French, b: 14 March 1905, Paris, d: 17 October 1983, Paris. Cat: Sociologist; political commentator, Ints: History and critique of sociological thought; philosophy of history; ideological criticism; French politics; analysis of the industrial order; international relations. Educ: L’École Normale Supérieure. Infls: Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville, Marx, Max Weber, Dilthey, Simmel and Rickert. Appts: 1930–3, Lecturer, University of Cologne, then (1931), the French Institute, Berlin; 1934–9, Secretary, Centre of Social Information, École Normale Supérieure; 1940–4, Editor, La France libre, London; 1955–68, Professor of Political Science, Sorbonne; 1970–83, Professor of Sociology, Collège de France.
Aron’s work was thoroughly interdisciplinary in both method and substance, and his contributions are prolific and diverse. As a journalist, for decades Aron wrote for Le Figaro, and then, after June 1977, for the more progressive Express. He became one of France’s leading political commentators.
Although affected by Marx and much inspired by Max Weber, Aron was the avowed heir of Montesquieu and de Tocqueville. He regarded historical and political forces, rather than social and economic structures, as ultimately shaping human collectives. Above all Aron sought to defend the value of freedom and to preserve the irreducible subjectivity of human experience and the open-endedness of history from sociological and historical determinism.
Aron’s prewar concerns were with epistemological and formal problems in sociological thought and the philosophy of history. After the war his work had a different orientation, addressing the immediate concrete political, economic, social and international problems of twentieth-century life.
In his earlier years Aron was a friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, but the two fell out in 1947 with the advent of the Cold War. Cutting his ties with the French Left for its unquestioning support of Stalin, Aron attacked the Marxist assumptions of his former friend in L’Opium des intellectuels (1955). He contended that the Marxists had confused Marxist goals with Stalinist practice, that their adherence to the idea of ‘historical inevitability’ was destroying their critical judgement and turning them into fanatics. A liberal and constitutional pluralist, Aron criticized both right and left for reinforcing centralizing and statist tendencies in their plans and practices. Aron’s work was effective in forcing a confrontation between theorizing and public policy. A pioneer in the study of international relations involved in peace and war, he also influenced the development of peace studies.
Sources: Huisman; Bullock & Woodings.
We're sorry this article wasn't helpful. Tell us how we can improve.