Author Interview: Daniel Mahoney discusses Raymond Aron

September 2018 sees the publication of Raymond Aron's two-volume work Main Currents in Sociological Thought in the Routledge Classics series. This new edition includes an introduction by Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian C. Anderson. We spent 5 five minutes with Prof. Mahoney to discover more of what made Aron and his work so influential.

Daniel J. Mahoney holds the Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. He has written very extensively on Aron and French political thought.

Why read Raymond Aron’s work?

Raymond Aron (1905-1983) was one of the great political thinkers of the twentieth century. He wrote with clarity and grace and had a rich command of those thinkers (Montesquieu, Marx, Comte, Tocqueville, Weber) at the intersection of political philosophy and social science. He rejected the twin extremes of historical determinism and absolute or unlimited human freedom represented by Marxism and existentialism, respectively. He represented a tradition of political moderation that brought conservatism and liberalism together. His interpretation of the great thinkers remains authoritative, models of intellectual portraiture.

Why did his thinking have the impact it did? 

Because he rejected dogmatism and intellectual fanaticism, and attempted to interpret the thought of the past equitably and with due attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each thinker under consideration. In France, he restored Tocqueville (1805-1859) to his status as a father of liberalism and a political sociologist of the first order. That is a major achievement.

What lead to Aron writing Main Currents in Sociological Thought?

Aron knew that social thought was not exhausted by Marx and Marxism. And he appreciated that social science must reconnect with its prehistory, with those great thinkers from Montesquieu to Weber who tried to make sense of modern society (industrial, democratic, capitalist) while eschewing ideology. Aron also wanted to remind sociologists that politics had a rhyme and rhythm of its own, and that it was not reducible to socio-economic determinism. He wanted to expand the memory—and philosophical competence—of contemporary social science.

What makes Main Currents in Sociological Thought a classic? 

The portraits of each thinker treated in these two volumes are remarkably equitable, beautiful portraits in their own right. They remain among the best introductions to these classical thinkers for students and general readers alike. And Aron’s prose and thought is imbued with a classical sobriety that avoids clichés, respects complexity, and creates dialogue (between conservative-liberal thought and Marxist thought, for example) where there previously existed only antagonism. And Aron has vision and learning sorely lacking in the social sciences today. He admirably avoids narrow empiricism and thoughtless or ideological activism.

What was the reaction to it at the time of publication? 

It was almost immediately proclaimed as a classic for the reasons already mentioned.

What has the continuing impact of the books been?

Anyone interested in elegant and thoughtful portraits of the great social and political thinkers from Montesquieu and Tocqueville to Marx and Weber must turn to this book. It is a classic book that captures the rich heterogeneity of the Western tradition of social thought. It deserves to be read far into the future.

Do you think they will continue to be important?

Yes, for its grace, learning and eloquence and for its comprehensive grasp of the human and political world. And also for its balance and fairness.

  • Main Currents in Sociological Thought: Volume One

    Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, De Tocqueville: The Sociologists and the Revolution of 1848, 1st Edition

    By Raymond Aron

    This is the first part of Raymond Aron's landmark two-volume study of the sociological tradition—arguably the definitive work of its kind. More than a work of reconstruction, Aron's study is, at its deepest level, an engagement with the very question of modernity: how did the intellectual currents…

    Paperback – 2018-09-27
    Routledge Classics

  • Main Currents in Sociological Thought: Volume 2

    Durkheim, Pareto, Weber, 1st Edition

    By Raymond Aron

    This is the second of Raymond Aron's classic two-volume survey of the sociological tradition – arguably the definitive work of its kind. Aron explores the work of three figures who profoundly shaped sociology as it entered the twentieth century: Émile Durkheim, who continued Auguste Comte's quest…

    Paperback – 2018-09-26
    Routledge Classics

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