Aron, Raymond, 1905-1983
The Hutchinson Encyclopedia
French sociologist and political commentator. Never afraid to follow an independent view, however unfashionable, he stressed the importance of the political element in social change. He saw industrial societies as characterized by pluralism and by a diversity of values and he was highly critical of Marxism.
Aron was professor of sociology at the University of Paris 1955–68 (resigning during the 1968 riots) and was a highly influential commentator on politics through his articles in the newspaper Le Figaro.
Raymond-Claude-Ferdinand Aron (1905–1983) was a French scholar and journalist who, in postwar France, opposed the intellectual left.
Aron, the son of Gustave Aron, a Jewish law professor, studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS), the French academy for teachers, from 1924 to 1928. In 1928 Aron had the highest score on the aggregation in philosophy (a competitive civil service examination offered in France). He was awarded a doctorate in 1930.
In 1930, Aron went to Germany, where he was a lecturer at the University of Cologne until 1931 and a researcher from 1931 to 1933 at the Maison Academique in Berlin. He married Suzanne Gauchon in 1933. Aron was awarded his doctorate during this time, completing his thesis on the philosophy of history.
With the rise of Adolph Hitler and anti-Semitism in Germany, Aron returned to France. He became a philosophy professor at the Lycee of Le Havre. He returned to Paris in 1934, becoming the secretary at the Center of Social Documentation at the ENS.
In 1939, Aron began teaching social philosophy at the University of Toulouse, but left to join the French Air Force when World War II (1939–1945) began. Following the fall of France in 1940, Aron escaped to London, where he became part of the Free French movement and the editor of their newspaper, La France Libre. He edited the paper until 1944.
Following the liberation, Aron returned to France to teach sociology at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) and the Paris Institute of Political Studies. In 1955 he became a professor of political science as a member of the Faculty of Letters at the Sorbonne, a post he held until 1968. He was an opponent of the French student movement of May 1968. In 1970 he became a professor of sociology at the College de France.
In addition to his teaching, Aron became a columnist in 1947 for Le Figaro, a conservative daily newspaper. He wrote for the paper for thirty years, becoming one of the nation's leading columnists. When the paper was purchased by Robert Hersant, a conservative newspaper publisher allied with French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Aron resigned. He moved to L'Express, a weekly news magazine, where he wrote columns from 1977 until his death.
Aron's scholarship was in the fields of economics, philosophy, political science, and sociology. He wrote more than forty books during his lifetime, in which he supported the classical liberal tradition of freedom and private property, challenging the views of those on the ideological left, especially those of his classmate at the ENS, Jean-Paul Sartre.
In The Opium of the Intellectuals (published as L'opium des intellectuels in 1957), Aron's thesis was that Marxism is a "mental opium" and was based on false myths. In particular he noted the Marxist belief that history was progressive and liberating, although the Marx-inspired Soviet regime was based on totalitarian controls. The second Marxist myth he challenged was the role that philosopher Karl Marx assigned to the proletariat—that of the saviors of humanity; Aron contended that all most workers wanted was a middle class (bourgeoisie) standard of living.
Scholar Reed Davis notes that, in international relations, Aron subscribed to what he called "the idea of reason, an image of society that would truly be humanized." Aron hoped that the possibility of nuclear war would lead to an end to power politics.
- Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998. .
- The Opium of the Intellectuals. London: Secker and Warburg, 1957. .
- Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection. Translated by . New York: Holmes and Meier, 1990. .
- Raymond Aron. Beverly Hills, Calif: Sage, 1986. .
- "Liberalism and Cold War Diplomacy in the Thought of Raymond Aron." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, March, 2006. .
- The Liberal Political Science of Raymond Aron: A Critical Introduction. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992. .