This is the first of Raymond Aron’s magisterial two-volume treatment of the sociological tradition – perhaps the definitive work of its kind. Aron’s study is, at its deepest level, an engagement with the question of modernity: What constitutes the essence of the new modern order that, having emerged in the eighteenth century, still forms the categories of our experience, sweeping us along toward an unknown destination? With his usual scrupulous fairness, Aron looks to the major social thinkers to discern how they answered this pressing question. Volume 1 explores three traditions: the French liberal school of political sociology, represented by Montesquieu and Tocqueville; the Comtean tradition, anticipating Durkheim in its deemphasis of the political and its elevation of social unity and consensus; and the Marxists, who posited the struggle between classes and placed their faith in historical necessity. A foreword by the eminent French philosopher Pierre Manent highlights Main Currents as a unique contribution to political philosophy as well as the history of sociological thought, while Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian C. Anderson provide an introduction situating Main Currents within the corpus of Aron’s work as a whole. This work is essential reading for philosophers, historians, sociologists, and political scientists.
In this second volume of Main Currents of Sociological Thought, Raymond Aron continues the analysis, begun in the first volume, of the ‘great doctrines of historical sociology’. Aron explores the work of three figures who profoundly shaped sociology as it entered the twentieth century: Emile Durkheim, the great French theorist of consensus, who continued Auguste Comte’s quest for a science of society and a scientific validation of morality; Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian ‘neo-Machiavellian’ who mocked traditional morality and humanitarian pretensions and emphasized the oligarchic or elitist character of all societies; and the German sociologist Max Weber, who reflected continuously on the relationship between science and action, filled with deep foreboding about the prospects for human freedom in an age marked by bureaucratization and rationalization. Aron presents rich portraits of these three thinkers, drawing from them what remains of enduring worth, even as he distances himself from Durkheim’s project for a science of society, Pareto’s exaggerated critique of humanitarianism, and Weber’s tragic pessimism. Aron’s book is essential for clarifying his profound indebtedness to and crucial divergences from the thought of Max Weber, the sociologist par excellence, in Aron’s view. Together with volume 1, which treats the work of Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, and Tocqueville, it forms the definitive survey of the great social thinkers to date. Yet, as Daniel J. Mahoney and Brian C. Anderson explain in their introduction, Main Currents is more than a survey; it is above all a challenge to contemporary social science to retain the ambition of an older, philosophically informed sociology to present an interpretation of modern society and to reflect on the meaning of universal history.
• Auguste Comte
• Karl Marx
• Alexis de Tocqueville
• The Sociologists and the Revolution of 1848
• Emile Durkheim
• Vilfredo Pareto
• Max Weber
ABOUT THE AUTHOR / EDITOR
Raymond Aron was the foremost political and social theorist in post-World War II France. He authored more than forty books, including Politics and History and In Defense of Decadent Europe.