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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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3e Praxeology in Peace and War


We have examined Aron’s critique of vulgar Machiavellianism and Weber’s political vision. As we have seen, one must study totalitarianism and learn from it. We have now to lay out Aron’s own prescriptions for political action in the international sphere. His massive work on international relations, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, comprises a final part on what he has termed “praxeology”.863 This part – “in many ways the most profound of the book”864 – follows Aron’s multi-layered analysis of international relations in the thermonuclear age, in an effort to distill advice for statesmen who must act. International relations is of particular interest to Aron because it operates at the most complex level of social reality.

The problem of understanding international disorder could be framed thus: “How do you give an account of what has been done or what should be done in a realm where laws are unavailable and which lacks the (relative) stability and predictability of a cohesive society?”865 International relations does not constitute a system, and therefore lacks a theory comparable to that of economics or of the natural world.866 Unlike in economics, the end is not set in international relations.867 That Aron is abundantly aware of the difficulty inherent to studying the field adequately can make his text seem opaque to some,868 while continuously relevant to others.869 A science of this order cannot furnish absolute maxims for political action, and Aron has been criticized for raising more questions...

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