1979 Goethe Prize Winner

1979 Goethe Prize Winner:

Raymond Aron

Raymond-Claude-Ferdinand Aron (French: [ʁɛmɔ̃ aʁɔ̃]; 14 March 1905 – 17 October 1983) was a French philosopher, sociologist, journalist, and political scientist.

He 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 – Aron argues that in post-war France, Marxism was the opium of intellectuals. In the book, Aron chastised French intellectuals for what he described as their harsh criticism of capitalism and democracy and their simultaneous defense of Marxist oppression, atrocities, and intolerance. Critic Roger Kimball suggests that Opium is "a seminal book of the twentieth century." Aron is also known for his lifelong friendship, sometimes fractious, with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

He is also known for his 1973 book, The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World 1945-1973, which influenced Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger, among others.

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."

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 lifelong intellectual opponent. He was a rational humanist, and a leader among those who did not embrace existentialism. 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 at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. From 1955 to 1968, he taught at the Sorbonne, and after 1970 at the Collège de France. 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, 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.

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.

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.


La Sociologie allemande contemporaine, Paris: Alcan, 1935; German Sociology, London: Heinemann, 1957

Introduction à la philosophie de l'histoire. Essai sur les limites de l'objectivité historique, Paris: Gallimard, 1938; Introduction to the Philosophy of History: An Essay on the Limits of Historical Objectivity, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1948

Essai sur la théorie de l'histoire dans l'Allemagne contemporaine. La philosophie critique de l'histoire, Paris: Vrin, 1938

L'Homme contre les tyrans, New York, Editions de la Maison française, 1944

De l'armistice à l'insurrection nationale, Paris: Gallimard, 1945

L'Âge des empires et l'Avenir de la France, Paris: Défense de la France, 1945

Le Grand Schisme, Paris: Gallimard, 1948

Les Guerres en chaîne, Paris: Gallimard, 1951

La Coexistence pacifique. Essai d'analyse, Paris: Editions Monde nouveau, 1953 (under the pseudonym François Houtisse, with Boris Souvarine)

L'Opium des intellectuels, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1955; The Opium of the Intellectuals, London: Secker & Warburg, 1957

Polémiques, Paris: Gallimard, 1955

La Tragédie algérienne, Paris: Plon, 1957

Espoir et peur du siècle. Essais non partisans, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1957

L'Algérie et la République, Paris: Plon, 1958

La Société industrielle et la Guerre, suivi d'un Tableau de la diplomatie mondiale en 1958, Paris: Plon, 1959

Immuable et changeante. De la IVe à la Ve République, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1959

Introduction. Classes et conflits de classes dans la société industrielle (Ralph Dahrendorf), Paris: Mouton Éditeur, 1959

Dimensions de la conscience historique, Paris: Plon, 1961

Paix et guerre entre les nations, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1962; Peace and War, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966

Le Grand Débat. Initiation à la stratégie atomique, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1963

Dix-huit leçons sur la société industrielle, Paris: Gallimard, 1963; Eighteen Lectures on Industrial Society, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967

La Lutte des classes, Paris: Gallimard, 1964

Essai sur les libertés, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1965

Démocratie et totalitarisme, 1965

Trois essais sur l'âge industriel, Paris: Plon, 1966; The Industrial Society. Three Essays on Ideology and Development, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967

Les Étapes de la pensée sociologique, Paris: Gallimard, 1967; Main Currents in Sociological Thought, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1965

De Gaulle, Israël et les Juifs, Paris: Plon, 1968

La Révolution introuvable. Réflexions sur les événements de mai, Paris: Fayard, 1968

Les Désillusions du progrès, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1969; Progress and Disillusion: The Dialectics of Modern Society, Pall Mall Press, 1968

D'une sainte famille à l'autre. Essai sur le marxisme imaginaire, Paris: Gallimard, 1969

De la condition historique du sociologue, Paris: Gallimard, 1971

Études politiques, Paris: Gallimard, 1972

République impériale. Les États-unis dans le monde (1945–1972), Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1973; The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World 19451973, Little Brown & Company 1974

Histoire et dialectique de la violence, Paris: Gallimard, 1973; History and the Dialectic of Violence: Analysis of Sartre's Critique de la raison dialectique, Oxford: Blackwell, 1979

Penser la guerre, Clausewitz, Paris: Gallimard, 1976; Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, London: Routledge, 1983

Plaidoyer pour l'Europe décadente, Paris: Laffont, 1977; In Defense of Decadent Europe, South Bend IN: Regnery, 1977

with Andre Glucksman and Benny Levy. "Sartre's Errors: A Discussion". TELOS 44 (Summer 1980). New York: Telos Press

Le Spectateur engagé, Paris: Julliard, 1981 (interviews)

Mémoires, Paris: Julliard, 1983

Les dernières années du siècle, Paris: Julliard, 1984

Ueber Deutschland und den Nationalsozialismus. Fruehe politische Schriften 1930–1939, Joachim Stark, ed. and pref., Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 1993

Le Marxisme de Marx, Paris: Éditions de Fallois, 2002

De Giscard à Mitterrand: 1977–1983 (editorials from L'Express), with preface by Jean-Claude Casanova, Paris: Éditions de Fallois, 2005

Other media

Raymond Aron, spectateur engagé. Entretiens avec Raymond Aron. (Duration: 160 mins.), DVD, Éditions Montparnasse, 2005