A Once and Future Greatness: Raymond Aron, Charles de Gaulle and the Politics of Grandeur

Reed Davis, "A Once and Future Greatness: Raymond Aron, Charles de Gaulle and the Politics of Granduer,"  International History Review, v33 n1 (2011): 27-41.


Charles de Gaulle devoted his life to cultivating French grandeur, a politics that attempted to carve out an equal and independent role for France among the great powers of the world. One who frequently criticized de Gaulle’s ideas of grandeur was the eminent social theorist, Raymond Aron. Although Aron was generally supportive of de Gaulle and supported him ‘every time there was a crisis’, he never hesitated to criticize de Gaulle, sometimes quite sharply. Aron’s lifelong friendship with de Gaulle was thus marked by alternating bouts of mutual irritation and respect: Aron worried that de Gaulle’s theatrics were sometimes detrimental to French national interests while de Gaulle fretted that Aron’s commitment to French greatness was less enthusiastic than it should havebeen.

The purpose of this paper is to evaluate Aron’s reaction to de Gaulle’s politics of grandeur. Despite his reputation for ‘lucidity’, Aron was often ambivalent about de Gaulle’s ambitions for France. We argue that Aron’s ambivalence stemmed from his political creed, or from his commitment to a political philosophy that – as de Gaulle sensed – allowed for few settled convictions. This paper reviews Aron’s assessment of two issues at the heart of de Gaulle’s politics of grandeur, namely, the effort to promote a sense of national unity and the effort to create a nuclear force. In both areas, we witness a remarkably ambivalent Aron, one who struggled to soften the harsher edges of the excesses of what he considered to be the excesses of grandeur and find his way to a more moderate and coherent position.

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