Forward to the Past: History and Theory in Raymond Aron’s Peace and War

  • Bryan-Paul Frost
Part of the Recovering Political Philosophy book series (REPOPH)


In a corpus as capacious as Raymond Aron’s, many books might qualify as his chef-d’oeuvre. For example, Introduction to the Philosophy of History could be considered his most foundational work in that the character and limits of historical intelligibility are first discussed here, and this theme would animate nearly all of Aron’s postwar writings. The Century of Total War, by contrast, is a masterful historical account of the military, economic, and political revolutions of the twentieth century that reads as true and insightful today as it did when it was first published. In Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, Aron produces perhaps his most academic or scholarly book, rediscovering and reengaging in the old debates surrounding this central thinker. And finally, The Opium of the Intellectuals is a delicious (albeit trenchant) polemic where Aron repeatedly punctures such sacrosanct ideas as the “Left,” “Revolution,” and the “Proletariat.”1 But however impressive each of these works is, Peace and War surely deserves to be mentioned alongside them as one of Aron’s finest intellectual achievements—and this in many ways because it combines all of the aforementioned elements into a systematic whole. Foundationally, Peace and War enabled Aron to concretize his long meditations on the character or nature of international politics; historically, he presents a lucid analysis of the postwar international system in order to pinpoint its unique attributes; academically, he enters into a range of debates with philosophers and scholars both past and present, from Montesquieu to Morgenthau; and finally, polemically, he deflates the pretensions of behaviorists, positivists, and others who continue to argue and to hope that international relations can be developed into a rigorous science akin to economics.2


International Relation Nuclear Weapon International Politics Political Unit Diffi Cult 
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  1. 1.
    See, respectively, Raymond Aron, Introduction to the Philosophy of History: An Essay on the Limits of Historical Objectivity, trans. George J. Irwin, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1961, andGoogle Scholar
  2. Raymond Aron, “Introduction,” in Miriam Bernheim Conant (ed. and trans.), Politics and History: Selected Essays by Raymond Aron, New York, The Free Press, 1978, xix;Google Scholar
  3. Raymond Aron, The Century of Total War, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1954Google Scholar
  4. as well as Pierre Hassner, “Raymond Aron and the History of the Twentieth Century,” International Studies Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 4, 1985, 29–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Raymond Aron, Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, trans. Christine Booker and Norman Stone, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, andGoogle Scholar
  6. Raymond Aron, Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, trans. George Holoch, New York, Holmes & Meier, 1990, 407–411Google Scholar
  7. and Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, trans. Terence Kilmartin, New York, W. W. Norton, 1962.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, trans. Richard Howard and Annette Baker Fox, Garden City, Doubleday, 1966, reissued (with a new introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian C. Anderson) by New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 2003. All emphasized words in quotations are contained in the original.Google Scholar
  9. 3.
    see Robert Colquhoun, Raymond Aron: The Sociologist in Society, 1955–1983, vol. 2, London, Sage, 1986, 191–197.Google Scholar
  10. 4.
    John Hall, Diagnoses of Our Time: Six Views on Our Social Condition, London, Heinemann Educational Books, 1981, 164, conjectured the following more than 30 years ago, and it reads as true today as it did then: “one suspects that [Peace and War] is more quoted than read.”Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    Stanley Hoffmann, “An American Social Science: International Relations,” Daedalus, vol. 106, no. 3, 1977, 45.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    David Thomson, “The Three Worlds of Raymond Aron,” International Affairs, vol. 39, no. 1, 1963, 53–55.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Henry Kissinger, “Fuller Explanation,” New York Times Book Review, February 12, 1967, 3.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Raymond Aron, Mémoires: 50 ans de réflexion politique, Paris, Julliard, 1983, 453.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    The unorthodox method we propose here is in many ways endorsed by Stanley Hoffmann, “Minerva and Janus,” in his The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics, New York, Frédérick A. Praeger, 1965, 32–33, whose compressed summary of Peace and War accurately captures the importance of history throughout the book. “[E]ach aspect of research depends on the results achieved at the previous level; they are parts of the same undertaking and the same conception. But each one activates different qualities of the mind, requires different forms of reasoning or methods of verification. At every level [of conceptualization], the research is inseparable from history, but the role of history is not the same in all four cases. At the level of theory in the narrow sense, it is the primary raw material, and the concepts and types defined by theory are drawn from the systematic comparative study of concrete data. At the second level [sociology], where hypotheses about material and moral causes are filtered through historical analysis, history is the touchstone. At the third level [history], it is an object of direct investigation. At the level of philosophy [or praxeology], history is being judged.”Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    Raymond Aron, 18 Lectures on Industrial Society, trans. Mary K. Bottomore, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967Google Scholar
  17. Raymond Aron, La Lutte de classes: Nouvelles leçons sur les sociétés industrielles, Paris, Gallimard, 1964Google Scholar
  18. Raymond Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism, trans. Valence Ionescu, New York, Praeger, 1969.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Raymond Aron, Le Grand Schisme, Paris, Gallimard, 1948, 1–31.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Raymond Aron, The Great Debate: Theories of Nuclear Strategy, trans. Ernst Pawel, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1965, and Aron, Memoirs, 308.Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    The final chapter of Peace and War reads in many ways like a commentary upon the end of history thesis, most recently popularized by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York, The Free Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  22. 43.
    Raymond Aron, On War, trans. Terence Kilmartin, New York, W. W. Norton, 1968, 117–118.Google Scholar
  23. 63.
    Raymond Aron, “Conflict and War from the Viewpoint of Historical Sociology,” in The Nature of Conflict: Studies on the Sociological Aspects of International Relations, Paris, UNESCO, 1957, 190–198.Google Scholar

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© José Colen and Elisabeth Dutartre-Michaut 2015

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  • Bryan-Paul Frost

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