Raymond Aron
Raymond Aron (1966) by Erling Mandelmann
Born(1905-03-14)14 March 1905
Died17 October 1983(1983-10-17) (aged 78)[1]
Resting placeMontparnasse Cemetery, Paris
EducationÉcole Normale Supérieure, University of Paris[2] (Dr ès l)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy
French liberalism
Main interests
Political philosophy
Notable ideas
Marxism as the opium of intellectuals

Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron (French: [ʁɛmɔ̃ aʁɔ̃]; 14 March 1905 – 17 October 1983) was a French philosopher, sociologist, political scientist, historian and journalist, one of France's most prominent thinkers of the 20th century.

Aron is best known for his 1955 book The Opium of the Intellectuals, the title of which inverts Karl Marx's claim that religion was the opium of the people; he argues that Marxism was the opium of the intellectuals in post-war France. In the book, Aron chastised French intellectuals for what he described as their harsh criticism of capitalism and democracy and their simultaneous defense of the actions of the communist governments of the East. Critic Roger Kimball suggests that Opium is "a seminal book of the twentieth century".[6] Aron is also known for his lifelong friendship, sometimes fractious, with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.[7] The saying "Better be wrong with Sartre than right with Aron" became popular among French intellectuals.[8]

Considered by many as a voice of moderation in politics,[9] Aron had many disciples on both the political left and right; he remarked that he personally was "more of a left-wing Aronian than a right-wing one".[10] He is generally referred to as a conservative liberal or right-wing liberal.[11][12] Aron wrote extensively on a wide range of other topics. Citing the breadth and quality of Aron's writings, historian James R. Garland suggests, "Though he may be little known in America, Raymond Aron arguably stood as the preeminent example of French intellectualism for much of the twentieth century."[13]

Life and career

Born in Paris, the son of a secular Jewish lawyer, Aron studied at the École Normale Supérieure, where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, who became his friend and later his lifelong intellectual opponent.[13] He was a rational humanist,[14][15] and a leader among those who did not embrace existentialism.[16] Aron took first place in the agrégation of philosophy in 1928, the year Sartre failed the same exam. In 1930, he received a doctorate in the philosophy of history from the École Normale Supérieure.

He had been teaching social philosophy at the University of Toulouse for only a few weeks when World War II began; he joined the Armée de l'Air. When France was defeated, he left for London to join the Free French forces, editing the newspaper, France Libre (Free France).

When the war ended Aron returned to Paris to teach sociology at the École Nationale d'Administration and Sciences Po. From 1955 to 1968, he taught at the Sorbonne, and after 1970 at the Collège de France as well as the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). In 1953, he befriended the young American philosopher Allan Bloom, who was teaching at the Sorbonne.

A lifelong journalist, Aron in 1947 became an influential columnist for Le Figaro,[17] a position he held for thirty years until he joined L'Express, where he wrote a political column up to his death.

He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960[18] and an International member of the American Philosophical Society in 1966.[19]

In 1978 he founded Commentaire, a quarterly journal of ideas and debate, together with Jean-Claude Casanova who was the venture's founding director.[20]

Aron died of a heart attack in Paris on 17 October 1983.

Political commitment

In Berlin, Aron witnessed the rise to power of the Nazi Party and developed an aversion to all totalitarian systems. In 1938, he participated in the Colloque Walter Lippmann in Paris. By the 1950s, he had grown very critical of the Austrian School and described their obsession with private property as an "inverted Marxism".[21] Aron always promoted an "immoderately moderate" form of liberalism which accepted a mixed economy as the normal economic model of the age.[22]

Political thought

Aron is the author of books on Karl Marx and on Carl von Clausewitz. In Peace and War, he set out a theory of international relations. He argues that Max Weber's claim that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force does not apply to the relationship between states.[23]

In the field of international relations in the 1950s, Aron hypothesized that despite the advent of nuclear weapons, nations would still require conventional military forces. The usefulness of such forces would be made necessary by what he called a "nuclear taboo."[24]



A prolific author, he "wrote several thousand editorials and several hundred academic articles, essays, and comments, as well as about forty books",[25] which include:

Other media


  1. ^ Hoffmann, Stanley (8 December 1983). "Raymond Aron (1905–1983)". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  2. ^ At the time, the ENS was part of the University of Paris according to the decree of 10 November 1903.
  3. ^ a b Brian C. Anderson, Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, p. 3.
  4. ^ Raymond Aron, Les Étapes de la pensée sociologique, Introduction.
  5. ^ Brandom, Eric (2016). "Liberalism and Rationalism at the Revue de Métaphysique Et de Morale, 1902–1903". French Historical Studies. 39 (4): 749–780. doi:10.1215/00161071-3602256.
  6. ^ Kimball, Roger (2001). "Aron & the power of ideas". New Criterion, May 2001.
  7. ^ Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, Raymond Aron (1990).
  8. ^ Poirier, Agnès (1 May 2018). "May '68: What Legacy?". The Paris Review. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  9. ^ Rosenblatt, Helena; Geenens, Raf (2012). French Liberalism from Montesquieu to the Present Day. Cambridge University Press. pp. 271–291.
  10. ^ Sawyer, Stephen W.; Stewart, Iain (2016). In Search of the Liberal Moment: Democracy, Anti-totalitarianism, and Intellectual Politics in France Since 1950. Palgrave Macmillan US. p. 25.
  11. ^ In Defense of Decadent Europe. Transaction Publishers. 1996. p. xi. ISBN 978-1412826044. ... Aron was a conservative liberal who appreciated that a true affirmation of political liberty required the ...
  12. ^ Edmund Fawcett, ed. (2018). Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, Second Edition. Princeton University Press. p. 355. ISBN 978-1400889679. The right-wing liberal Raymond Aron reproved them both.
  13. ^ a b Garland, James R. "Raymond Aron and the Intellectuals: Arguments Supportive of Libertarianism." Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall 2007).
  14. ^ Anderson, Brian C. (1997). Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0847687589. Retrieved 16 February 2019 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Aron (1994) In Defense of Political Reason, p. 170.
  16. ^ Carruth, Gorton (1993) The Encyclopedia of World Facts and Dates, p. 932.
  17. ^ Mazgaj, Paul (2020-11-11). "Raymond Aron, the United States, and the Early Cold War, 1945–1953". The International History Review. 43 (4): 796–814. doi:10.1080/07075332.2020.1838599. ISSN 0707-5332. S2CID 228839187.
  18. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  19. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-09-30.
  20. ^ François Quinton (10 April 2008). "Entretien avec Jean-Claude Casanova (1) : La création de la revue". nonfiction.fr.
  21. ^ Rosenblatt, Helena; Geenens, Raf (2012). French Liberalism from Montesquieu to the Present Day. Cambridge University Press. p. 223.
  22. ^ Sawyer, Stephen W.; Stewart, Iain (2016). In Search of the Liberal Moment: Democracy, Anti-totalitarianism, and Intellectual Politics in France Since 1950. Palgrave Macmillan US. p. 22.
  23. ^ Dabila, Antony. "Res militaris - Antony Dabila - Raymond Aron: Peace & War (review)". Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  24. ^ "Introduction". Raymond Aron. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  25. ^ Henrik Østergaard Breitenbauch, "Aron, Raymond" in Christopher John Murray (ed.), Encyclopedia of Modern French Thought, Routledge (2013), pp. 18–19.