Raymond Aron on Europe, Israel, and dual loyalty

Raymond Aron, it is no secret, is my favorite French intellectual of the twentieth century. He was not a Great Philosopher, nor did he create an all-encompassing system, but I think if one had to read one single author to understand the modern world, there is perhaps no one better than this liberal democrat and inveterate enemy of Russian Communism and French Socialism.

He also did not have the penchant of so many French intellectuals to fall into over-zealous moralizing (Sartre) or resorting to willfully dense, apparently meaningless, prose (Althusser, Derrida, Baudrillard).

Aron was also one of the great believers and advocates of Western Europe, in itself, as a collection of mixed-market liberal democracies (this is true throughout his career and writings but above all in his In Defense of Decadent Europe). Yet I am struck, having almost reached the end of his mammoth memoirs, that he has almost nothing to say about European integration.

Granted, having died in 1983, he did not live to see the movement’s greatest achievements: the Single Market, the Schengen area of free movement, the euro, and the reunification of Europe with waves of eastern enlargement.

But still. Aron wrote on many topics – Marxism, industrial civilization, war and peace, and Western Europe – but it appears he had neither the time nor the interest to devote much attention to the various still-born and successful projects for European military, economic and political unity.

Aron was skeptical of all grand, apparently Utopian, designs, and it seems he put the lofty aspirations of European federalism in that category. The (then) European Economic Community he describes favorably as an organization of experts and economists to collect and interpret data and coordinate European economies, but it is not as an embryonic polity.

For Aron, democracy and citizenship are necessarily national. They cannot be shared between countries. This passage on diaspora Jews and Israel perhaps illustrates this most unambiguously:

Reason would prevail over conviction if Jews today aspired to integration, if their Jewishness remained wholly spiritual. From the moment that their consciousness binds them to Israel, a State among others even if it presents certain particularities, non-Jewish Frenchmen have the right to ask to which political community they belong. As long as humanity is divided between “States of power”, Jews of the diaspora, free to determine their destiny, must choose between Israel and their “host country,” that has become their nation [patrie]. Citizens of the French Republic, they legitimately maintain their spiritual or moral ties with Israelis, but, if those ties with Israel become political and take precedence over French citizenship, they should logically choose Israeli citizenship. (Mémoires, 1983, p. 709)

In short, the interests of Israel are not the same as those of France and, when push comes to shove, one has to choose. This passage is naturally of interest to the current so-called “Israel-firster” debate (Aron was, incidentally, Jewish and his writings are sympathetic to and largely uncritical of Israel). But it is of much broader interest to other hyphenated identities emerging due to immigration (Turkish Germans, Arab Frenchman) and European integration.

If a citizen cannot legitimately be loyal to two nations – Israel and France – what likelihood is there that the officials of the European Commission or the European Central could stand for an entire continent of nations? Are they not reduced to being, not the enlightened embodiment of the European interest, but apatrides (nationless) bureaucrats representing no interest beside that of their institution? Today, Aron seems to imply, Germany (for example) can only act in the German interest. It cannot, plausibly, be expected to act in the imagined European interest if it interprets this to be in a contradiction with its own. The denial of this truth leads to all manner of negative consequences.

This may be a slight caricature or imply an idealization of national democracy. But if one observes the interaction between the member states (Council), the Parliament and the Commission, it is hard to escape the impression that they defend not any European interest but only their institutional power.

Aron’s point is naturally somewhat disagreeable to me. As an Anglo-Franco-American (si, si), my background may not be as inherently subversive as some other national combinations, but it is never comfortable to have to face the prospect of being torn between loyalties.

It is also naturally in opposition to the United States of America’s concept of citizenship, with its hyphen identities. It has long been accepted that foreign policy be partly determined by ethnic pandering and lobbying – by and for Cubans, Irish or Jews, for example – even if it makes it much less clear that that policy is in the national interest.

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6 Responses to Raymond Aron on Europe, Israel, and dual loyalty

  1. Yours Truly says:


    Unfortunately I did not finish reading his “Paix et guerre entre les nations” (that’s the problem you get when borrowing from libraries).

    Re: “Aron was skeptical of all grand, apparently Utopian, designs”

    I could kinda understand. Living thru that messy 20th. c., he’s seen one-too-many crackpot rulers whose visions led to widespread suffering of the common masses. Comparable to the views of one George F. Kennan, wouldn’t you say?

    • Indeed, I would say they had a similar attitudes of skepticism towards human nature and “realism” in international relations. They were very different in their assessments of foreign policy however. After inventing containment, Kennan came out against NATO and the war in Vietnam. Aron was adamantly for the American presence in Europe and his attitude towards American imperialism in the Third World seems to have basically been one of “complaisance”.

  2. olivier de lapparent says:

    Raymond a écrit et commenté l’histoire de l’Europe tout au long de sa vie. Plusieurs travaux sur ce thème ont été publiés par des chercheurs. Loin d’être sceptique, il croyait à l’Europe politique mais n’était pas un européen communautaire.
    Olivier de Lapparent

    • Bonjour Olivier,

      Pourrais-tu approfondir cette réponse ? Qu’est-ce “l’Europe politique” sinon “l’Europe communautaire” ? Dans la pratique, tout intergouvernementalisme implique soit des coalitions changeantes sur des dossiers particuliers impliquant éventuellement des non-européens (ex: l’OTAN, les “coalitions of the willing” en Libye ou en Irak) soit des organisations européennes intergouvernementales plus ou moins impuissantes (l’Union européenne occidentale, le Conseil de l’Europe…). Qu’entends-tu par “Europe politique” ?

      En outre, pourrais-tu me recommander des livres sur Aron et sa pensé européenne ?

      • Olivier de Lapparent says:

        En schématisant, fonder la construction européenne selon la méthode fonctionnaliste chère à Monnet, ne séduit pas Aron. Le politique prime sur l’économie et non l’inverse.
        Une Europe politique dit “je”, prépare une défense commune, parle d’autres choses que “d’agrumes et de céréales”(l’expression est de lui), etc. Il met dos à dos De Gaulle et Monnet et propose une voie médiane : un allié indéfectible des EU soit, mais l’Europe doit avoir pour but ultime de s’affranchir de cette tutelle, encore faut-il s’en donner les moyens et non pas juste le revendiquer.
        Pour les références, je peux indiquer, modestement, mon livre sur le sujet, Raymond Aron et l’Europe aux éditions Peter Lang et quelques articles, voir à ce sujet : http://irice.univ-paris1.fr/spip.php?article579. J’ai toute une bibliographie sur le sujet si cela vous intéresse.

  3. Yours Truly says:

    M. Lapparent,

    Mes remerciements du lien. Si seulement je pouvais converser en français parfait, nous pourrions en discuter plus de travail d’Aron.

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