You are on page 1of 15

HISTORY

TRUTH
Selected Writings of
Raymond Aron
Edited by
Franciszek Draus
With a Memoir by
Edward Shils

The University of Chicago Press


Chicago and London
Introduction
Francisxek Draus

The work of Raymond Aron may be seen as a confluence of two dif-


ferent traditions: the classical, philosophical tradition, and the mod-
ern, analytic tradition. In an age of specialized scholarship and em-
pirical research, Aron managed to maintain a breadth of vision and
depth of thought characteristic of an era long since past. Whether
focusing on the particular or on the historical, his perspective always
remained broad as well as sharp. His philosophy of the historical con-
dition of man is not an apology for transient things but a defense of
wisdom and of prudence in history.
Arons literary production was vast. The length and variety of his
bibliography might lead one to wonder whether there is any unity in
his work. The diversity of his writings, which include philosophy, eco-
nomics, sociology, and journalism, is such that this huge intellectual
achievement may be seen as heterogeneous, at best.
The impression of heterogeneity disappears, however, as soon as
one undertakes a serious study of Arons work. Its unity first of all is
that of Raymond Aron himself, devoted to the ideals of liberty and
dignity of man. By his life and by his work, Aron manifested a com-
mitment to the free pursuit of truth in the intellectual sphere, and
honesty and fidelity in the political sphere. Politically, Aron was com-
mitted to the struggle for tolerance and liberal democracy, with the
conviction that humanity could be given expression only in a system
that allows doubt and dialogue.
Even more important, perhaps, Arons work has a philosophical
unity. This unity is expressed by a certain mode of reflection, a certain

Translated by Charles Krance


22 Franciszek Draus

attitude with regard to history, and a certain philosophical approach


to the historical condition of man.
In my choice of Arons writings for inclusion in this volume, I have
intended to make clear the philosophical foundation of Arons intel-
lectual and political commitment. I used this criterion because the
philosophical foundation of Arons thought has, until now, been ig-
nored. We have seen Aron the sociologist, the journalist, the university
teacher, and the political thinker; consequently, this variety of in-
terests and activities has been seen as the expression of temperament
or of turns of fortune. Without denying the occasional character of
many of Arons writings, I emphasize the coherence and depth of his
work. My goal in this collection is to present the enduring qualities of
Arons work.

On the Intelligibility of History

Arons essential contribution to contemporary social and political


thought consists of an elaboration of the principles and criteria of a
mode of thought or reasoning which has nothing to do with either
resignation or naive optimism; it is a mode of thought which both
embodies and expresses lucidity and moderation.
Arons philosophy is not a logical system, but neither is it an in-
coherent aggregate of opinions. There is no explicit system of thought
in Arons work, in the sense of a construction of general propositions
inferred from axiomatic principles; his thought is nevertheless marked
by a comprehensive unity of philosophical, analytic approaches to di-
verse domains of social life, including international relations, diplo-
macy in the twentieth century, ideology, and class structure. All of it
stems from a certain number of philosophical propositions and analyt-
ic criteria. Aron never formulated his point of view as an intellectual
system, constructed by logical deductions, Rather, it is a philosophy in
motion. It proceeds by applying a few fundamental propositions to
diverse objects.
The main problem to which Arons work addresses itself is that of
historical intelligibility.The understanding of history was the task that
determined the character and content of all of Arons investigations,
just as it determined the directions of Arons career. Aron carried out
his research on historical intelligibility on two levels: the strictly the-
oretical-reflection on historical knowledge-and the practical--re-
search intended to deepen his understanding of European and world
politics in the twentieth century. It is no surprise, then, that he was at
once philosopher, sociological theorist, professor, historian of ideas,
Introduction 23

engaged political thinker, and journalist. The richness of Arons life


and work is the outgrowth of an original intellectual intention to grasp
the intelligibility of history in its different aspects.
How can history be made intelligible? In pursuit of the answer,
Aron conducted a minute analysis of historical understanding, in-
spired, moreover, by the ideas and analytic schemata of German her-
meneutics at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as are to be
found in the writings of Wilhelm Dilthey and Max Weber. Aron re-
vived the analytic distinction between understanding and causal expla-
nation, and through logical analyses of these two modes of cognition
he formulated his own philosophical theses concerning history.
Historical understanding, for Aron, is both an act of awareness and
a practical act (decision, action). This twofold aspect of history springs
from the word history itself. History sometimes designates a reality,
and sometimes the knowledge that we come to have of that reality. But
Aron does not infer from this a duality of historical being. According
to him, historical understanding is not separated from historical real-
ity, and what is called historical reality does not exist totally apart
from our understanding. Aron defines history as movement or becom-
ing, which is both movement of consciousness and movement of ac-
tions. Moreover, in the processes of history, events and cognition are
reciprocally connected with and condition each other, without con-
stituting a total, logical system. Historical becoming unfolds in time,
the beginning and end of which we do not know. It is a constituent of
man. Man does not exist outside of history; there is no other history
than that of man. Man is the subject of history and defines himself
through history.
Consequently, historical understanding is movement, both spiritual
and material, suspended between the unknown of the origin and the
unknown of the end, a movement that acquires a meaningful direction
insofar as it is a movement of self-determination and self-constitution
of man by himself. To make history intelligible therefore implies
grasping the sense of concrete history, not in terms of a finality, a law,
or a structure, but in terms of mans historical freedom. It is from this
type of general perspective that we must view Arons investigation into
the meaning of history, both his strictly political inquiries and those of
a theoretical nature.
Epistemologically, to make history intelligible presupposes under-
standing and explanation. To understand, according to Aron, means
to draw immanent meaning from the real, to grasp those intentions or
thoughts that are part of any given historical event, to try to rethink or
reconstitute the meaning as it was experienced and as it was expressed
by a given historical act. How is such an understanding possible? Aron
24 Franciszek Draus

would answer: by an effort of detachment and a respect for facts. But


is detachment possible? Under what conditions? Furthermore, how
can one claim to respect facts if they are not completely independent of
the historians intentions?
Aron defines the ideal or the objective of knowledge-the search
for truth-by detachment and respect for facts; but he immediately
establishes the limited validity and relative character of such knowl-
edge. Historic understanding does not exhaust the meanings expressed
in historical actions. Facts, indeed historical reality itself, appear
equivocal and inexhaustible. To the impossibility of exhaustiveness
another obstacle is added: the impossibility of total detachment. The
ideal of understanding is said to be that of participation, but one only
is oneself-one thinks or imagines others (Aron, Introductionto the
Philosophy of History [Boston: Beacon Press, 1961], p. 154).
Just as Arons analysis of historic understanding shows us that
meaning is never definitive, and thus spiritual (or noetic) history is
never determinate, so his analysis of causality attempts to demonstrate
the inconclusiveness of action and the indeterminateness of factual
history.
Historical action would be conclusive if it were inscribed in a deter-
mined order of facts, or events. But, as Aron demonstrates, such an
order cannot be known. Discerning the causal links between events
can lead, at the very most, to the recognition of contingent determin-
ism, pointing to a partial and probable causality. For lack of absolute
knowledge, the historical actor views himself as within the categories
of probability. He must imagine the possibilities that reality offers him
in one moment or another of his action. He must calculate the proba-
bility of success or failure in his undertaking.
Although the historians situation is not the same as the actors,
historical understanding, which is subsequent to the event, does not
differ essentially from that of the actor who participates in the event.
According to Aron, both historian and actor must perceive historical
reality in terms of degrees of probability. Here, Aron is in full agree-
ment with Max Weber, and accepts the latters conception of retro-
spective probability or objective possibility. This theory of objective
possibility dispels the illusion of historical determinism at the same
time that it emphasizes the relativity of action. It is an expression of an
antinomy between historicity and the absoluteness of decision.
By his analysis of understanding, Aron intended to show the pos-
sibility of spiritual freedom, the freedom of choosing our spiritual des-
tiny. By his analysis of historical causality, he made clear the existence
of freedom of action and hence the freedom of political choice. While
Introduction 25

the former rejects dogmatism, the latter resists fatalism. To make his-
tory intelligible, therefore, requires grasping at once the direction of
our thought and the meaning of our liberty: History is free because it
is not written in advance, or determined as is a sector of nature or a
fatality; it is unpredictable, as man is to himself (ibid., p. 320).
The first two parts of this collection attempt to illustrate Arons
search for historical understanding. As I have already suggested, this
search led him along two paths at the same time: a theoretical one and
a practical one. First, Aron determined the categories and conditions
of understanding; then he applied them in interpreting and comment-
ing on the history of contemporary politics.
How is European history of the twentieth century to be under-
stood? Was the First World War inevitable? Did the Treaty of Ver-
sailles increase the likelihood of a Second World War? Was the
division of Europe after 1945 inevitable? For Aron, certainly, histo-
ry-such as it has been-was not inevitable. His steadfast rejection of
historical determinism has a double meaning. It is a refusal to accept
the inevitability of yesterdays holocaust at the same time as a rejection
of the inevitability of totalitarianism today or communism tomorrow.
Aronian rejection of inevitability is an expression of hope. Just as there
was no destiny predetermining the self-destruction of European states
at the beginning of this century, there is no inevitable victory, either
military or peaceful, for the Soviets tomorrow.
Indeed, Arons historical probabilism insists on its educational
function with regard to will and hope: There is no such thing as
global determinism. The transcendence of the future, for man in Time,
is an incentive to will his own destiny and a guarantee that, whatever
happens, hope will not perish (Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals
[Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957],p. 182).
Aron denied all assertions of historical inevitability; that was the
ground for his argument against Marxism-Leninism and the ideologies
allied with it. His struggle was relentless, for its stakes were hope and
historical freedom.
Aron laid the philosophical foundations of his thought in his Intro-
duction to the Philosophy of History (1938),The scope of the present
volume permits no excerpt from that fundamental work. Nevertheless,
I have included texts which, while in no way lacking the philosophical
rigor of the Introduction, contain most of the major philosophical
propositions. Compared to the 1938 book, the texts I have selected
enjoy the advantage of having been written in a more accessible lan-
guage. But the interested reader should not take them as a substitute
for the Introduction.
26 Franciszek Draus

Tocqueville and Marx

The third part of this anthology can be interpreted in several ways. It


represents Arons critique of the Marxism of Karl Marx as well as that
of Marxs descendants; it is a critique of a mistaken understanding of
history, of which Marxism is one example. Indeed, Arons major crit-
icism of Marx is focused on the latters mistaken philosophy of history
and, consequently, his erroneous idea of historical intelligibility.
Did Marxism, in fact, make it easier to understand historical reality
in the nineteenth century? Do we still need Marxism today? Aron at-
tempts to answer these questions through a dialogue between Tocque-
ville and Marx, a dialogue which Aron himself had to devise, since the
two authors were in all likelihood unaware of each other; in any case,
Tocqueville had not known Marxs writings.
Both Tocqueville and Marx wanted to make the reality of modern
society intelligible. For each of them, this society was to be essentially
democratic, but they did not take democracy to mean the same thing.
Tocqueville was a liberal, Marx a dialectician of the Hegelian type.
The former had a legal background, the latter was a born philosopher.
But, paradoxically, it was Tocqueville who tried to grasp the true
meaning of the dialectics of liberty and equality, while Marx, for his
part, was set on suppressing it. Tocqueville was too much of an aristo-
crat to accept all the consequences of egalitarianism; he foresaw, nev-
ertheless, the general extension of well-being through democracy.
Marx, rebelling against his own social origins, condemned liberal soci-
ety; his condemnation, however, perhaps unintentionally, entailed a
condemnation of liberty itself. Tocqueville saw the possibility of salva-
tion in political liberties and so-called categorical democracy, while
Marx prophesied the coming of a real democracy, which would be the
self-fulfillment of humanity. Today, after a century of historical expe-
rience, and in full awareness of the achievements of modern society,
how, in political matters, could we maintain our honesty and not de-
cide against Marx?
It would oversimplify the dialogue between the two simply to de-
clare Tocqueville right and Marx wrong. The significance of the di-
alogue increases when we see it as a confrontation between two
systems of historical understanding rather than between two historical
predictions or visions. The Tocquevillian method was one of historical
probabilism; Marxs method, on the other hand, was deterministic.
Whether judgments are to be lucid or erroneous ought therefore to
depend on the philosophical choice between probability and necessity,
between indetermination and inevitability. Tocqueville, who analyzed
Introduction 27

the conditions and consequences of modern democracy, foresaw our


era as egalitarian; but he left open the choice between liberty and ser-
vitude. He said that the future will depend on ourselves, the egalitarian
impulse being the determining factor only for the conditions in which
political choice will be exercised. By contrast, Marx arbitrarily pro-
claimed historical inevitability, and the only choice he allowed was
between revolution and counterrevolution. Instead of giving hope to
the underprivileged and thereby proposing reasonable means of ac-
tion, Marx offered them a false certainty. Tocqueville did not promise
liberty for all, only the equality of conditions. Marx proclaimed uni-
versal liberation, and thus neglected the fundamental concern of all
human existence, namely, that of being able to choose ones own
destiny.
If, at the end of this dialogue, Aron decided for Tocquevilles ideas,
it was because he found in him a kinship of spirit and values. Both
Tocqueville and Aron kept hope alive, as they placed their stakes on
the free and clear-minded action of historical man. Both were con-
vinced that political liberties are the condition of liberty in general.

Toward a Sociology of Modern Societies

The dialogue between Tocqueville and Marx could be read as a pre-


lude to Arons own effort to understand modern industrial societies. It
shows us the general orientation of Arons thought in this area: proba-
bilistic philosophically, and liberal-democratic politically. But here his
approach will be shown to be primarily analytic, with occasional ref-
erences to theorists who were both the witnesses and the first analysts
of industrial society at its inception. He used Saint-Simons and Au-
guste Comtes ideas and predictions as points of reference; he accepted
neither without reservation.
Both Saint-Simon and Comte emphasized the economic aspect of
modern social transformations. They brought to light the fundamental
difference between the old society and the new, the former being hier-
archical and military, the latter scientific and commercial. They both
considered phenomena such as science, technology, labor, and prima-
ry education to be new and decisive for the future of Western civiliza-
tion. Aron, without attaching the same importance to the economic
factor as these two authors did, nonetheless carried forward some of
their analyses and propositions, and as one who lived in the period of
the triumph of industrialization he examined their prophecy.
Arons studies on industrial societies have a double significance. On
28 Franciszek Draus

the one hand, Aron summarizes, discusses, confirms, or refutes the


questions and propositions of modern sociologists (Saint-Simon,
Comte, Tocqueville, Matx, Pareto, Max Weber). O n the other hand,
he attempts to grasp the specific characteristics, the meaning of mod-
ern achievements, and the dangers of industrial civilization in the nu-
clear age. These studies, which partake of the history of ideas and
statistical analyses, present a curious blend of philosophical debate
and sometimes give the impression that Aron wanted to stay within
the limits of his generation.
Three types of propositions may be distinguished in Arons works
on modern sociology: propositions about the general characteristics of
modern societies; propositions which establish the categories of an
adequate sociological analysis; and propositions bearing on the social
and methodological status of sociological knowledge.
The distinctive traits of modern societies are science, technology,
and industry. Aron uses the term scientific societies because the point
of origin of modern social change and the condition of economic de-
velopment are, in fact, based on science.
According to Aron, modern society, seen as a social model, has a
doubly Promethean ambition: it aims to control nature in order to
exploit it for the benefit of mankind, and to control social matters
so as to mold them with an eye to the advancement of individual
ties. Modern society was formed, essentially, by two revolutions, the
one scientific and technological, the other democratic. In Arons view,
the advent of these two revolutions was not a simple coincidence.
Characteristic features such as the freedom to work, the striving for
self-betterment, or social mobility all implied, in so many ways, a de-
mocratization of the entire society; at the very least, they implied the
destruction of rigid social structures and traditional forms of political
subordination which was to lead toward democracy. With these devel-
opments in mind, it is clear that modern transformations have been
inseparable from the egalitarian and democratic impulse. The ideal of
equality-social, political, economic-had become both the goal and
the legitimation of modern society.
But the same ideal of equality, for which so many battles have been
fought, became both a source of hope and a source of conflict.
Egalitarian society thus became a society-in-conflict. And Aron
strongly emphasized the conflictual character of modern industrial
societies.
Arons principal contribution to contemporary sociology is his the-
sis concerning the fact of oligarchy in the midst of modern democ-
racies. The modernization of societies has markedly increased
Introduction 29

tunities for education and economic prosperity for individuals, but it


has also created new forms of power and hierarchy. Modern societies
have proclaimed the democratic ideal, in the strictly political sense of
according power of the people, for the people, and by the people as
well as in the sense of material equality. Yet social differentiation and
stratification, which were inevitable, have contradicted the ideal of
material equality, while the formation of ruling categories such as pol-
iticians, economic leaders, leaders of the masses, and intellectual au-
thorities with their considerable power has been inconsistent with the
power of the people.
belief in the fact of oligarchy in modern societies should not
be interpreted as antidemocratic. He intended only to point out an
irresolvable disparity between the ideal and its realization, between
the intention and the effect. Modern societies have proclaimed the
democratic ideal as their goal, but they have not achieved full democ-
racy. The oligarchic element seems to be inseparable from the nature
of society, but it does not necessarily nullify democracy as such. In
democratic society, oligarchy is not an absolute negation of democ-
racy-as long as it does not take the form of a ruling class, reproduc-
ing itself and maintaining its own internal cohesion from generation to
generation; instead, it is a phenomenon of ruling categories, which are
themselves divided and in a state of permanent conflict. Thus, as long
as the element of oligarchy itself remains pluralistic, as is the case in
Western societies, and as long as democracy insists that the rulers,
those who govern, know and take into account the demands of the
ruled, those who are governed, it will not, Aron reminds us, neces-
sarily nullify democracy. Free discussion between the controlling ma-
jority and its opposition, between labour unions and pressure groups,
between intellectuals and those in power-despite the iron law of
oligarchy-assures the ruled those guarantees which they may reason-
ably expect and gives the rulers little opportunity to misunderstand the
profound desires of the masses (Aron, Progress and Disillusion [New
York: Praeger, pp. 35- 36).
Arons affirmation of the fact of oligarchy in democracy is therefore
an appeal to realism, without which there can be no understanding or
equitable judgment.

O n International Politics

The fifth part of this volume also lends itself to a dual reading. The
politician will find reflections on the nature of international relations,
3 0 Franciszek

including their moral and strategic aspects. And the philosopher will
find Arons philosophical reflections on the antinomies of historical
action.
For Aron, all thought and action contain antinomies since each, .
thought and action alike, is a human effort which, although never
completed and always renewed, seeks to surpass either the limits of
knowledge or the limits of action. The historical condition of man is
expressed, among other ways, in the fact that he formulates goals and
ideals which, although never reached, require his self-sacrifice. In
Arons thought, the tragic dialectic of historical man is the very condi-
tion of noble projects, glorious intentions, and their imperfect realiza-
tion. This theme already makes its mark in Arons theory of the fact of
oligarchy; in the context of his theory on international relations, how-
ever, it is even more explicit.
The political ideal is always justice and peace. But no political re-
gime has ever wholly attained its own ideals; consequently, those rare
periods of peace have been little more than the absence of war. Arons
statement that man creates cities, but he does not know the cities he
creates, that his children or his childrens children recognise in them
the familiar traits of the domination of man by man (Historyand the
Dialectic of Violence [Oxford: Blackwell, p. is not free of
a certain amount of pessimism.
It would be a mistake, however, to see this philosophy of the essen-
tial imperfection of the historical universe as an admission of a basic
pessimism. T o admit to the imperfection of human and historical en-
deavors is a sign of realism and modesty. This is how I interpret Arons
phenomenology of history. Man, in order to think clearly and act ef-
fectively, does not need absolute knowledge or the assurance of suc-
cess. What he does need is an awareness of what man really is. Man is
a historical being, that is, he is incomplete and free. What he has left,
in such a situation, is hope and responsibility, which can have no other
foundation than that of reason.
Like all human action, diplomatic action contains antinomies.
This is the basis of Arons theory of international relations. The prima-
ry antinomy of politics is that of ethics and effectiveness. Ethics pre-
scribe the rejection of violence, while effectiveness, in prescribing
peace, for example, often requires violence. But there is more to it than
that: any state which intends unconditionally to follow the imper-
atives of ethics may very well run the risk, in a given situation, of being
the victim of its own morality.
Diplomatic action contains antinomies because it seeks an ideal of
Introduction 3 I

peace in a universe where recourse to violence is legitimate. What en-


sues is a fragile, unstable peace and the impossibility of genuine peace.
Furthermore, diplomatic action lays claim to a calculated rationality,
but its calculations are based on the risk of war, and not on any quan-
tifiable data.
For Aron, the first step toward understanding political action is to
grasp its antinomies. Reality cannot be understood by denying anti-
nomies; we must recognize and try to understand them. This intellec-
tual attitude toward history and action allows Aron to formulate an
ethics based on wisdom, and a strategy based on prudence. Wise judg-
ment, according to Aron, attempts not only to consider each case in
its concrete particularities, but also not to ignore any of the arguments
of principle and opportunity, to forget neither the relation of forces
nor the wills of peoples (below, p. 283). On the other hand, a prudent
strategy is one that takes into account the whole of reality, dictates
diplomatic-strategic conduct adapted not to the finished portrait of
what international politics would be if statesmen were wise in their
selfishness, but to the nature of the passions, the follies, the ideas and
the violences of the century (below, p. 282). But neither an ethics
based on wisdom, nor a strategy based on prudence, can guarantee
absolute security. They express no certainty, only the hope that by
complying with the principle of realism and reason men will at least
bring about a decrease in the amount of historical violence.

Aron and Max Weber

Arons thought cannot be fully understood without a recognition of its


affinities with that of Max Weber. Indeed, Arons work is an almost
unceasing discussion of Webers views about society and history.
The Introduction to the Philosophy of History, Arons major work,
was written under the influence of Webers ideas. But it is much more
than an extension of Webers thought. Aron accepts, in principle,
Webers epistemological theses, but he does not extend them into a
philosophy. He considers that the relativist theory of historical
knowledge does not necessarily lead to a relativist philosophy (ibid.
[Boston: Beacon p. 291). This point seems to me to be of
the utmost importance, both for Arons criticism of Webersviews and
for understanding what is central in Arons thought itself. Was he
justified in separatingrelativist epistemology from a relativist philosophy?
The intellectual relations between Aron and Max Weber underwent
changes, and I shall try to trace these changes by focusing on three
themes: the phenomenological description of history; the theory of
knowledge; and world vision.
What links Aron and Weber is the phenomenology of history. Re-
cognition of the limits of knowledge, and of the antinomies of thought
and action, are fundamental to both Weber and Aron.
The same is not true, however, of epistemology. In his
Aron accepted Webers theory of the incoherence of reality, the
subjectivity of historical knowledge, and the relativity of scientific the-
ories. In the late he revised his attitude toward Webers view of
scientific relativism.

In fact, in Max Webers thought relativism was linked


with his idea of the real, and this idea originated in a
Kantian philosophy. He believed that all social reality
lacked form, and was simply an accumulation of scattered
facts. When faced with these incoherent facts the so-
ciologist creates order with the aid of his concepts. The
concepts enable him to understand reality, but his in-
terpretation is obviously linked with his conceptual system,
and this system is itself connected with his personal situa-
tion. But a society is not just a mass of incoherent elements.
Social reality is neither a completely integrated whole nor
an incoherent mass, and so it is impossible to be dogmatic
either about the universal validity of social types, or about
the relativism of every theory. (Eighteen Lectures on
Society [London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,

By rejecting the extremes of theoretical dogmatism and relativist dog-


matism, Aron proposed another interpretation of sociological know-
ledge. His proposition expressed a kind of compromise: Social reality
appears neither incoherent nor completely ordered; it contains innum-
erable semi-organized parts, but no obvious total order. The so-
ciologist does not arbitrarily create the of the social behaviour
which he analyses. . . . The sociologist brings out the categories and
regularities of his subject, but he always makes a choice between these
categories and regularities (ibid., p. 2 8 ) .
It is inevitable, therefore, that knowledge, whether historical or so-
ciological, should be tinged with partiality; but if this partiality is per-
ceived and acknowledged, it is quite compatible with the ideal of
objectivity. The real danger for the objectivity of knowledge, accord-
ing to Aron, lies in the failure to recognize its partiality.
Introduction 33

Arons revision of Webers epistemology went even further. In striv-


ing to determine the conditions of scientific objectivity, Aron repudi-
ated Webers idea of evaluative neutrality, the idea of wertfreie
Wissenschaft, and the objectivity of knowledge supposedly achieved
by the construction of ideal types. According to Aron, objective
knowledge is achieved neither by evaluative neutrality, which he re-
garded as impossible in itself, nor by intellectual rationalizations
which are often ineffective, but rather by fairness-respect for facts
and respect for others. From a strictly logical point of view, the best
way to achieve fairness is by means of an analytic theory that would
at least indicate the principal determining factors and allow for a re-
construction of the whole (below, p. 219).
But the major area of disagreement between Aron and Max Weber
lies in their respective views of the world. Aron rejects the Weberian
view of inexpiable and eternal conflicts and struggles between values.
According to Aron, Weber was wrong to draw philosophical or
religious conclusions from an epistemology of the relativity of knowl-
edge and the plurality of scientific theories. He thought Weber was
wrong to conclude that, because of the limits of knowledge and the
ultimate indecisiveness of actions, various theories under considera-
tion can have equal weight, and all actions are equally ineffective. In
Arons view, some theories better reflect the meaning of reality than
others, just as some actions are more effective in furthering human
dignity and respect than others. The wisdom of a sage and the pre-
science of a madman are no more alike than are the commitment of a
moderate and the action of a fanatic.
Arons criticism of Webers philosophical vision culminated in a
profession of faith and humanistic hope; he did not despair because of
the indecisiveness or inconclusiveness of action and the limited powers
of historical man, but placed his stakes on fragmentary yet sober
knowledge and on moderate, reasonable action. Arons ideal is a rea-
sonable politics, one based on realistic and honest analysis of the so-
cial order rather than on some certitude or other.
In this Introduction I have mentioned only the principal themes and
have only hinted at the philosophical depth of Arons thought. The
study of Arons works has been a demanding experience for me, both
intellectually and emotionally. I hope, therefore, that the reader of this
book will find in it rewards similar to those that I have gained from
editing it.
Part One
Man and History

The texts that follow were written approximately at the same time.
The first was written in I for the des de
philosophie but was not published until The second was pub-
lished in French in
Despite the apparent difference between these two pieces-one
strictly theoretical, the other an analysis of the history of European
diplomacy in the first half of the twentieth century-they form a co-
herent whole. In the first, Aron reflects on the intelligibility of history
in general; in the second, he attempts to apply the principles elabo-
rated in the theoretical reflection to the understanding of European
politics in our time.