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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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3d Totalitarianism


We concluded the preceding section by discussing the role of the political elite. As we mentioned, Pareto’s political elite scorns values as nothing more than tools to direct the masses. This is not an inevitable consequence of the mere existence of a political elite; as we have noted, all regimes are oligarchic to some extent. Nevertheless, it is the cynical attitude of this approach to politics that paves the road to totalitarianism. For the statesman who would seek to avoid totalitarianism the first step is to understand it. In this section we shall proceed by examining the following: Machiavellian techniques for acquiring power. The nature of totalitarianism.

Machiavellian Techniques for Acquiring Power

Max Weber cites approvingly the example of a Florentine hero allegedly recorded in Machiavelli’s Istorie fiorentine who praised those citizens for whom the greatness of their fatherland was more important than the salvation of their souls.826 The statesman does not have the luxury of valuing his own soul over the greatness or survival of his country, but he should ask himself of what his country’s greatness consists. We observed earlier that the tragedy of Weber’s political views was that he never imagined Germany’s military greatness could undo the greatness of her culture. The country survived under Hitler, but her soul had been extinguished. A regime that would make a mockery of values finds itself nothing more than the cold hard shell of bureaucratic procedures and rationalism without an end. If this end...

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