Raymond Aron, and the Opium of the Intellectuals

“Footnotes deleted.”

First, Raymond Aron.

Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron (French: [ʁɛmɔ̃ aʁɔ̃]; 14 March 1905 – 17 October 1983) was a French philosopher, sociologist, political scientist, and journalist.

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 – Aron argues that in post-war France, Marxism was the opium of the intellectuals. In the book, Aron chastised 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 is also known for his lifelong friendship, sometimes fractious, with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

As a voice of moderation in politics, Aron had many disciples on both the political left and right, but he remarked that he personally was “more of a left-wing Aronian than a right-wing one.”

Aron wrote extensively on a wide range of other topics. Citing the breadth and quality of Aron’s writings, historian James R. Garland suggests, “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.”

From Wikipedia

As for his book…

The Opium of the Intellectuals (French: L’Opium des intellectuels) is a book written by Raymond Aron and published in 1955. It was first published in an English translation in 1957.


Aron’s focus is upon his criticism of the widespread intellectual adherence in his time to Marxism. The title of the book is an inversion of Karl Marx‘s famous dictum that religion is the opium of the people, and is a derivation from Simone Weil‘s quotation that “Marxism is undoubtedly a religion, in the lowest sense of the word. … [I]t has been continually used … as an opiate for the people.”

Aron was critical of Marxism in that he saw it as reneging on some of the basic advances made by human civilisations, such as the freedom of enquiry, freedom of controversy, freedom of criticism, and the vote.

In particular, Aron considered that there was a form of intellectual dishonesty or hypocrisy at work in his time period, where some people were extremely critical of certain forms of government or society (such as capitalist democracy) but forgiving towards crimes and infractions committed in societies claiming to manifest the ‘correct’ ideology. He was, therefore, deeply critical of what he perceived of as a form of intellectual dogmatism and fanaticism that held to a fixed framework of thought regardless of empirical evidence in opposition to it – a process akin to the creation of a kind of secular religion or faith system.

A major focus of the criticism in the book is the work of a thinker such as Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as the general tendency to fuse Marxist patterns of thought with Nietzschean and existentialist thinking that relegated prudence from politics.

Aron’s focus was chiefly upon the nature of contemporaneous French intellectual thought to the general exclusion of consideration of other cultures such as the Anglo-American.

Aron’s broad celebration of what he perceived of as the virtues of liberal democracy also went hand-in-hand with an opposition to the kind of endemic anti-Americanism that was a hallmark of post-war French Leftist ideology, a fact which helped Aron to make many significant contacts within the USA.

This work is Aron’s most famous, although it has often been out of print since its original publication.

From Wikipedia

Worth a read… if you can find it.

(At an affordable price!)

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