EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 415


Aron, Marx, and Marxism EJPT
An Interpretation European Journal
of Political Theory
© SAGE Publications Ltd,
Daniel J. Mahoney Assumption College, USA London, Thousand Oaks
and New Delhi
issn 1474-8851
2(4) 415–427; 0 35723

a b s t r a c t : Central to his own fruitful study of modern society and politics, of the
stakes and twists-and-turns of the dramatic twentieth century, was Raymond Aron’s
fifty year engagement with ‘Marx and Marxism’. In a series of lecture courses (and
elsewhere) Aron provided a comprehensive, balanced, and judicious exposition and
appreciation of Marx’s intellectual itinerary. On one hand, Marx helpfully highlighted
various tensions in liberal-bourgeois society. On the other hand, however, his
apolitical, materialistic explanations of them and, especially, his prediction of
capitalism’s explosive self-overcoming proved grossly inadequate. In addition to being
a special sort of social scientist, Marx was a Promethean humanist who rejected all
natural and social limits and who claimed to scientifically predict the coming of the
true and real City of Man. Aron’s own ‘balanced social analysis’ and his humane,
sober, reformist thought stand in stark contrast.

k e y w o r d s : Aron, Marx, the political, radical Prometheanism, contradiction versus

In The Critique of Dialectical Reason, the French existentialist philosopher Jean-
Paul Sartre famously declared that ‘Marxism is the unsurpassable philosophy of
our era’. Sartre’s was an unqualified judgment, the intemperate assertion of a
philosopher turned fellow traveler and sometime apologist for totalitarianism.
Raymond Aron’s approach to Marx and Marxism was considerably more bal-
anced. He spent 50 years of his life studying the writings of Marx. On the one
hand, he admired Marx’s ambition to capture the nature of social reality and
learned much from his penetrating analyses of modern political economy. At the
same time, Aron reluctantly concluded that there was an intimate connection
between the ‘Marxism of Marx’ and the tragedies of the 20th century. In his view,
Marx’s revolutionary dogmatism, his disparagement of representative institu-
tions, his articulation of a global historical determinism that denied the autonomy
of politics and the human element in historical becoming, all played crucial roles
in shaping the totalitarian propensities of 20th-century Marxism.

Contact address: David J. Mahoney, Assumption College, 500 Salisbury Street,
Worcester, MA 01609, USA
Email: dmahoney@eve.assumption.edu 415

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Aron wrote that: . This is not to suggest that Marxism was Aron’s only or primary intellectual reference point. Tocqueville.3 For 50 years. ‘So. and the highest regard for free political institutions. 304). In his 1979 address on the occasion of his reception of the Prix Tocqueville. Even as Aron finally adhered to the conclusions of what he called the ‘French school’ of political sociology (Montesquieu. 2015 . Aron writes that as a young man he began his inquiries as a social philosopher by studying Capital. have tended Downloaded from ept. hoping to convince himself of the validity of the Marxist critique of liberal society. Élie Halévy). In a particularly striking discussion. the road that led me to what is called my liberalism begins with the critique of Marx and passed through the reading of Max Weber and the lived experience of totalitarian regimes. and ably introduced by Casanova. . This he could never do. a ‘probabilistic’ conception of history. a stress on the autonomy of the political order. Aron is commonly understood to be a conservative-minded liberal in the tradi- tion of Montesquieu and Tocqueville. carried away by the discovery that the author of The Opium of the Intellectuals owed 416 more to his engagement with Marx than his reading of Tocqueville. This posthumously published volume. his critique of totalitarianism as well as his discovery in the 1950s of the deep affinities between his thought and the political liberalism of Montesquieu and Tocqueville. with clarifying the thought of his great intel- lectual rival.sagepub. originated as a series of lectures delivered by Aron at the Sorbonne during the academic year 1962 and 1963. his reading of Weber. the editors have supplemented the text with excerpts from a 1976–7 lecture course on the same subject that Aron delivered at the Collège de France (the summary of that course is reproduced as the first appendix to the volume).EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 416 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) With the publication of Le Marxisme de Marx1 we are in a better position to appreciate the central role of this engagement with Marx and Marxism in Aron’s larger intellectual trajectory. Together.2 Yet in Le Marxisme de Marx Aron writes that his intellectual formation owed nothing to his reading of Montesquieu and Tocqueville and everything to his critical engagement with the writings of Marx. these lectures provide the most complete account of the Aronian engagement with Marx currently available and shed valuable light on the character of Aron’s liberalism.4 Any adequate account of Aron’s liberalism must thus come to terms with his critique of Marx. That said. even obsessed. this anti-Marxist was preoccupied. judiciously edited and annotated by Jean-Claude Casanova and Christian Bachelier.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. He shared with his great French predeces- sors a rejection of intellectual dogmatism. Marx remained a privileged interlocutor. I discovered Tocqueville and I was won over by the man as much as I was by the sociologist or the historian. Some early reviewers of this book. Because of gaps in a few of the original lectures. At the end of the road. . I have not become a Marxist. there does not exist an author that I have read as much and who has formed me as much as Marx and of whom I have not ceased to speak badly’ (p.

It is not the consciousness of men that 417 Downloaded from ept. He scrupulously retraces the intellectual itinerary of Marx and goes out of his way to do justice to his thought before criticizing it. In a crucial passage Marx writes: In the social production of their life. men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will. 45) had taken firm shape. Marx had arrived at the crucial distinction between ‘infrastructure’ and ‘superstructure’ that is at the core of all of his subsequent thought. Whatever their ultimate differ- ences. even if he interpreted them in a substantially different light. there is no denying the centrality of the dialogue with Marx in Aron’s broader intellectual reflection. Aron’s book provides an imitable model for approaching the work of a thinker with whom one is deeply at odds. By 1848. the philosophy of history. That said. In addition. By then the essentials of Marx’s ‘philosophical thought’ (p. He is above all interested in recovering the authentic ‘Marxism’ of Marx. Aron remained genuinely captivated by the ‘mysteries of Capital’5 as he did not hesitate to call them. it flowed naturally from Aron’s ongoing effort to understand the politics and history of his age. and Marxism to simplify the complex path by which Aron arrived at his mature liberalism.6 There is nothing ‘ideological’ or partisan about Aron’s opposition to Marx. Aron begins his book with a succinct overview of Marx’s ideas in 1848. of his transformation from ‘left-Hegelian’ philosopher to revolution- ary agitator and theorist of historical materialism.sagepub. writings which are essential for under- standing Marx’s intellectual development but which should not be confused with his thought as a whole. Why this singular preoccupation with the father of modern communism? To some extent. of freeing it from various ideological and methodological distortions and misappropriations.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 417 Mahoney: Aron. Aron’s book is a model of intellectual generosity. Only after examining the mature philosophical reflection of Marx in its more or less achieved form does Aron turn to provide a detailed account of Marx’s intellectual formation. Marx. the revolutionary year that saw the publication of The Communist Manifesto. and the central role of political econ- omy in clarifying the nature of modern society – were Aron’s themes. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society. As Pierre Rosanvallon has pointed out in a thoughtful review in Le Monde. relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. 2015 . To do otherwise is to risk ‘privileging’ the early writings of Marx. The mode of production of material life conditions the social. The best articulation of this distinction can be found in Marx’s 1859 preface to A Contri- bution to the Critique of Political Economy. shaped as they were by the dominant presence of Marxist regimes and ideologies. Aron’s scrupu- lously fair engagement with Marx’s thought illustrates how the absence of invec- tive can go hand in hand with a radical rejection of the fundamental premises of a thinker to whom one is nonetheless deeply indebted. Marx’s themes – industrialism. the real foundation. political and intellectual life process in general. on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

Marx rejected the ‘mediation’ of the state as an instrument for resolving the tensions inherent in the historical condition of man and located the real foundation of social life in the material conditions of ‘civil society’.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 418 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) determines their being. and not the other way around’.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. The youthful Marx used an essentially Hegelian vocabulary that he quickly turned against the system and thought of the master. could inaugurate the reign of humanity appealed to both the revolutionary and the Hegelian in Marx’s soul. He no longer spoke of a ‘human essence’ as he had in some of his earlier philosophical writings. their social being that determines their consciousness. 2015 .7 In the thought of the mature Marx. Marx had also arrived at his purported discovery of a fundamental ‘contradiction’ between ‘forces’ and ‘relations’ of pro- duction. a contradiction that could only be resolved by revolutionary action on the part of the proletarian class. As early as his ‘Introduction to the Critique of the Philosophy of Right of Hegel’ (1844) Marx used the methods and spirit of ‘critical’ philosophy to subvert Hegelian con- clusions. By The Communist Manifesto. and philosophical and religious ideas are more or less ‘ideological’ reflections of underlying and truly determinative social relations. political institutions and disputations. For a revolutionary who cut his teeth on the writings of Hegel. But it cannot be said that Marx was Hegelian in any strict sense of that term. but. By 1848 Marx had rejected every ‘idealistic’ account of human being and society. Aron speculates that Marx’s belief that revolution could resolve the enigmas of history and establish for the first time a truly ‘non-antagonistic’ regime re- flected both his tempestuous revolutionary temperament and his residual Hegelianism (p. The thought that the class which had nothing else to lose. Without the conviction that material conditions determine the consciousness of men. an attack on an orthodoxy central to the Marxist con- ception of reality. His critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right led to an even more fundamental critique of the 418 alienation of human work that he identified with the division of labor and the Downloaded from ept. everything else in Marxism is open to question. In his measured presentation of the development of Marx’s thought. that embodied the misery of man under con- ditions of late capitalism. 300). Marx was no doubt correct to observe a disconcert- ing gap between the immense productive capacities of the capitalist economy and the misery of much of the industrial working classes. on the contrary.8 That seemingly abstruse observation was in fact nothing less than a revolutionary utterance of the first order.sagepub. contradictions needed to be definitively resolved. When the Czech dissident turned statesman Václav Havel addressed a joint ses- sion of the American Congress in February 1990 he announced to his befuddled audience that ‘consciousness precedes being. Aron shows that Hegel was Marx’s cherished interlocutor as well as his principal intel- lectual reference point. In a later chap- ter. literary and other artistic productions. But he was wrong to believe that only revolution could bridge this gap and the hopes that he placed in the revolutionary transformation of humanity were truly extravagant.

sagepub. of religion. in all of his writings. 2015 . Hegel believed that the mediations of the state. Thus. Capital. The centerpiece of Aron’s book is its clear. To its credit. it was not only the most productive of economic regimes but was the first one to recognize the equality of human work. Aron is particularly skeptical of efforts to read the mature Marx merely as a humanist philosopher in scientific garb. religion. and fair-minded treat- ment of the major intellectual production of Marx’s maturity. Marx aimed to expose the ‘illusions’ at the heart of bourgeois thought. and Marxism capitalist economy. In this sense. methodical. Aron’s approach is closer to Schumpeter’s than it is to that of a ‘humanist’ reader of Marx such as 419 Downloaded from ept. 335). Marx. to root the moral aspirations of socialism in a comprehensive scientific ‘critique’ of bourgeois political economy. Aron rightly considers this work to be Marx’s masterpiece and devotes no less than six chapters to a careful presentation and examination of its principal themes and arguments. 358). whose value was measured solely in terms of money. In Marx’s view.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 419 Mahoney: Aron. In his view. By the time of the publication of The Communist Manifesto Marx had already linked the injustice of capitalism to its inevitable self- destruction. Whatever the other changes in his thought. 297). and those (like Joseph Schumpeter) who read the author of Capital as a merely positivistic or scientific economist.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. Marx always remained faithful to this basic conviction. and thus to ignore the empirical underpinnings of his later work. Capital aims to demonstrate scientifically the truth of this judgment. The first eight chapters of Aron’s book painstakingly recreate the formation of Marx’s thought while chapters 9 through 14 confront Marx’s thought in its achieved form. under fully developed capitalism human relations were reduced to merely instrumental ones. In fact. such alienation was ‘the root in some way of all the other alienations’ (p. Every human relation was defined in terms of its ‘exchange value’. and what he called ‘bourgeois’ morality was the very precondition of genuine ‘human emancipation’. In his exploration Aron steers an exiguous middle path between those who read Marx as a normative philosopher and thus privilege his early writings. and of ‘ethical life’. But it did so in a ‘mystified’ form. one that reduced human work to something other than itself. the Marxist critique of the ‘fetishism’ of commodities ‘echoes some philosophical considerations of his youth’ (p. illusions that he believed were rooted in the intrinsic falsity of capitalist social relations. Capital builds on this simple and powerful ‘conjuncture of an analysis of injustice and the announcement of the death of capitalism’ (p. Marx. in contrast. believed that the abolition of the state. The ‘antagonistic’ character of capitalism. In these later chapters Aron wrestles with ‘the mysteries of Capital’ and sheds remarkable light on a work whose obscurities threaten to deter even the most curious and determined reader. its relentless exploitation of salaried workers. Capitalism was the most perfect of antagonistic regimes. Aron masterfully highlights the continuities in Marx’s thought while doing justice to the distinctive contribution of Capital. would be the ultimate cause of its destruction. as Aron observes. could moderate liberal individualism without undermining the legitimacy of bourgeois civil society.

by definition. Marx illustrates how.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. Aron notes that Schumpeter’s influential notion of the ‘creative destructive’ propensities of capitalist societies is heavily indebted to Marx’s earlier analysis in Capital.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 420 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) Père Pierre Bigo. And his analysis of surplus value inspired important critiques of communist totalitarianism that pointed out the crucial simi- larities between communist regimes and the bureaucratic despotisms of the past. 445). Aron finally concludes that the doctrine of surplus value is both ‘non-operational’ (p. Aron ably conveys how in that work Marx brilliantly highlights the relentlessly transformative character of capitalist society. as Marx famously put it in the first part of The Communist Manifesto. Marx had many insightful things to say about the crucial role of ‘capital accumulation’ in the economic development of modern societies. If the critique of religion entailed both a blistering exposé of religious illusions and of the social conditions that gave rise to them. The idea of ‘critique’ provides the key to reconciling the partial truth in both the ‘philo- sophical’ and ‘scientific’ readings of Capital. Aron’s analysis should convince even the most skeptical reader that ‘the mysteries of Capital’ are well worth exploring. Aron carefully delineates Marx’s analysis of ‘surplus value’ or profit. The subtitle of Capital is ‘A Critique of Political Economy’. Nonetheless. 456). And while Marx was clearly 420 wrong when he prognosticated about the ‘inevitable’ self-destruction of capitalist Downloaded from ept. While recognizing that Marx’s analysis illuminates important features of the modern economy. profit is a form of exploitation? The idea of surplus value can account for the growing misery and prosperity of society at the same time and thus is finally capable of explaining nothing. 446). then the critique of political economy must demonstrate both how the ‘contradictions’ of capitalism will finally give rise to its self-destruction and how the bourgeois economists and other defenders of the liberal order do not begin to understand ‘the contradictions internal to capitalist reality’ (p. The mature Marx remained faithful to the ‘critical’ project by aiming to give it a rigorously ‘scientific’ foundation. What the work of the early and late Marx have in common is the desire to dispel illusions. capitalism ceaselessly transforms every eco- nomic and social relation. then what can account for the growing prosperity of capitalist societies over the past century and a half? And how can one ever prove that salaried workers are being fairly or unfairly remunerated for their work if. In an extensive discussion.sagepub. If capitalists only give workers what is necessary for themselves and their families to survive according to the habits of a given society. ‘All that is solid melts in the air’. to root social analysis in the concrete conditions of human existence. 458) and non-refutable (p. Aron believed that both the partisans of the ‘philo- sophical’ and ‘scientific’ readings of Marx ignored the path announced by Marx himself. But to say that the concept of ‘surplus value’ is finally ‘non-operational’ for the science of political economy is not to suggest that it is without intellectual interest. 2015 . Aron rather wryly remarks that one could not imagine David Ricardo engaging in a ‘critical’ reflection on political economy (p. in striking contrast to the essentially conservative nature of all premodern social orders.

between economic interests and the activities of the state. even if other political conclusions could be drawn from Marx’s texts. In contrast. Marx finally demonstrated nothing at all. even if his thought remained complex and subtle enough to fascinate several generations of exegetes. Marx understood the central place of economic crises in the normal operations of capitalist society. The fundamental tenets of Marx’s thought are clear enough. is broadly congruent with the letter and spirit of Marx’s historical materialism. he 421 Downloaded from ept. the prophet of the ‘non-antagonistic’ future. and readily lend themselves to appropriation by a state orthodoxy. balanced treatment of Capital allows us to better appreciate the limits of Marx’s ‘critique of political economy’ without losing sight of the grandeur inherent in the enterprise. In Aron’s view. Marx was not the only economist of his age to believe that economic science had established that profits inevitably declined. and Marxism societies. More than any economist of his age. his most self-consciously ‘scientific’ work. Even in Capital. he concluded that the Jacobin–Bolshevik reading of Marx’s political intention was a perfectly legitimate one. At the same time he recognizes that ‘diamat’. In the final five chapters of his book (chapters 15–19). however devoid of philosophical subtlety. the militant revolutionary. Marx denied the autonomy of politics and understood the political ‘superstructure’ to be nothing more than an epiphenomenal reflection of under- lying social and economic forces. these writings reveal the ultimate impossibility of estab- lishing any point-by-point correspondence between ‘political elements and social conflicts’ (p. politics and war have no intrinsic impor- tance as independent factors in the evolution of history and society. What. Aron’s lucid. Aron moves from a primarily exegetical to a more critical account of the Marxist enterprise. But Marx’s practice often belied his theory. are the principal differences between the political liberalism of Aron and the revolution- ary reflection of Karl Marx? In chapter 15 of Le Marxisme de Marx (‘From Theory to Historical Narrative’) Aron turns to those writings of Marx (such as The Class Struggles in France and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) that address concrete historical events rather than presenting a theoretical account of political economy and historical evolution.9 In The Eighteenth Brumaire. 623) character. Moreover. In principle. As Aron points out. then. Marx.sagepub. ended up triumphing over the empirical sociologist and economist. In Marx’s explicit view. for example. Aron aims to capture the main lines of Marx’s thought while remaining true to its ‘complex and equivocal’ (p. Aron is careful never to simply conflate the ‘Marxism of Marx’ with either the dialectical materialism popularized by Engels in his Anti-Dühring (1878) or with the totalitarian politics instituted by Marxist– Leninist regimes in the 20th century. 539). But as for the necessary ‘immiseration’ and ‘pauperization’ of capitalist societies. Marx’s dogmatic denial of the political element finally makes a mockery of history and suggests that things would have turned out the same no matter what decisions were made by political actors in positions of responsibility. 2015 .EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 421 Mahoney: Aron.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. he nonetheless had insightful things to say about the living conditions of the working classes at the beginning of the industrial age.

Marx’s emphatic rejection of political thinking makes it impossible to determine with any assurance how he would have defined the political organiza- tion of the socialist future. not so the former. But Marx’s theory cannot account for his practice: the latter does respect the indeter- minacy inherent in concrete political life. 626). He never denied the legitimacy or necessity of investigating the real con- nections between economic interests and political decision-making but he believed that political decisions were never simply reducible to economic interests or to social conflicts (see pp. To be sure. More typically. Marx bore some responsibility for the ‘totalitarian’ consequences of 422 his thought.sagepub. 2015 . Aron consistently defended the autonomy of politics and its irreducibility to something other than itself. Marx seems to recognize that the inability of the two groups of monarchists to agree on a common approach had a specifically political origin. Marx predicted that the state would ‘wither away’ once the real causes of human ‘antagonism’ were eliminated. the absence of a ‘proper theory of politics’ was the great ‘lacuna’ in Marxist thought (p. their failure to overcome differing conceptions of monarchical legitimacy. But in the meantime an unprecedented concentration of power and a ruthless effort to repress the ‘exploiting’ classes would be necessary to put an end to the ‘prehistory’ of mankind and to inaugurate the socialist adventure. 539. namely. Marx’s historical narratives are of continuing interest precisely because they manage to transcend a narrow ideological reduction of politics to economics. however.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. whatever his intention. mirror genuine tensions within Marx’s thought itself. Some of Marx’s texts praised democracy and suggested that ‘real freedoms’ would com- plete and not simply displace the ‘formal freedoms’ characteristic of the bour- geois parliamentary order. the political regime itself plays a crucial role in shaping society and moderating economic and social conflicts. Aron’s text is worthy of extended citation: Downloaded from ept. Marx heaped scorn on ‘parliamentary cretinism’ (the phrase is from The Eighteenth Brumaire) and praised the ‘dictator- ship of the proletariat’ that would inaugurate the transition from capitalism to socialism. 543). Aron argued that. anarchist revolutionaries such a Rosa Luxem- burg. Efforts to establish a point-by-point corre- spondence between economic interests and the state inevitably become carica- tures of themselves. For Aron. and totalitarian centralists such as Lenin. The fiery debates among parliamentary socialists such as Edward Bernstein. At other times in the same text. In lieu of serious political analysis Marx relied on an ulti- mately unfounded ‘prophetism’ to describe the socialist future.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 422 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) sometimes assumed that Orléanists and Legitimists were unable to overcome their differences because of irreconcilable economic interests. 539–40). Aron convincingly argues that both the ‘communard- anarchist’ and ‘centralist-Jacobin’ readings of the revolutionary future find ample support in Marx’s texts (pp. In his 1963 essay on ‘The Liberal Definition of Liberty: Tocqueville and Marx’. Far from being an epiphenomenal reflection of underlying and truly determinative socioeconomic forces. He had next to nothing to say about the political organization of the socialist future.

in other words. the end of the duality between society and state. The proletariat. such as the Bolshevik party. Aron rightly points out that Marx cannot be held responsible for the specific form that collectivization and industrial planning took in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.sagepub. refusing to admit the permanence of distinct economic and political spheres. Thus. 670). Nobody is able to say with any assurance what Marx would have thought about contemporary politics (pp. Marx could not anticipate the endless capacity of liberal societies for self- renewal. His predictions about the inevitable ‘pauper- ization’ and ‘immiseration’ of the working classes were in no way borne out by the experience of liberal societies. His claim that inhuman ‘capital accumulation’ was the essence of capitalist society has been falsified by a century of humane eco- nomic growth and continued political reforms in the western democracies. a great number of Marxists refused to allow that public ownership of the means of production and a planned economy constitute the achievement of socialism in the absence of political freedom. and aiming at a liberation of all through mastery by the combined producers over their destiny – should end up with the total enslavement of all to one party. even to one man. however.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. Aron suggested that this account was far more descriptive of the development strategy of Leninist societies than anything that had been experienced in the West (like many students of Soviet ‘modernization’ in the 1960s. In a generous spirit Aron comments that Marx’s critique of liberal capitalism in particular and the communist threat in general played a salutary role in stimulating reforms throughout the western world. In fact. 2015 . By the time Aron delivered his 1976–7 set of lectures on the 423 Downloaded from ept. Marx. Aron proffers a much harsher and less equivocal judgment about Marx’s legacy. But in the 1976–7 course on the ‘Marxism of Marx’. . that is to say millions of workers. does not conform to Marx’s thought. as early as 1917. if the combination of producers itself does not form a party. In both courses Aron stresses the centrality of the concept of alienation in the thought of both the early and late Marx. without an absolute authority. the anti-communist Aron exaggerated the utility of such an approach for stimulating and maintaining long-term economic growth). with a hierarchy. a chief?10 Aron demonstrated that Marx failed miserably as a prophet. a doctrine of action such as Marx’s is responsible not only for its intentions but also for its implications even if they are contrary to its values and goals. alienated work is a central concept in the thought of Marx because it constitutes the root of both private property and the division of labor’ (p. it nevertheless remains difficult to conceive the elimination of class antagonisms. 661). it is not historically surprising that Marxism – rejecting the method of progressive reforms. a general staff. He is careful to add. In large part because of his neglect of the political element. Marx’s emphasis on the inevitably ‘catastrophic’ collapse of capitalism is therefore of little relevance or interest to contemporary readers. . 659–62). that restrictions on laissez-faire capitalism in the United States owed nothing to Marx since Americans ‘never took Marx very seriously’ (p. ‘In effect. Aron concludes the 1962–3 lectures by emphasizing once again the inherently equivocal character of Marx’s legacy. without something like what is called the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now I agree that an all- powerful party. Because how could the ‘combined producers’ reorganize society from its foundations if their ‘combination’ does not show itself capable of command. cannot itself exercise a dictatorship.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 423 Mahoney: Aron. and Marxism .

There is an important sense. This failure to fully confront the truth of Marx’s atheism is undoubtedly rooted in an important ambiguity within Aron’s own thought. 680). he fails to examine the ade- quacy of the militant.sagepub. he displayed a deep and abiding respect for the limits inherent in the human condition and therefore rejected the radical Prometheanism at the heart of almost every current of modern thought. He affirmed a transcendent realm above the praxis of men even if he could not give that realm any ‘supernaturalist’ definition or con- tent. By the end of his life Aron’s criticisms of Marx were both more radical and a good deal less courteously delivered than the ones put forward in his Sorbonne lectures. the source of all the evils of humanity resides in commodity form more radically than in private property.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 424 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) ‘Marxism of Marx’ he had concluded that for Marx the overcoming of alienation necessarily entailed not only the abolition of private property but the very elimi- nation of the market and the division of labor. the coercive effort to abolish commerce and property in all their forms. a critique rooted in the identification of religion with Downloaded from ept. 680). (p. dogmatic. is only the social condition of the existence of commodity form. Aron clearly had arrived at the conclusion that Marx was not an economist or social scientist in any ordinary sense of those terms (p. On the one hand. the ruthless struggle to subdue the independent proprietor and the petty merchant. Aron writes: I have taken a long time to convince myself – but I don’t believe that it is possible to refuse this conclusion – that in the eyes of Marx. and even irrational atheism at the heart of the Marxist enterprise. Profoundly moved by his reading of Solzhenitsyn and other Soviet dissidents. In this sense Lenin’s ‘war communism’. 2015 . In a critically important passage. however. 680) For Marx. it seems to me. Aron never adequately confronted the limits of critical philosophy in its Marxist form. which. On the other hand. He was repulsed by an immanentist philosophy of history that denied any princi- ples above the human will.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. the abolition of alienation finally demands that the economy itself be ‘abolished’ (p. Aron was less equivocal in 1977 about the ultimate human and political conse- quences of Marxism. Still Marx must be given a full and fair hearing. 680).11 In the 1976–7 text Aron goes so far as to call the Marxist claim that the industrial proletariat represents the cause of humanity an ‘absurdity’ (p. There are intimations of this in the writings of the young Marx and it is a clear implication of the analysis of com- modity ‘fetishism’ in book 1 of Capital. in which Aron’s engagement with Marx fails to be sufficiently radical. was a logical consequence of the Marxist ‘critique of political economy’ (p. 681). In particular. so Aron faithfully reports how the Marxist critique of religion eventually gave rise to the mature Marx’s cri- 424 tique of political economy. Aron was a non-dogmatic adherent of what he did not hesitate to call ‘atheistic humanism’. as well as in In Defense of Decadent Europe (1976). In this text. Aron excoriated Marx for replacing balanced social analysis with a ‘prophetism’ that masqueraded as a ‘science of society’.

EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 425 Mahoney: Aron. Aron argues that ‘this was in effect the eminent virtue of Marx: he admired Prometheus and hated servility’ (p. Aron discusses Marx’s profound rejection of every form of injustice. of every form of servility. In language that he adopted from his friend the Jesuit philosopher and theologian Gaston Fessard. Aron’s temperament was infinitely more sober. But in his writings he always tried to moderate the modern – and revo- lutionary – propensity to believe that all limits could be overcome. The elimination of the sources of alienation will overcome all human ‘antagonisms’ and eliminate the need for false representations of reality. Yet elsewhere Aron recognizes that the Marxian hatred of servility was tied to the most problematic assumptions: that man makes himself. all tensions resolved. and Marxism alienation and false consciousness. 98). Aron remarks. In contrast. On the final page of chapter 2 (‘Critical Philosophy’). In the end Aron refused to choose between a modern conception of man as the being who acquires his humanity in the course of history and a more traditional affirmation of sempiternal human nature and moral limits. Aron observes that Marx was a man of revolutionary temperament whose hero was Prometheus (his doctoral dissertation contains a dramatic homage to Prom- etheus). He had. ‘it was not man in general who cre- ated religion. Marx neither acknowledged nor respected any inherent limits. 2015 . in response to a question near the end of his life. He knew that there was an inescapably ‘Promethean’ dimension to the modern project and he finally did not regret it. For Marx. He was no materialist and believed that man was a spiritual being whose thought and aspirations could not be reduced to the imperatives of either biochemistry or history. that man is a god who can subdue all the forces of heaven and earth.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. 109). and the gods’ (p. it is the social and historical man of particular periods’ (p.12 He knew that his atheism was something far short of a scientific proposition. Marx stated that the thing that he detested above all was ‘servility’. either. Aron stated that he could not ‘affirm’ the truth of religion. Marx. He was a rationalist who affirmed the limits of reason and a philosopher of history who did not believe 425 Downloaded from ept. 98). But he also stressed that in good intellectual conscience he was incapable of ‘negating’ it. religious authorities. Aron notes that. and that ‘Reason’ could somehow reign supreme. ‘a taste for defying social authorities.sagepub. that there is no ‘human nature’ that is finally capable of resisting revolutionary transformation. The false consciousness that is religion reflects the falseness of a world mutilated by the alienation that accompanies the division of labor and the institution of private property. the atheism of Aron was anything but dogmatic. Marx simply takes for granted the ‘ideological’ character of religious claims and representa- tions: he nowhere seriously argues against them. and he did not believe that reason could refute revelation without going beyond the limits of reason itself. Two discussions in particular capture this ambiguity and reveal an enduring tension at the heart of Aron’s philosophical reflection. The writings of the early and late Marx are united by a radical negation of religion and by a dogmatic denial of any transcendental principle or horizon.

2015 . This text. The latter is the path of intellectual fanaticism and ideocratic despotism. But Aron goes on to point out the terrible inadequacy of the Hegelian language of ‘contradiction’ at the heart of the Marxian project. citizens on the one hand and the inequality and dependence of economic agents on the other. Aron. . Aron turned critical philosophy against itself by appealing to the needs of ‘flesh and blood’ (p. But Marx had no patience for. Aron reminds his readers that the reasonable man tries to understand and moderate conflicts rather than attempting to eliminate them altogether. despite his enduring fascination with the thought of Marx. nor appreciation of. for all his rejection of traditional authority. one can admire the human desire to aim for the heavens. This contrast in the ability to understand the ‘other’ says every- thing about the limits of the ‘virtue’ that Marx embodied to monstrous perfection. sober. Aron chose another path altogether. ameliorative sensibility of a Raymond Aron. Marx. Perhaps this tension in Aron’s thought reflects a more fundamental tension within the human condition itself. 682). preferred to speak of ‘tensions’ or ‘conflicts’ or ‘oppositions’ (p. These problems include: . 682) Because of the continuing relevance of these concerns. (p. 682) 426 human beings against the ideological abstractions so dear to Marx and his Downloaded from ept. the contradiction between the subjectivity of work and the objectivity of the world of commodities. the conservative reformer. Aron.sagepub. the patient. He recognizes that Marx’s writings highlighted ‘with an extreme acuity some essen- tial problems of modern society’ (p. to reject every form of humiliation and degradation. the contradiction between the liberty and equality of political agents. informed by the ‘dissident’ critique of Marxism. the contradiction between the Promethean will of social control and the unpredictability of the market. without forgetting the self-destructive propensities of this impulse. ‘Contradiction is a term of logic. ever sensitive to the ‘antinomic’ character of social and political life. it calls for a radical solution’ (p. Therefore. can be understood as an aristocratic soul who proudly affirmed the self-sufficiency of man. Aron continues to pay tribute to Marx’s intellectual contribution. could readily understand and even in some way admire the revolutionary Marx. 682). sharpens the more muted Aronian criticism of Marx in the 1962–3 course at the Sorbonne. As the case of Aron demon- strates.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 426 European Journal of Political Theory 2(4) that man’s nature was coextensive with the movement of history. In an admirable spirit of intellectual moderation.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. . I am not con- vinced that Aron’s principled moderation is readily explained by his ‘atheistic humanism’ or that his genuine admiration for Marxism’s proud rejection of human servility finally coheres with his own respect for the limits which are a pre- condition of human freedom and dignity. He rejected the revolutionary effort to ‘abolish contradictions by a Promethean enterprise of social transformation’ (p. The first appendix to Le Marxisme de Marx is the summary of the course on ‘The Marxism of Marx’ that Aron delivered at the Collège de France during the academic year 1976–7. Marx’s work will continue to speak to us long after the collapse of the regimes that ruled in his name. 682). 682).

NJ: Transaction. 21. In an ultimate paradox. Aron went so far to speak of Marx as a ‘cursed sophist’. Perrine Simon-Nahum. 321–30. 12. We should never forget this as we read Marx in any voice. 4. with a new introduction by Michael A. NJ: Transaction. Aron could not finally resist this damning conclusion. 7. 207–10. vol. in In Defense of Political Reason: Essays by Raymond Aron. 208 for the quotation. 9.com at UCSF LIBRARY & CKM on June 14. in Peter Augustine Lawler and Robert Martin Schaefer (eds) American Political Rhetoric. Éditions de Fallois. pp. Quoted on p. Mahoney. and p. p. The essay can be found in Aron (1984) Politics and History. Aron’s indebtedness to Solzhenitsyn is most apparent in the opening chapter (‘Marx’s Messianism and its Misadventures’) of (1979) In Defense of Decadent Europe. For his own account of the affinities between his thought and the liberalism of Montesquieu and Tocqueville. p. pp. Lanham. Paris: Gallimard. Marx’s intransigent rejection of servility gave rise to unprecedented forms of bondage and intellectual obscurantism. But Aron’s analysis strongly suggests that such a separation is finally impossible. 303–33. a ‘putative ancestor of Marxist-Leninism’ who was partly responsible for ‘the horrors of the 20th century’ (quoted on pp. and Marxism epigones. esp. See Aron (1994) ‘On Tocqueville’. p. 332–3. 4.) (1978) The Marx–Engels Reader. then. see Raymond Aron (1998) Main Currents of Sociological Thought. I have used the translation in Robert C. Rosanvallon’s review of Le Marxisme de Marx appeared in Le Monde (31 Jan. Raymond Aron (2002) Le Marxisme de Marx. Paris: Éditions de Fallois.EPT 2/4 articles 21/8/03 2:38 pm Page 427 Mahoney: Aron. and ed. 139–65. pp. that is. MD: Rowman & Littlefield. New Brunswick. 14–15). Paris. For a representative discussion. 2015 . 8. pp. p. In his thoughtful Preface to the Le Marxisme de Marx. with a new introduction by Daniel J. Jean-Claude Casanova speculates that with the death of Soviet socialism it is now possible to turn our attention away from ‘the cursed sophist’ and to remember only the ‘critical philosopher’ (p. pp. ed. 427 Downloaded from ept. ed. to eliminate the political and economic realms of human existence altogether. 5. South Bend. IN: Regnery/Gateway. 3. Raymond Aron (1967) Les Étapes de la pensée sociologique. see Aron (1989) Essais sur la condition juive contemporaine. Miriam Bernheim Conant. Anderson and a foreword by Pierre Manent. pp. New Brunswick. Mahoney and Brian C. tr. 212. At the end of his life. Daniel J. vol. 1. is rooted in the ‘critical’ project as Marx himself understood it. 3–27. 15). Ibid. New York: Norton. Aron did not hesitate to say terrible if truthful things about his lifelong interlocutor. 6. 2. For all his admiration of Marx. Ledeen. See Václav Havel (2001) ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress’. 176. The ‘sophistic’ desire to abolish all human antagonisms. Notes 1. 10. Marx. Preface and notes by Jean-Claude Casanova and Christian Bachelier. 1. Aron had already developed this argument in his chapter on ‘The Sociologists and the Revolution of 1848’ in Main Currents. 11. 2003) under the misleading title ‘Raymond Aron preférérait Marx à Tocqueville’. The quote is from p. The effort to unite the cause of philosophy to the revolutionary claims of a semi-mythological Proletariat turned out to be an ideological obfuscation of the first order. Lanham.sagepub. 160. Tucker (ed. 46 of Aron’s text. In his Memoirs published only weeks before his death in 1983. MD: Rowman & Littlefield.