Raymond Aron and Alexis De Tocqueville: Political Moderation, Liberty, and the Role of the Intellectuals

  • Aurelian Craiutu
Part of the Recovering Political Philosophy book series (REPOPH)


In the French school of political sociology, whose origins can be traced back to Montesquieu and which also includes Alexis de Tocqueville, Raymond Aron (1905–1983) occupies a prominent place. He felt close to those political sociologists who displayed an unfailing commitment to political liberty, emphasized the importance of civil society and intermediary bodies, underscored the autonomy of the political sphere, and defended political moderation.2 Although he lived in an age of extremes, Aron retained his moderate voice up to the end of his life. He wrote against the arguments of those with whom he disagreed (first and foremost, Jean-Paul Sartre), but never against them personally, distinguishing sharply between ideas and persons. As Edward Shils once remarked, Aron “was never abusive even when he was abused; he wrote polemics, but they were factual and logical, and he never insulted his adversaries as they insulted him.”3 He was, to use a memorable phrase of Claude Lévi-Strauss, “notre dernier professeur d’hygiène intellectuelle.”4


Modern Society Industrial Society Liberal Democracy Political Regime Thinking Politically 
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  1. 2.
    See Raymond Aron, “Élie Halévy et l’ère des tyrannies,” in Raymond Aron (1905–1983): Histoire et politique, special issue of Commentaire, vol. 8, 28–29, 1985, 327–350.Google Scholar
  2. I have commented on this topic in Aurelian Craiutu, “Raymond Aron and the French Tradition of Political Moderation” in Raf Geenens and Helena Rosenblatt (eds.), French Liberalism: From Montesquieu to the Present Day, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012, 271–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Edward Shils, “Raymond Aron: A Memoir,” in Franciszek Draus (ed.), History, Truth, Liberty: Selected Writings of Raymond Aron, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1985, 13.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Aron était un esprit droit,” Commentaire, vol. 28–29, 1985, 122.Google Scholar
  5. Raymond Aron, Main Currents of Sociological Thought, vol. I, New Brunswick, NJ, Transactions, 1998, 292–293.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Alexis de Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, ed. Roger Boesche, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985, 156.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Raymond Aron, Thinking Politically: A Liberal in the Age of Ideology, trans. James and Marie Mcintosh, ed. Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian Anderson, New Brunswick, NJ, Transactions, 1997, 301.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The text was republished in Raymond Aron, Penser la liberté, penser la démocratie, Paris, Gallimard, 2005, 55–106.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Serge Audier, Tocqueville retrouvé: Genèse et enjeux du renouveau tocquevillien français Paris, Vrin/EHESS, 2004, 77–121.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    The French version of Stanley Hoffmann’s text, “Aron et Tocqueville” appeared in Commentane, vol. 8, 28–29, 1985, 200–212.Google Scholar
  11. It was translated into English as “Raymond Aron and Alexis de Tocqueville,” in Daniel Mahoney and Bryan-Paul Frost (eds.), Political Reason in the Age of Ideology: Essays in Honor of Raymond Aron, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction, 2007, 105–123.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Raymond Aron, Le Marxisme de Marx, ed. Jean-Claude Casanova and Christian Bachelier, Paris, Editions de Fallois, 2002.Google Scholar
  13. On Aron’s critique of Marx, see Daniel J. Mahoney, “Aron, Marx, and Marxism,” European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 2, 2002, 415–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Brian Anderson, Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997, 61–87.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Raymond Aron, Dix-Huit Leçons sur la société industrielle, Paris, Gallimard, 1962; reproduced in Penser la liberté, penser la démocratie, 782 (my translation).Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Raymond Aron, An Essay on Freedom, trans. Helen Weaver, New York and Cleveland, World Publishing Company and New American Library, 1970, 31.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Pierre Manent, “Raymond Aron: Political Educator,” in Daniel Mahoney and Bryan-Paul Frost (eds.), Political Reason in the Age of Ideology: Essays in Honor of Raymond Aron, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction, 2007, 25–26.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Daniel Bell, The Corning of the Post-Industrial Society, New York, Basic Books, 1973, 73–74.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Raymond Aron, Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, trans. George Holoch, New York, Holmes & Meier, 1990, 277.Google Scholar
  20. 27.
    See Raymond Aron, Liberté et égalité: cours au Collège de France, Paris, Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2013, 54–60.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    See Alexis de Tocqueville, Journey to America, ed. J. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1962, 258–260.Google Scholar
  22. 33.
    Translated in Raymond Aron, Politics and History: Selected Essays, ed. and trans. Miriam B. Conant, New York, Free Press, 1978, 139–165.Google Scholar
  23. 34.
    See Raymond Aron, Essai sur les libertés, Paris, Hachette, 1998, 228–230.Google Scholar
  24. 35.
    Raymond Aron, “On Hayek and Liberalism,” in Daniel J. Mahoney (ed.), In Defense of Political Reason, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1994, 85.Google Scholar
  25. 41.
    Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, ed. François Furet and Françoise Mélonio, trans. Alan S. Kahan, vol. I, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1988, 246.Google Scholar
  26. 42.
    I have previously commented on these issues in Aurelian Craiutu, “Thinking Politically: Raymond Aron and the Revolution of 1968 in France,” in Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), Promises of 1968: Crisis, Illusion, and Utopia, Budapest and New York, Central European University Press, 2011, 101–127.Google Scholar
  27. 43.
    Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848, ed. J. Mayer and A. Kerr, New Brunswick, NJ, Transactions, 1987, 67.Google Scholar
  28. 44.
    See Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction, 2001, 213–235.Google Scholar
  29. 50.
    I have previously commented on this issue in Aurelian Craiutu, “Faces of Moderation: Raymond Aron’s Committed Observer,” in Daniel Mahoney and Bryan-Paul Frost (eds.), Political Reason in the Age of Ideology: Essays in Honor of Raymond Aron, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction, 2007, 261–283.Google Scholar

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© José Colen and Elisabeth Dutartre-Michaut 2015

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  • Aurelian Craiutu

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