Raymond Aron The Dawn of Universal History

Daniel J. Mahoney, "Raymond Aron The Dawn of Universal History," The New Criterion,  v21, Part 2 (2002): 62-64.


The short twentieth century, beginning with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in July 1914 and culminating in the collapse of communist totalitarianism in the annus mirabilis 1989, is now behind us even if its intellectual substance has not been adequately digested by our intellectual and political elites. The end of the cold war and the implosion of European communism even led some to proclaim “the end of history” as if the hyperbolic wars and totalitarian regimes of the century were mere parentheses, a disturbing if temporary blip in the forward march of humanity. Today, commentators too often oscillate between pessimistic despair and progressivist complacency, between Spenglerian nightmares about “the clash of civilizations” and neo-Hegelian fantasies about “the end of History.” What is needed instead is reliable judgment rooted in a balanced appreciation of the profound forces at work in the modern world. Among the best guides to understanding the short twentieth century is Raymond Aron (1905–1983), the great French political thinker, sociologist, and philosopher, who provided the surest commentaries on the events of the century even as they were unfolding.

His writings combine meditative reflections on the contemporary world with astute commentaries on “history-in-the-making.” He wrote authoritatively about politics and war, economics and political philosophy. His judgment was humane and sure-footed, rooted in common sense and in the best available information about the nature of modern societies. He effortlessly combined the modern social sci- entist’s attention to particulars with thephronesis that Aristotle says is the hallmark of the true statesman. He was a realist without being a cynic and a (conservative) liberal who never succumbed to ideological abstractions.

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