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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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4a Summary Conclusion

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We shall conclude by summarizing the main ideas in each section followed by an introduction to action in history, which is the culmination of Aron’s analysis of history in the making and the problem he had revisited in various forms since his encounter with German thought in the 1930s.

This book was divided into three parts, History, Sociology, and Praxeology, to reflect the three main interconnected areas of Raymond Aron’s thinking. Our argument throughout has been to take Aron at his own word and demonstrate that his intellectual inheritance from Germany first laid the foundation for these cornerstones of his thought, which were crucial for helping him frame his answers to his lifelong philosophical problem of man and action in history. To this end, we associated a German thinker with each one of these areas – Dilthey (History), Marx (Sociology), Weber (Praxeology) – to better explain the most salient concepts and points that concerned Aron within each area. These three German thinkers served as interlocutors for Aron and we can certainly not pretend to have explored every dimension of their own thinking. Their importance, however, lies in the fact that Aron spent his lifetime engaging with them and the answers they furnished to problems that interested all of them.

As we have seen, in Aron’s mind, Wilhelm Dilthey set the stage for historicist thought and he carried its arguments to their antinomic conclusion. Here we saw Aron’s trip to Germany provide the answers he needed to...

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