Raymond-Claude-Ferdinand Aron was a French philosopher, sociologist, journalist and political scientist.
He is known for his lifelong friendship, sometimes fractious, with Jean-Paul Sartre. He is best known for his 1955 book The Opium of the Intellectuals, the title of which inverts Karl Marx's claim that religion was the opium of the people -- in contrast, Aron argued that in post-war France Marxism was the opium of intellectuals. In the book, Aron chastized French intellectuals for what he described as their harsh criticism of capitalism and democracy and their simultaneous defense of Marxist oppression, atrocities and intolerance.
Critic Roger Kimball suggests that Opium is "a seminal book of the twentieth century."
Aron also wrote extensively on a wide range of other topics, however. Citing the breadth and quality of Aron's writings, historian James R. Garland suggests that "Though he may be little known in America, Raymond Aron arguably stood as the preeminent example of French intellectualism for much of the twentieth century."
Born in Paris, the son of a secular Jewish lawyer, Aron studied at the École Normale Supérieure, where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, who became his friend and lifelong intellectual opponent. Aron took first place in the Agrégation of philosophy in 1928, the year Sartre failed the same exam. In 1930, he received a doctorate in the philosophy of history from the École Normale Supérieure.
He had been teaching social philosophy at the University of Toulouse for only a few weeks when World War II began; he joined the Armée de l'Air. When France was defeated, he left for London to join the Free French forces, then edited the newspaper, France Libre (Free France).
When the war ended Aron returned to Paris to teach sociology at the École Nationale d'Administration and at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. From 1955 to 1968, he taught at the Sorbonne, and after 1970 at the Collège de France. In 1953, he befriended the young American philosopher Allan Bloom, who was teaching at the Sorbonne.
A lifelong journalist, Aron in 1947 became an influential columnist for Le Figaro, a position he held for thirty years until he joined L'Express, where he wrote a political column up to his death.
In Berlin, Aron witnessed Nazi book burnings, and developed an aversion to all totalitarian systems. In 1938 he participated in the Colloque Walter Lippmann in Paris. While generally considered to the right of most French and European intellectuals of his era, Aron believed in the need for a substantial welfare state.
Aron wrote important works on Karl Marx and on Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian theorist of war. In Peace and War he set out a theory of international relations. For Aron, Max Weber's monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force held by the state in its internal affairs does not apply to the relationship between states.
Aron died of a heart attack in Paris on 17 October 1983.
He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960.