Raymond Aron and the Morality of Realism

Author/s (editor/s):

Murielle Cozette

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2008/5 (PDF, 186KB)

Murielle Cozette, ‘Raymond Aron and the Morality of Realism’, IR Working Paper 2008/5, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, December 2008.

The realism school of thought in international relations is often accused of presenting politics as an autonomous sphere which does or should exclude ethical considerations, and of providing a tragic vision of politics which precludes any belief in progress. These accusations are particularly misplaced when applied to Raymond Aron, a leading classical realist whose insights are rarely investigated in the discipline. The article challenges the perception of Aron as a ‘mainstream’ classical realist and emphasises the distinctiveness of his formulation of realism by focusing on his views on ethics, politics and progress. It demonstrates that Aron promotes a ‘morality of wisdom’ which gives a central place to the defence of values alongside considerations of power. He also provides a definition of survival which stresses the importance of shared values for the existence of political communities, and consequently the need to uphold them even though ethical perfection cannot be achieved in the political sphere. Aron’s ideas are finally underpinned by Kantian elements. Advocating not so much faith in a determined future, but rather hope sustained by reason, his realism provides a middle ground between moralism and cynicism. Aron therefore provides a very distinctive European version of realism which demonstrates the richness of realist arguments upon morality, politics and progress.

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