Tony Judt om Raymond Aron

In Tony Judts bok The Burden of Responsibility kan man finna några passager som kärnfullt beskriver Raymond Aron och det slags liberalism som han var närmast ensam om att torgföra i det samtida radikala Frankrike.

Ever since his student years in Germany, Aron was absorbed with, perhaps even obsessed by, the fragility of liberal polities and the threat of anarchy and despotism. This marked his writings in away that nothing about his comfortable childhood and youth could have predicted, and it sets him apart from almost every other French intellectual of his generation. […]


The link in Aron’s thought between political stability, civil order, and public liberties is clear – and as with Tocqueville, it was in essence a product of experience and observation rather than theory. This helps us understand his way of thinking about liberty in general, and the totalitarian threat to it. […]


[It] was not enough to lay bare the unpalatable facts about totalitarianism. There were some uncomfortable truths about free societies, too, that intellectuals were equally disposed to ignore. For Aron’s generation in the twenties and thirties, the widespread appeal of the writings of the philosopher Alain (Emile Chartier) had lain in his treatment of all political authority as incipiently, potentially tyrannical. […] But Aron reasoned that it is absurd to propose that the sole task of the theorist of freedom in a free society lies in opposing and restricting authority wherever it may touch him. For resisting and denying the moderate claims and capacities of government in a free society is precisely the way to clear the path for the immoderate variety (Weimar, again). The lesson of totalitarianism, in short, was the importance of order and authority under law – not as a compromise with freedom, nor as the condition of higher freedoms to come; but simply as the best way to protect those already secured.


Tony Judt (1998), The Burden of Responsibility. Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), s. 149-153.

Politisk teori a la Popper, Berlin och Aron

I mina anteckningar om realismen glömde jag att ta upp Jan-Werner Müllers artikel ”Fear and Freedom: On ‘Cold War Liberalism'” (2008). Märkligt att jag inte kom att tänka på denna förrän efteråt. Artikeln handlar om likheterna i tänkandet hos Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper och Raymond Aron. När jag läste den för ungefär ett och ett halvt år sedan gjorde den ett starkt intryck på mig. Den lyckades dra ihop många separata trådar i min egen analys och visade att dessa faktiskt kunde utgöra ett någotsånär samlat teoretiskt angreppssätt. Den gav mig faktiskt en känsla av att intellektuellt sett ha hittat hem.

Cold war liberalism was what Judith Shklar once called ‘barebones liberalism’: it put fear first, and conceived of liberalism primarily as a disposition, a certain psychological state, or even a ‘large tendency’ (Trilling), rather than as a theory of laws and institutions. Liberalism, as Aron put it, was ultimately existential; and even Berlin once claimed: ‘In a sense I am an existentialist’. What could (and should) be hoped for was more a commitment to the right ‘constellations of certain values’ (Berlin), and a gradual liberalization of attitudes, as opposed to drawing up plans for ideal institutional set-ups. [. . .]

Here they differed markedly from the social scientists of their time, but also from a thinker like Hayek who kept up a quest for new institutional designs to maintain ‘the constitution of liberty’. The ‘liberals of fear’ were political epistemologists and moral psychologists first; they were ‘great Versteher’, as Avishai Margalit once described Berlin; and their politics was to be grounded primarily in the limits of political knowledge, and the frailties of the human psyche.

None of the thinkers in question here left a systematic work of political theory. Their thought was, as Aron put it, ‘impure’ – meaning: historical, shaped by circumstances and by particular challenges. They tended to respond most strongly to the political passions of others, rebutting, reworking or reorienting the positions of anti-liberals, rather than remaining faithful to an already established legacy of liberal thought. Their thinking, in any case, was more occupied with liberalization than with liberalism. And their call for moderation resonated in a world dominated by political passions; they did not speak against the background of a fully worked-out philosophy of moderation. Pas trop de zèle was a question of attitude, rather than any kind of analytical philosophical ‘demonstration’ – which no doubt explained why some of those who grew up in the middle of the spring and summer of Rawlsian liberalism found it not obviously worthwhile to engage with Rawls and his disciples and critics.

Jan-Werner Müller (2008), ”Fear and Freedom: On ‘Cold War Liberalism’”, European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2008, s. 45-64.

Raymond Arons intellektuella och politiska hållning

Så här beskriver Raymond Aron sig själv 1977, när han var 72 år gammal.

An observer of history in the making but one engaged also in taking a stand, simultaneously preoccupied with objective knowledge and epistemological awareness, I have sought to base my rejections and my choices on reason by comparative analysis of types of regimes and to mark the point at which verifiable knowledge ends and leaves the responsibility to one’s conscience. Out of the partial and inevitable subjectivity of the representations of the universe in which each of us lives, I have done my best to elicit the example of an effort, one that must always be renewed, to understand others and myself.

Because of this, friends and colleagues find it difficult to know where to place me or what to call me. Philosopher or sociologist? In politics, should I be put on the Right? But in 1957, long before most men of the Left, I wrote a pamphlet in favor of Algerian independence. Antirevolutionary — that I am for sure. So was Alexis de Tocqueville: must he be ranged on the Right, among the conservatives? Furthermore, I do not feel the kinship with the Ancien Régime that Tocqueville transcended out of historical consciousness. I accept the democratic ideas that opened the gates of freedom to our ancestors, and to the Jewish community, and which allowed me to become a full-fledged French citizen.

I have been isolated and sometimes almost alone, but not today. Tocqueville, at the time of the Second Empire, wrote in a letter that he felt more solitary than in the deserts of the New World. I would write nothing of the sort, though between 1947 and 1953 I was proscribed by the intelligentsia: I denounced Stalinism with more moderation than my opponents of that time do today, when they sometimes strive to outdo Khrushchev in his speech of 1956.

To some extent, I remain on the fringe of the French intelligentsia. Of the two values invoked by our times, equality and freedom, I give first place to the second — not for intellectual comfort but as a result of historical experience. Now neither the Right nor the Left in France cares for economic liberalism. Though both proclaim democratic values, both reinforce state power in many ways. The Right in power restrains, corrects, blocks, paralyzes, and deforms the mechanisms of the market. The Left would push this age-old propensity of the French nation even further. Of course, I am well aware that popular demands lead irresistibly to a certain degree of socialism whether it be social security, guaranteed employment, the redistribution of income, or fiscal growth. Like anyone else, I largely subscribe to these demands. But the conflicting examples of Great Britain and the German Federal Republic seem to me instructive and decisive. There is a certain distributive, and not productive, socialism that leads a nation to ruin or in any case condemns it to decadence. An economy, liberal in its functioning, social in its goal, holds the most promise.

[. . .]
I choose, once and for all, not the role of the reactionary but that of the adversary, he who reacts against the tendencies of the social body and his country, against the statist regime, against the unrealizable ideologies that so many Parisian intellectuals delight in, and against the disregard of economic necessities.

Raymond Aron, Politics and History, Transaction Publishers (Macmillan), 1984, s. xxxvi–iii.

Tocqueville & Marx (Raymond Aron)

Raymond Aron, en relativ nykomling i min skara av intellektuella idoler, skriver följande angående artonhundratalets två främsta samhällstänkare.

It would be easy to analyze the dialogue between Tocqueville and Marx that we have just sketched according to a sociological and so to speak Marxist method. One was an aristocrat, who rallied to democracy by reason and not sentiment, but who, though sometimes demonstrating the coming of a radically different order, remained the defender of the existing structure and was passionately hostile to socialism. The other was by origin a bourgeois but, in revolt against a bourgeoise that betrayed its own values, became the representative of the working class, denouncing the injustices it was subjected to and announcing the revenge the future would bring. One, out of social conservatism, made himself, against his private preferences, the theoretician of liberal democracy, that is to say, bourgeois democracy; the other wanted to be, with total commitment, the theoretician as well as the leader of an organized working class.

[. . .]

The two men shared a distaste for opportunism, a total fidelity to themselves and their ideas. Tocqueville retired from politics the day Louis Napoleon violated the constitution and reestablished the empire. Karl Marx, until the end of his life, remained a rebel, committed to the struggle against a cruel society and for a class that bore the whole brunt of social injustice. Both believed in freedom, both had as a goal a just society, but one would leave industry and commerce to themselves, to be spontaneously run by individuals under the control of laws, and feared that the individual might come to lose independence-freedom and participation-freedom all at once. The other held the free activity of individuals in industry and commerce to be the cause of the servitude of all. Thus, for one the major condition of freedom was representative government and for the other, economic revolution.

This contrast can easily be explained by the origins, careers, and temperaments of the two men, yet not without a paradox that deserves to be stressed: it was a Norman aristocrat who became the doctrinaire of liberal democracy, the son of a Rhenish bourgeois who became the prophet of the fourth estate. It was in the United States that the descendant of European nobility studied the model of the future society. It was in Victorian England that the young Hegelian completed his economic studies and borrowed from Ricardo the concepts and methods thanks to which he tried to give scientific form to his hopes and indignation.


Med tanke på Swedbergs bok om Tocqueville som ekonomisk tänkare så är det intressant att notera Arons förklaring till att det var Tocqueville snarare än Marx som fick rätt angående den ekonomiska utvecklingen. Tocqueville ansåg att utvecklingen gick mot en spridning av välståndet, en mer jämlik fördelning och uppkomsten av ett samhälle som i grund och botten bestod av en gigantisk medelklass. Marx trodde som bekant på motsatsen: att kapitalet skulle koncentreras i allt färre händer och därmed att småborgarna och annan medelklass skulle komma att proletariseras – vilket till slut leder till den stora omvälvningen.

Nu kan man, som Raymond Aron, fråga sig: ”Why was it that the man who reasoned in political terms and not the one who had read all the economic books foresaw the diffusion of prosperity?”.

One answer would be to claim the superiority of naive observation and historical experience over the unilateral and imperfect arguments of specialists. [. . .] As for the development of productive capacity and technical revolutions, [Tocqueville] knew no more and said no more than  any other educated man of his time. But he believed in all simplicity that the combination of increased resources and a democratic climate would probably lead to an improvement in the destiny of most and not to the contrast between an excess of misery at one extreme and an excess of wealth at the other.

[. . .]

In the prosperous West of 1963, Marx seems to have been wrong in economic matters, precisely an area in which he was one of the most learned and erudite men of his times, and Tocqueville seems to have divined the future despite his ignorance (a relative ignorance, of course) and perhaps thanks to it. Propelled by his common sense or by his intuition, he admitted without solid proof or deep analysis that a society obsessed by the concern for material well-being will assure to the majority the moral status and economic conditions of the middle class.

Dessa hänvisningar till intution, sunt förnuft och naiv observation är naturligtvis ganska innehållslösa, och är det något man kan hoppas få ut av Richard Swedbergs bok så är det en förståelse av hur Tocqueville egentligen resonerade i ekonomiska spörsmål. Det kapitel som står på tur är för övrigt ”Tocqueville’s Background in Economics”, vilket borde kunna ge svar angående Tocquevilles ”relative ignorance” och hur pass teoretiskt bevandrad han egentligen var. Kanske har Aron bedragits av Tocquevilles benägenhet att undvika att referera till sina källor och bakgrundsmaterial?

Raymond Aron, ”The Liberal Definition of Freedom”, Politics and History, Transaction Publishers (Macmillan), 1984, s. 154–7.