The postwar order. Decolonization and nationalism. May 1968.

Beginning to Think like a Statesman

Germany was where Aron experienced political upheavals firsthand. The Weimar Republic was the model example of the decomposition of a constitutional-pluralist regime. We already noted in passing Aron’s moralistic support of Germany that was quickly tempered come 1932 by a more realistic approach to politics. His “Simple Principles of Pacifism” read like an impassioned and naïve cri de coeur of a true moralist of conviction (Gesinnungsethiker – just the sort of person Max Weber considered unfit for public office).574 They are a list of propositions intended to promote the pacifist cause, such as France disarming in order that Germany not have any justification in arming itself. In light of Aron’s reputation for political lucidity such early articles make for strange reading indeed.

Perhaps one of the turning points in the transition from what he later considered “political naïveté” to maturity was the embarrassment Aron felt at being unable to answer a simple and succinct question from Joseph Paganon, the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs in the government of Edouard Herriot. The meeting in 1932 was arranged by Emmanuel Arago, who rubbed elbows with politicians and was a friend of Aron’s older brother Adrien. Aron elaborated at some length on the problems of nationalism in Germany and the threat to European stability...

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