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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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3c Aron’s Machiavellianism


Many of the points made previously regarding Max Weber were the result of a lifetime of reflection. Weber probed the limits of value conflict and the means/ends paradigm for thinking about politics. When he discovered him in Germany Aron’s initial impression of Weber, as we have mentioned, was one of nearly unequivocal admiration. When he returned to France in the 1930s he despaired of the future of his country. He had seen the failure of the Weimar Republic and the weakness of the French republic in the face of its troubles from within and the growing tyrannical threats from without. Machiavellianism was the cliff from which he would survey the fragility of liberal democracy and the rise of totalitarianism, and he would begin to sharpen his thinking about means and ends by viewing politics as technique.

In this section we will proceed by examining the following: Approaching Aron’s Machiavelli. Aron’s conflictual view of politics and the role played by virtù. Machiavellianism and totalitarianism.

Approaching Aron’s Machiavelli

The literature on Raymond Aron and Niccolò Machiavelli is slimmer compared to other areas of the French writer’s thought.743 In 1993 Rémy Freymond compiled four unedited texts (one unfinished) that Aron had written between 1938 and May 1940 on Machiavelli and Machiavellianism, and combined these with other essays by Aron on topics such as Machiavellianism, Pareto, and totalitarianism.744 This collection has not been the object of much attention,745 perhaps ←217 | 218→partly because Aron’s...

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