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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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3b Max Weber and the Problem of the Conflict of Values645


3b  Max Weber and the Problem of the Conflict of Values645

Raymond Aron discovered Max Weber around the same time that he discovered Karl Marx in the early 1930s during his sojourn in Germany. It was in Max Weber’s writings that Aron eventually found the resources and the words to express the relationship between politics and action.646 There are genuine trade-offs between a profession that demands the absolute pursuit of truth and one that demands the willingness to compromise not only one’s own morals (anathema to the moralist) but even the truth itself (anathema to the scientist). This variance at the root of science and politics is probably why Aron was so fond of “failed” statesmen: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Weber himself. All of them partook to some extent in politics or war, and they were incredibly gifted thinkers who reflected on the nature of politics or war.

In this section we will examine Aron’s ongoing interaction with Max Weber’s thought. We will proceed by examining the following: Aron’s discovery of Weber. Weber’s two ethics. Weber’s vision of world politics and Germany’s role. Aron revisits Weber’s two ethics in the 1970s. Politics and the conflict of values.

Aron’s Discovery of Weber

The 1930s were rife with political agitation and a looming war, and thus Weber confirmed Aron’s intuition that history was once again on the move. Unlike Durkheim, for instance, Weber had caught on to the spirit of the time in a...

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