Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Raymond Aron, fully Raymond-Claude-Ferdinand Aron

French Philosopher, Liberal Theorist, Sociologist, Journalist and Political Scientist, Life-long Friend of Jean-Paul Sartre

"In the atomic age, each individual, each party, each state, must feel itself responsible to humanity in its entirety and not merely to its own group or ideal."

"Communism is a degraded version of the Western message. It retains its ambition to conquer nature, to improve the lot of the humble, but it sacrifices what was and must remain the heart and soul of the unending human adventure: freedom of enquiry, freedom of controversy, freedom of criticism, and the vote."

"Despotism has so often been established in the name of liberty that experience should warn us to judge parties by their practices rather than their preachings."

"Doubtless the free play of initiative, competition between buyers and sellers, would be unthinkable if human nature had not been sullied by the Fall. The individual would give of his best in the interests of others without hope of recompense, without concern for his own interests."

"Intellectuals cannot tolerate the chance event, the unintelligible: they have a nostalgia for the absolute, for a universally comprehensive scheme."

"Political thought in France is either nostalgic [retrospective] or utopian."

"Foreknowledge of the future makes it possible to manipulate both enemies and supporters."

"Reality is always more conservative than ideology."

"Skepticism is perhaps for the addict an indispensable phase of withdrawal; it is not, however, the cure. The addict is cured only on the day when he is capable of faith without illusion."

"Skepticism cannot be revolutionary, even though it speaks the language of revolution."

"The positive power of negative thinking."

"The man who no longer expects miraculous changes either from a revolution or from an economic plan is not obliged to resign himself to the unjustifiable. It is because he likes individual human beings, participates in communities, and respects the truth, that he refuses to surrender his soul to an abstract ideal of humanity, a tyrannical party, and an absurd scholasticism. . . If tolerance is born of doubt, let us teach everyone to doubt all the models and utopias, to challenge all the prophets of redemption and the heralds of catastrophe. If they can abolish fanaticism, let us pray for the advent of the skeptics."

"What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error."

"If they can abolish fanaticism, let us pray for the advent of the sceptics."

"Racism is the snobbery of the poor."

"The intellectual who no longer feels attached to anything is not satisfied with opinion merely; he wants certainty, he wants a system. The revolution provides him with his opium."

"A true realism 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."

"But even though, as regards the balance of power, a relatively clear provisional pattern emerges for the first half of the twentieth century, the significance of the international system as a whole remains obscure. Are we witnessing nothing more than the replacement of dying empires by younger ones, in an unbroken sequence of violence and injustice?"

"Europeans would like to escape from their history, a great history written in letters of blood. But others, by the hundreds of millions, are taking it up for the first time, or coming back to it."

"In essence, France no longer existed. It existed only in the hatred of the French for one another."

"It is not unjustifiable to regard the concept of power as the fundamental, original concept of all political order, that is, of the organized coexistence among individuals. It is true in fact that within states as on the international scene, autonomous wills confront one another, each seeking its own objectives. These wills, which are not spontaneously reconciled, seek to check each other. Bismarck wanted to achieve a unified Germany under Prussia's leadership despite the opposition of Napoleon III, as John F. Kennedy wanted to become President of the United States despite the opposition of Richard Nixon. But this comparison, as I see it, conceals the essential point, namely that the members of a collectivity obey laws and submit their conflicts to rules, while states, which limit their freedom of action by the obligations to which they subscribe, have hitherto always reserved the right to resort to armed force and to define for themselves what they mean by "honor," "vital interests" and "legitimate defense." On this point the American realist school seems to me backward compared with traditional European thought. Obsessed with a concern to refute the philosophy of the contract, the version of liberalism according to which respect for law and morality is enough to impose obedience on homo politicus, the realists set one anthropology against another and power against law (or morality). They define politics as power and not international politics as the absence of an umpire or of police. It is another Christian, British this time, who returns to the tradition when he writes: "In international relations, it is the situation of Hobbesian fear which, so far as I can see, has hitherto defeated all the endeavour of the human intellect." Neither Reinhold Niebuhr nor Hans Morgenthau is unaware?we scarcely need add??that conflicts among citizens within a collectivity take their course according to rules (the highest of which is called a constitution in modern societies) or are settled by tribunals. The opposition between "the monopoly of legitimate violence" and "plurality of military sovereignties" is evidently not unknown to them. The insistence with which Hans Morgenthau reminds us that survival constitutes and must constitute the primary objective of states, amounts to an implicit admission of the Hobbesian situation among states, hence the essential difference between international and national politics. Nonetheless, the fact remains that this avowal is implicit rather than explicit."

"Reason would prevail over conviction if Jews today aspired to integration, if their Jewishness remained wholly spiritual. From the moment that their consciousness binds them to Israel, a State among others even if it presents certain particularities, non-Jewish Frenchmen have the right to ask to which political community they belong. As long as humanity is divided between ?States of power?, Jews of the diaspora, free to determine their destiny, must choose between Israel and their ?host country,? that has become their nation [patrie]. Citizens of the French Republic, they legitimately maintain their spiritual or moral ties with Israelis, but, if those ties with Israel become political and take precedence over French citizenship, they should logically choose Israeli citizenship."

"The Europeans exported their ideas at the same time as their machines. A century ago they saw no contradiction between the principle of nationalities they themselves espoused and the distant conquests they embarked on with such clear consciences. They believed that as ?superior Nations? they and the right to rule over ?inferior? ones. But this implicit racism could not survive indefinitely the discovery on the one hand of the greatness of other civilizations and on the other the realization of how precarious Europe?s supremacy really was."

"The historian is an expert, not a physicist. No seeks the causes of the explosion at the expansive force of the gases, but in the smoker's match."

"The ideal type of a national state is a political unit all of whose citizens belong to the same culture and wish to live in an autonomous community. An imperial state is one that is imposed, usually by conquest, on people of different languages and cultures. WE should probably add to this list at least a third ideal type?that of the federal state (Switzerland, for example), which involves neither homogeneity of culture nor imposed power. Moreover, our first two ideal types are never completely put into practice, and it is difficult to assign cases that fall between the two categories to either one or the other."

"The word power, in English, has a very broad (or very vague) meaning, since, depending on cases, it translates the three French words pouvoir, puissance, force. Power is first of all, in the broadest sense, the capacity to act, to produce, to destroy, to influence; then it is the capacity to command legally (to come to power, exercise power); it is also the capacity of a person (individual or collective) to impose his will, his example, his ideas, upon others; finally it is the sum of material, moral, military, psychological means (or one or the other of these means) possessed by the three capacities we have just enumerated."

"The words nationalism and imperialism, as used in propaganda, are even more equivocal than nation and empire. The nationalism of the Tunisians and the Moroccans is bound up with their claim to independence. But what is meant by the nationalism of the French or the Germans once their respective countries are securely established as national units? Does the word covey a grandiose conception for the role of the nation, or merely an attachment to the particular values each country embodies?"

"There is no historic present without both memory and presentiment. In the middle of the twentieth century, the political universe cannot be grasped in the passing moment alone, for in that moment we encounter not only traces of the events we have lived through previously but also signs of what is to come. Moreover, a person?s historical consciousness, his awareness of the present, varies according to the continent, country, and party to which he belongs."

"What is true in all epochs is that the necessary reference to the calculation of forces and the endless diversity of circumstances requires statesmen to be prudent. But prudence does not always require either moderation or peace by compromise, or negotiations, or indifference to the internal regimes of enemy states or allies. Roman diplomacy was not moderate, the peace imposed by the Union on the Confederacy rejected all compromise. Negotiations with Hitler were most often fruitless or harmful. In a heterogeneous system, it is hardly possible for a statesman to model himself upon Francois I making an alliance with the Grand Turk, or upon Richelieu supporting the Protestant princes. True realism today consists in recognizing the action of ideologies upon diplomatic-strategic conduct. In our epoch, instead of repeating that all states, no matter what their institutions, have "the same kind of foreign policy," we should insist upon the truth that is more complementary than contradictory: no one understands the diplomatic strategy of a state if he does not understand its regime, if he has not studied the philosophy of those who govern it. To lay down as a rule that the heads of the Bolshevik party conceive the national interests of their state as did all other rulers of Russia is to doom oneself to misunderstanding the practices and ambitions of the Soviet Union."