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In his Mémoires, published in the year of his death in 1983, Raymond Aron—the French sociologist and Cold War champion of liberalism—astonishingly remarked that as a man of high culture Carl Schmitt could have never been a Nazi. Aron's defenders have typically downplayed his mature views on Schmitt: for how else could the main defender of the liberal faith in France devote himself to salvaging the reputation of the greatest antiliberal of the age? This essay argues, however, that Aron's bizarre statements about Schmitt actually provide a crucial aperture into the nature of Aron's liberalism. I will begin by placing Aron's comments about Schmitt within his Clausewitz project of the 1970s. Aron took Schmitt as a guiding inspiration even as he sought to overcome Schmitt's existential interpretation of Clausewitz. By doing so, Aron hoped to establish a rational foundation for political action. Yet Aron's attempt to contain Clausewitz would not only lead to a renewal of interest in Schmitt's thought; it would also revive Aron and Schmitt's correspondence that had lain dormant since the early 1960s. As the 1970s advanced, this would have implications for how Aron viewed Schmitt, especially in light of the critical German reception of Penser la guerre, Clausewitz. This essay concludes by looking at the intellectual legacy of Aron's Schmittian inspirations—at just the time he became the avatar of contemporary French liberalism

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This article was originally a term paper I wrote for an independent study with Samuel Moyn at Columbia University in the fall of 2009. My thanks to Professor Moyn for his encouragement to publish it and for his invaluable suggestions. I am grateful to have also benefited from the comments of Duncan Kelly, Etienne Balibar, Noah Rosenblum, Thomas Meaney, Lydia Walker, Benjamin Schumpmann, Asheesh Siddique, Timothy Shenk, Pollyanna Rhee, Alana Hein and four anonymous readers. I am indebted to Michèle Le Pavec at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and Matthias Meusch at the Hauptstaatsarchiv in Düsseldorf for their assistance with manuscripts.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Monique Hirschhorn , Max Weber et la sociologie française (Paris, 1988)

Philippe Raynaud , “Que faire de Carl Schmitt?”, Le Débat, 131 (2004), 163, original emphasis

Gwendal Châton as promoting a “post-Kantian Machiavellianism”: “Pour un ‘machiavélisme post-kantien,’ Raymond Aron, théoricien réaliste hétérodoxe,” Etudes internationales, 43 (2012), 389403

Hew Strachan , “Clausewitz and the Dialectics of War,” in Hew Strachan and Andreas Herberg-Rothe , eds., Clausewitz in the Twentieth-First Century (Oxford, 2007), 1444

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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