The Dawn of universal History – Selected Essays From A Witness To The Twentieth Century by Raymond Aron
NOTE: This book is a collection of essays. To situate each essay in its proper context, it is helpful to know when it was written. This information can be found at the end of the book, just before the index, in a section titled “Provenance of the Texts”.
In this seminal collection of newly-translated essays written over a period of almost forty years, philosopher and sociologist Raymond Aron (1905-1983) chronicles the history of the twentieth century with the authority of someone who was not just a witness to the events about which he was writing, but a spectateur engagé (committed observer) and active participant. Combining the dispassionate objectivity of a philosopher with the incisiveness of a political commentator, Aron’s reading of the events, movements, and people of his century reminds us of what was really at stake and why it still matters today.
Aron examines the spread of nationalism in Europe through the two world wars and the subsequent disintegration of its empires. In charting the rise of the opposite ideological extremes of Fascism and Marxism and their respective descents into brutal totalitarianism, he concludes that those two political ideologies were essentially secular religions, taking the traditional place of religion as the “opiate of the masses”. Aron explores America’s role as an “imperial republic” uneasily coming to terms with its emerging role as the world’s sole superpower. He also presents French imperialism in Algeria and Indochina as a cautionary tale, both for its economic and political liabilities to the imperial power itself and for its immoral treatment of the subjugated peoples. Finally, in a magisterial conclusion that synthetizes his ideas and universalizes the historical processes of the twentieth century, Aron asks the question, Has history become truly global and universal for all nations and peoples?
At the close of the twentieth century, as Europe’s empires and Soviet hegemony crumbled one by one, a growing revisionist trend in political and philosophical discourse has revealed the prescience of the writings of Raymond Aron. A political thinker who emphasized reason and realism over any kind of dogmatic devotion to theory, Aron was never orthodox in his methodology; neither his republicanism not his dialectical intellect ever gained the upper hand over his commitment to empirical reality. The result is history that seems less concerned about where it falls on the political spectrum than about getting it right.
You are invited to discuss this book at the virtual meeting of the Book Club on Wednesday, September 27, from 12:30 to 2:30PM.
This is a private, alumni-only, off-the-record discussion. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers and participants and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Harvard Business School Club.
Participants must register by Noon on September 26th to receive details on joining the discussion. The Zoom link will be sent out 24 hours before the event.