Raymond Aron’s Plea for the Living

Looking at some notes on Raymond Aron’s Marxism and the Existentialists (1965), I find these shrewd comments on the political left.

If we must judge societies according to what they are and not according to what they pretend to be, why should the Communist enterprise be defined by its alleged goal rather than by the regimes to which… it has given birth?

[The revolutionary] fights his fellow men with a view to eternal peace, but in the meantime he wages permanent war.

Aron was born the same year as fellow existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. Although an early friend of Sartre, Aron broke with the latter in the 1940s as Sartre emerged as an apologist for Stalinist crimes. Arguably Sartre was less a philosopher than an intellectual celebrity, who put an urbane Parisian gloss on the jackboot politics and gulags of Bolshevism. Existentialism began as an individualist movement. The leftward drift came about because Sartre believed it was through revolt and violent action that the individual could combat “alienation.” He sought a way to reconcile personal destiny with collective salvation.

I note that Edward Feser references Aron in his essay “Why Are Universities Dominated by the Left?” The French thinker is much admired by conservatives, and even though he would have disagreed with them on certain issues, Aron was relentlessly fair-minded. I close with his moving affirmation of common sense:

I plead for the living… against the casualness with which intellectuals of good will agree to let the living suffer for the possible profit of those who are not yet born.

Aron was being charitable. Often those who plead for future generations do so as an excuse to maintain their prestige and control over others in the present.

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