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The Four Paretos of Raymond Aron

Author(s): Stuart L. Campbell

Source: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1986), pp. 287-298
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709815 .
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This article originated in a November 1982 conversation with Ray-

mond Aron (1905-83). Our discussion, largely concerned with Aron's
political convictions during the interwar period, eventually focused upon
the differences separating his prewar and postwar appraisals of Vilfredo
Pareto (1848-1923). Although he acknowledged that a reorientation in
political understandingpartially accounted for his change of heart toward
Pareto, Aron refused to allow the matter to rest on that note. To settle
the question to his satisfaction, he closed our conversation by observing
that, "There are, after all, four Paretos, and I have written on each one
of them."
My purpose here is to survey Aron's several assessments of Pareto
over nearly half a century, to show how those assessments reflect certain
features of Aron's political thinking during that period and, finally, to
indicate how Aron came to conclude that there were in fact four Paretos.
Aron first analyzed the ideas of Pareto in 1936-37.2 He did so as a
young and moderate leftist professor associated with Celestin Bougle's
Centre de Documentation Social, where he devoted much of his effort
to analyzing the nature and sources of German and Italian fascism. This
investigation led Aron to the study of Pareto, whom he soon described
as a contributor to and a participant in the fascist wave threatening to
engulf Europe in a new series of wars.
For the prewar Aron, fascism represented a virulent attempt to avoid
a leftist revolution, and he portrayed Pareto as a fascist thinker whose
sociology represented little more than a Marxian deviation turned to
conservative purposes. The theory of ever-circulating elites exploiting
society and the logico-experimental concept of residues, both of which
emphasized the constancy of human behavior, served an obvious strategy.
Pareto's sociology was a study in psychological uniformity that denied
the relevance of history by gainsaying the possibility of progressive
change. Struggle admittedly remained preeminent in human affairs, but
unlike Marx, Pareto allowed no escape from a conflict whose source he
* The author wishes to thank Emiliana P. Noether, Lewis Coser, and Natalie Z.
Davis for their comments and suggestions concerning this paper, an earlier version of
which was presented at the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Asso-
ciation, 27 October 1984, Toronto, Ontario.
Interview with Aron, 2 November 1982.
Raymond Aron, "L'Ideologie," Recherchesphilosophiques, 6 (1936-37), 65-84, and
"La Sociologie de Pareto," Zeitschriftfir Sozialforschung,6 (1937), 489-521. I have used
the reprints in Revue europeennedes sciences sociales, 16, #43 (1978), 35-50, 5-35.



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located in social psychology and politics. Based upon the old adage, plus
qa change, plus c'est la meme chose, Pareto's sociology provided a the-
oretical weapon for those who conspired to subvert leftist and Marxian
attempts to transform man's condition. Aron wrote that in Paretoan
The terrain is changed in order to avoid the Marxist solution. The economic
and social structure is placed on a secondary level. Class struggle remains; its
reality is not denied. Rather, [its existence] confirms the necessity for an absolutist
regime. Yet, [class struggle] is defined in terms of a psychology more individual
than collective, in a manner that makes it eternal, identical in all climates and
societies. This substitution made, there is no longer any means of demonstrating
the superior truth of a cause .... But, no such demonstration is needed. Violence
becomes the title of success and success a guarantee of right. The exaltation of
elites and their creative will replaces the analysis of historical tasks and takes
the place of a program.3

Or, as Aron put the matter even more succinctly, "In order to arrive at
the cynical and fascist attitude of Pareto, it suffices to substitute for the
hope and prediction of revolution, which suppresses class, the idea that
class struggle is as eternal as history itself."4
In general, during the prewar period Aron treated fascism as symp-
tomatic of a European crisis resulting from liberalism's inability to guar-
antee bourgeois preeminence. Pareto's theory, in short, served the needs
of a weakened and frightened bourgeoisie which-having lost faith in
progress and no longer able to pretend that its interests served the com-
munity-surrendered the state to a new and violent elite prepared to
suppress the revolutionary left. A witness to the ensuing struggle between
fascists and Marxists, Aron felt a clear affinity with the latter even though
he refused to endorse fully their social and political philosophy.5
Aron, on the other hand, did grant a certain descriptive value to
Paretoan sociology insofar as it provided an insight into the operation
of fascism. He argued, for example, that Pareto's description of a properly
logical and empirical politician traced the profile of a certain kind of
fascist leader, i.e., the demagogue prepared to manipulate the sentiments
of the masses while remaining "consciously hypocritical" toward the
values being espoused: "We have here, make no doubt of it, a type of
fascist leader, that of the intellectual or demi-intellectual, one freed of
prejudices and who above all scorns intellectuals. All the theories of the

3"La Sociologie," 29-30.

4 "L'Ideologie," 40.
5 He applauded,for example, Marxism for its sensitivity to man's historicity as opposed
to the ahistorical quality of Paretoan sociology and alluded to "Marxist humanism" as
a theory informed by a sophisticated diagnosis of nineteenth-century European society
(ibid., 42-48).

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[Pareto's] Treatise become clear if they are seen as a system by which

such a demagogic leader justifies and organizes his conduct."6
While Aron's prewar writings expressed a left-wing understanding of
Pareto's significance, World War II marked the beginning of a gradual
reevaluation that drew its inspiration largely from a growing distrust of
Communism. As an editor of La France libre (the Free French monthly
published in London), Aron addressed the question of Pareto in two
articles linking Paretoan theory and fascist practice by way of Machia-
vellianism.7 In these articles, however, Aron also placed the Communists
in the Machiavellian camp, while at the same time recognizing that they
and the fascists were not one and the same. Fascists, according to Aron,
embraced a Machiavellian/Paretoan philosophy, while Communists
merely employed the tactics of Machiavellianism, as indicated in the
Bolshevik coup of 1917, the imposition of economic tyranny, and the
erection of a totalitarian state. This distinction between Machiavellian
philosophy and practice allowed Aron to conclude:

In sum, Machiavellian theory is defined by the joining together of the following

elements: a pessimistic conception of human nature, from which results a phi-
losophy of human development and the techniques of power; an experimental
and rational method which, applied to the political domain, seems to lead to an
aggressive amoralism and an exclusive concern with power; finally, the exaltation
of human willfulnessand the value of action. These three typical elements suffice
to characterize not so much a doctrine as a certain manner of thinking politics
which is the common base of all the would-be totalitarian philosophies.8

With Communism and fascism joined on the basis of a supposedly

common approach to politics and a shared totalitarianism, Aron gradually
attributed a somewhat different character to Pareto. Indeed, by 1943-44
Aron exhibited a growing willingness to employ certain Paretoan concepts
as instruments of political and social analysis. Aron's articles, for example,
began to contain frequent references to the importance of elites in di-
recting society, and in one case he treated Marxism as a form of secular

"La Sociologie," 29. In a paper presented in 1939 to the Societe Francaise de
Philosophie and published after the war as "Etats democratiques et etats totalitaires,"
Bulletin de la Societe de Philosophie,40 (1946), 42-92, Aron argued that Pareto's emphasis
upon the role of elites provided an important insight into the operation of fascism since,
once in power, the movement derived its character from the nature of its leadership. An
abridged English translation by Anthony Nazzaro has appeared:"Democratic States and
Totalitarian States," Salmagundi, #65 (Fall 1984), 26-50.
Aron, "Le Machiavelianism, doctrine des tyrannies modernes," La France libre,
Nov. 1940, and "Le Romanticisme de la violence," La France libre, April 1941. Both
were later included in a collection of Aron's wartime writings, L'Homme contre les tyrans
(Paris, 1946), 11-21 and 22-36.
8L'Homme contre les tyrans, 16.

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religion, a Paretoan characterization that he had earlier noted and point-

edly refused to endorse.9
Whereas fascism dominated his prewar and wartime concerns, after
1945-46 Aron gave increasing attention to the related problems of Com-
munism and the Soviet Union. Convinced that Europe was dividing into
two hostile camps-the one totalitarian, the other pluralistic and free-
Aron joined the fray, arguing that France should side with those who
represented political liberty.?1As a result, during the period from 1947,
when he joined Le Figaro, until 1955, when he became a professor of
sociology at the Sorbonne, Aron engaged in intense verbal combat with
the French left. Indeed, these eight years included his break with Jean-
Paul Sartre, Aron's active participation in the Rassemblement du Peuple
Frangais, and publication of The Opium of the Intellectuals.
With these new concerns in mind, Aron summoned up yet another
Pareto, still the Machiavellian, but now a practical thinker to be enlisted
in the struggle against Marxism. A 1949 essay, for example, paid tribute
to James Burnham's argument that the conservative-Machiavellian tra-
dition that included Pareto provided a meaningful antidote to the dangers
of Communist millenarianism.11Aron suggested that Bolshevism repre-
sented a case where the struggle to establish an ethical world had been
carried to extreme lengths. As a crusade to achieve the impossible, it
necessarily led to radical measures destructive of liberty, all of which
indicated that attempts to join moralism and politics ran the risk of either
"abstention or hypocrisy."12While still acknowledging that Machiavel-
lianism involved certain dangers, Aron did grant the validity of Burn-
ham's suggestion that Machiavelli and Pareto had served freedom by
making the case for a realistic appraisal of political power. Further, Aron
echoed Burnham to the effect that, given their pessimistic understanding
of politics, the Machiavellians had shown the value of a divided elite
unable to impose a unified system upon society. From the likes of Ma-
chiavelli and Pareto, according to Aron,

9 Aron, "L'Avenir des religions seculieres," La France libre, July 1944. This article
also appears in another collection of Aron's wartime writings, L 'Age des empires (Paris,
1945), 287-318.
10Aron's Le Grand Schisme (Paris, 1948) provides the most important expression of
these concerns in the immediate postwar period.
Aron, "Histoire et politique," Revue de metaphysiqueet de morale (1949); the article
is reprinted in R. Aron, Polemiques (Paris, 1955), 174-95, and is translated in Miriam
Conant (ed.), Politics and History: Selected Essays of Raymond Aron (New York, 1978),
237-48. I have used Conant's translation. Aron's reference to Burnham concerns the
latter's The Machiavellians: Defenders of Liberty (New York, 1943). Aron arranged for
the book's inclusion in the Libert6de l'esprit series he directed for Calmann-Levy:James
Burnham, Les Machiavelians: D6fenseurs de la liberte, trans. Helene Claireau (Paris,
12 Aron, Preface to George Kennan, La Diplomatie armricaine, trans. Helene Claireau

(Paris, 1952), xxv.

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... one can garner rules of human wisdom: if all elites are tempted to abuse
their power, the most tolerable ones are those whose divisiveness deprives them
of authority. There is no perfect society, but there are degrees of imperfection.
Often the prophets of perfection are precisely those who construct the most
oppressive societies. To attain the absolutely sound end, the prophets of the
absolute requireunlimited power. They persecute millions of human beings guilty
of not recognizing in the new regime the accomplishment of the human vocation.
A person with no other goal than to lessen as much as possible the ills inseparable
from the human condition, and who does not forget the existence of wickedness,
will do more for the welfare of his fellow humans. The breed of optimists produces
the likes of Robespierre and Trotsky-the breed of pessimists a Talleyrand or
a Louis Philippe.'3

During the early postwar period, Aron went beyond supporting Burn-
ham's attempt to establish Pareto's liberal credentials. In a work that
experienced a succes de scandale, The Opium of the Intellectuals (1955),
Aron relied heavily upon Paretoan categories without referring to the
sociologist by name.14 The book, an attack upon French communisant
intellectuals, accused its targets of allowing ideology to blind them to
political reality. Despite claims to the contrary, Marxism, as implemented
by the Soviet Union, had brought not liberation but a reorganized society
controlled by a new and ruthless elite. Hierarchy and exploitation re-
mained, with the proletariat at the bottom of the social ladder.
The very title of Aron's polemic revived the Paretoan theme of so-
cialism as a manifestation of man's ubiquitous religious impulse. Aron
even referred to Marxism as a Christian heresy, whose adherents strove
to establish heaven on earth (ibid., 258). The attempt to organize utopia
had brought predictable, but frightening, results: a totalitarian system in
which economic authority, ideological control, and political power were
placed in the hands of a single and unified elite (ibid., 93).
In the attempt to explain how intelligent people confused Communist
propaganda with Soviet reality, Aron followed Pareto's example by ex-
plaining such behavior in terms of sentiment. He indicted French leftist
intellectuals of bad faith, while in fact leaving himself open to the charge
of psychological reductionism. Describing his leftist colleagues as "em-
bittered" over the diminished status of France as a world power, Aron
accused them of employing ideology to camouflage their pique. Accus-
tomed to a global audience and resentful that their importance had
declined with that of France, they-so Aron's argument ran-had turned

"History and Politics," 245. In "Social Structure and the Ruling Class," British
Journal of Sociology, 1, #1 (1950), 1-16, and #2 (1950), 126-43, Aron attempted to
employ for practical use the ideas of both Marx and Pareto. In the latter case he argued
that France suffered the effects of an excessively divided elite, a condition that weakened
the state and left the community open to Communist destabilization. The article is
reproduced in Lewis Coser (ed.), Political Sociology (New York, 1967), 48-100.
Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, trans. Terence Martin (New York, 1962).

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their wrath against the two major symbols of their predicament, capi-
talism and the United States. Their feelings, Aron observed,
arenot in the least esoteric,not in the least aliento the restof theircompatriots.
The man in the streetis all too disposedto resentmentagainstthe too-powerful
ally, all too proneto the bitternessarisingfromnationalweakness,to nostalgia
for past glory and hope for a differentand betterfuture.But the intellectuals
oughtto restrainthesepopularemotions,oughtto show the inescapablereasons
for permanentsolidarityand interdependence.Insteadof fulfillingthe role of
guides,they prefer,especiallyin France,to betraytheir mission,to encourage
the ignorantfeelingsof the massesby adducinghypocriticaljustificationsfor
them. In fact theirquarrelwith the UnitedStatesis a way of rationalizingtheir
own guilt (ibid., 258).

It was not, however, the combative Aron, attacking Communism in

the decade after World War II, who made the greatest use of Paretoan
categories. Rather, it was the professor of sociology entering the Sorbonne
in 1955. Indeed, The Opium of the Intellectuals represented something
of a last hurrah for the anti-Communist polemicist who had emerged
from the late 1940s. No longer so obsessed with the grand schisme that
divided the world into two hostile camps teetering on the brink of war,
Aron by 1955-56 had become relatively optimistic about the effects of
Stalin's death in 1953 and the possibility of liberalization in the Soviet
Union. Joining with those in the United States who, like Daniel Bell,
predicted the end of ideology, Aron began to suggest that the two rival
systems might, if not converge, at least reach a rapprochement.'5
To provide sociological substance to these hopes, Aron from 1955 to
1958 organized his courses at the Sorbonne around Auguste Comte's
theme of "industrial society." Aron employed the term to emphasize the
goals and institutions common to advanced capitalist and Communist
systems. In a word, the Soviet Union, the United States, and to a lesser
extent Western Europe were merely variations of the same socio-economic
model.16Characterized by an overwhelming dependence upon the man-
ufacturing and tertiary sectors of the economy rather than upon agri-
culture, industrial society, according to Aron, exhibited a progressive
Aron even alluded to the "end of ideology" in The Opium of the Intellectuals, but,
as we shall see below, his endorsement of the idea was usually qualified and seldom
The lectures for these three academic years were subsequently revised and published
as Dix-huit legons sur la societe industrielle (Paris, 1962) and translated as Eighteen
Lectures on Industrial Society, trans. M. K. Bottomore (London, 1967); La Lutte de
classes (Paris, 1964); Democratie et totalitarianisme (Paris, 1965), and translated by
Valence Ionescu as Democracy and Totalitarianism (New York, 1969). Whereas his
endorsement of the end of ideology was generally restrained during this period, Aron
strongly affirmed the idea that industrial society provided the basis for widespread and
meaningful progress. The Dix-huit leqonsmakes the strongest case for the common features
linking the two systems.

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movement toward increased productivity. This in turn ameliorated pop-

ular conditions to the point of softening the effect of political alienation.
Aron's heavy and open reliance upon Paretoan sociology while he
outlined the character of industrial society served an obvious strategy:
to portray the Soviet Union as subject to the same general sociological
rules that applied to the West and thereby establish that the USSR was
unable to pretend to any special status. The three courses concerning
industrial society therefore suggested that, whatever the value of Soviet
social theory, it sorely needed Paretoan modification. The first course,
published as Dix-huit leqonssur la societeindustrielle,argued, for example,
that social heterogenity and hence inequality remained inevitable, and
that exploitation hardly remained a monopoly of the capitalist variant
of industrial society. The title of the second course, La Lutte de classes,
made Aron's intent equally clear. Like Pareto, he underscored the fun-
damental reality of class struggle in all societies; like Pareto also, he
affirmed the autonomy of politics and further challenged the Marxists
by arguing that Communist rule had so effectively suppressed liberty that
the reality of class antagonisms in the Soviet Union remained partially
hidden and even unexpressed. As Aron would later explain, "The dom-
inant and perhaps least banal idea in the second course concerned the
establishment of the relationship between the social structure and the
political regime-an idea emanating from reflection upon Marx and
Pareto. To the extent that class struggle implies consciousness and or-
ganization of classes, it depends upon the state and legislation whether
this struggle will become manifest or not, and even, to a certain degree,
whether it should exist or not."17
Aron nevertheless remained unpreparedto embrace a purely Paretoan
social philosophy. He treated it as flawed and incomplete for at least two
reasons. First, relying heavily upon the theories of Colin Clark, Aron
defended Comte's productivist vision and suggested that industrial so-
ciety, in both its Marxist and non-Marxian forms, represented a pro-
gressive "mutation" in the human condition. Indeed, Aron even alluded
to the possible unification of humanity in the great struggle to establish,
if not utopia, at least the good society, in which poverty and want would
no longer exist.18Given these promethean hopes, Aron the believer in
progress predictably found Pareto too cynical and skeptical about man-
kind's ability to improve social conditions.
Aron, Memoires: 50 ans de reflexion politique (Paris, 1983), 398.
Expressions of Aron's productivism are The Dawn of UniversalHistory (New York,
1961) and reprinted in Conant (ed.), Politics and History, 212-33; Trois essais sur lage
industriel (Paris, 1966) and translated as The Industrial Society: ThreeEssays on Ideology
and Development (New York, 1967). For Aron's understanding of history as progress
and Colin Clark as its prophet, see Aron, "Remarquessur les particularitesde '6evolution
sociale de la France," Transactionsof the Third World Congressof Sociology, Actes du
troisieme congres mondial de sociologie (London, 1956), 42-53.

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There was, on the other hand, a second concern that followed from
Aron's anti-Communism. Although eager to acknowledge what he con-
sidered to be a primary Machiavellian/Paretoan insight, the inevitability
of oligarchy, Aron nonetheless demanded that more be said. The oli-
garchic principle having received its due, certain questions immediately
arose: e.g., how did various elites employ their power, and what structural
restrictions limited the exercise of their authority? Aron responded that
while the Soviet elite was essentially unified and political in character,
Western elites, drawn from diverse sources, necessarily allowed for the
political pluralism essential to liberty.19For Aron, Pareto employed a
generalizing approach that too easily avoided such distinctions. In a word,
whatever the merits of Paretoan sociology, Aron remained unwilling-
the industrial society notwithstanding-to ignore certain specifics that
seemed to make the Soviet experience a special case.
By the 1960s, extensive postwar use of Paretoan categories led Aron
to a new and more favorable assessment of Pareto.20Aron at the same
time returned to various themes presented during the previous decade,
particularly those concerning Pareto's value as a counterweight to Marx-
ian exaggerations, and he accordingly described Pareto as a political and
Machiavellian thinker who had "amended"Marxism to take into account
the political dimension.21In a similar vein Aron argued that Pareto,
sensitive to the multifaceted character of social reality, had tried to grasp
the interdependence of the several components of social dynamics-
residues, derivations (i.e., ideology), social diversity, and economic in-
terests-rather than try to reduce social causation to a single factor.22
Aron also portrayed the author of the Treatise as an observer who
possessed remarkableforesight concerning the character of the twentieth
century, viz., that it would be an era marked by violent elites struggling
for political power. Drawing upon this Paretoan insight, Aron delivered
a message to liberals hesitant to face the harsh realities that characterized
recent history:

19This theme is central to Democratie et totalitarianisme.

20 The most important expressions of this reappraisal appeared in Les Etapes de la
pensee sociologique (Paris, 1967), 307-16, 407-96, 587-602. This work was the product of
Aron's lectures given at the Sorbonne during the early 1960s and then revised in 1967.
An abridgededition of Les Etapes (trans. Richard Howard and Helen Weaver) is available:
Main Currentsin Sociological Thought, 2 vols. (New York, 1967). I have used the French
edition. Aron's other writings during this period that deal with Pareto are essentially
two: 1) his preface to the French edition of the Traite de sociologie generale (Geneva,
1968) and reproduced in Aron, Etudes politiques (Paris, 1971), 125-45 (I have used the
latter) and 2) "Machiavel et Marx," a paper Aron delivered in 1969 at the Institut
Cultural Italien de Paris and published in both Contrepoint,#4 (1971), 9-21 and Etudes
politiques, 56-74 (I have used the latter). This paper is also translated and available in
Conant (ed.), Politics and History, 87-101.
Etudes politiques, 63.
Ibid., 131; Les Etapes, 463-64.

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For Pareto, the societies of western Europe were governed by plutocratic elites
belonging to the family of foxes, excessively dominated by the instinct for
combination and increasingly incapable of employing the force necessary for
governing societies. He saw the emergence of new elites which would utilize
more force than ruse ... Pareto would have certainly recognized in the fascist
or Communist elites those violent elites belonging to the family of lions and
which take possession of power in decadent societies.23

Aron clearly agreed with Pareto that decadence, as manifested in the

unwillingness to employ force, merely strengthened those who were intent
upon destroying liberal institutions. Paretoan sociology, Aron concluded,
helped to explain how certain historical movements such as fascism could
in part be understood as "a reaction of the social body to troubles caused
by an excess of residues of the first class, by the exaggerated development
of humanitarianism, by the weakening of bourgeois will" (ibid., 476).
Given his reassessment of Pareto, Aron now denied any necessary
linkage between Paretoan thought and fascist action. Rather, he described
Pareto as a pessimistic but astute observer of Italian political affairs who
recognized, for example, that Giolitti's policy of divide and rule had
ultimately discredited parliamentary institutions.24 As for Pareto's col-
laboration with Mussolini's regime, Aron minimized the association by
referring to it as "limited" (ibid., 476). Indeed, he regarded Pareto by
this time as a Machiavellian liberal. He alluded to the sociologist's pro-
foundly "liberal convictions" on the issue of freedom of thought and
described him as desiring a regime best defined as authoritarian, yet
moderate and finally liberal.25
Aron's Pareto for the 1960s-the Machiavellian liberal-was not,
however, Aron's final word on the sociologist's meaning and significance.
The final assessment appeared in 1973-74, when, as he began to reflect
upon the meaning of his own career, Aron concluded that the multifaceted
Pareto consisted of four persons: the fascist, the authoritarian Machia-
vellian, the liberal Machiavellian, and the cynic.26
These four Paretos established, Aron nonetheless attempted to hedge
the impact of the fascist interpretation. Arguing that Pareto was not
really a fascist, he insisted that the sociologist's ideas had merely nour-

Etapes, 470.
24Ibid., 493-94, n. 17.
25 Aron noted that: "Extremist in tone and
style, aggressive toward everything and
all, Pareto in the final analysis professes moderate opinions. The regime the least bad,
and also the least possible (or the least durable), combines in appropriate proportions,
residues of the first and second class, intellectual liberties for the privileged and moral
and patriotic values for the people." Etudes politiques, 128.
26Aron, "Lectures de Pareto," Contrepoint, #13 (1974), 175-91. The article was
originally presented as a paper the previous year in Rome at the Academia dei Lincei.
An English translation, entitled "Interpreting Pareto," appeared in Encounter, 47 (No-
vember 1976), 43-53. I have used the French version.

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ished fascism.27 Aron did go so far as to describe Pareto as a "professor

of energy in the service of the bourgeoisie" but one who had remained
a step short of becoming the Marx of the bourgeoisie (ibid., 181). Refusing
to take his own final step, Aron closed the matter by suggesting that
Pareto's ideas had been used-but not necessarily misused-by the
The interpretation of Pareto as an authoritarian Machiavellian pro-
vided what Aron called a moderate version of the fascist reading. Spe-
cifically, this Pareto recognized the social centrality of force and violence
and the need for a revitalized bourgeois will in order to maintain an
equilibrium of classes conducive to political freedom. Did this mean,
Aron asked, that Pareto was after all a Marx of the bourgeoisie? Perhaps,
he conceded, but it was "in contrast to the Marx of the proletariat, with
the view of a free society and not of a revolution degenerating into
despotism" (ibid., 185).
The third reading of Pareto as the liberal Machiavellian provided yet
another difference in degree, an interpretation similar to the second, but
supposedly more idealistic. Pareto number three not only valued social
equilibrium as a condition of freedom but held open the possibility of
progress. Improvement remained theoretically possible, according to
Aron, given Pareto's willingness to grant that science could gradually
enlarge its effect upon society. This more hopeful Pareto, Aron suggested,
could thus be understood as a thinker who remained convinced of the
power of the human spirit (ibid., 190-91).
Finally, Aron described Pareto number four as a cynical theorist
embittered by humanity's refusal to understand its true nature. This
fourth Pareto perceived men as given to self-deception, continually erect-
ing systems of thought that obfuscated reality, and veiled the intentions
behind political activity. Purporting to speak for those who saw life
without illusion, Aron's fourth Pareto became the century's preeminent
critic of ideology.
Aron suggested that the fourth interpretation probably came closest
to the psychological truth about Pareto. On the other hand, he found
particularly valuable the Machiavellian Paretos:
What is more contrary to fascism and all totalitarian movements than the
rejection of utopia, absolute power, and the regimentation of intelligence? To
limit the powers of a strong state, still capable of acting, is that not the best
method of preserving the rights of the people? (ibid.)

Of the two Machiavellian Paretos, Aron obviously preferred the liberal.

Although he never denied during the postwar period that authoritarian
measures might at times be necessary to preserve liberty, Aron never
confused the adoption of such measures with the necessary condition of

"Lectures de Pareto," 181 and 189.

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liberty. Further, the liberal-Machiavellian Pareto granted scientific

thought the power to enlarge its influence upon society, and he thereby
accomplished two things. First, he provided at least a partial recognition
of man's fundamental historicity, a principle Aron had frequently found
lacking in a Paretoan sociology that emphasized the constancy of human
behavior. Second, to grant the reality of scientific advancement held the
possibility that mankind could improve its worldly condition, a hope that
to the very end of his life Aron never abandoned.
By the 1970s, Aron viewed Paretoan sociology as a valuable weapon
for those who would defend liberal-democratic values against the revo-
lutionary left. On the other hand, he also perceived that weapon as a
doubled-edged sword. While indicating the necessity for a realistic ap-
praisal of the world and while providing an antidote to the dangers of
utopian excesses, Pareto-so Aron's argument ran-gave vent to a skep-
ticism corrosive of all values including those of liberalism. Aron observed:
"The political theory of Pareto, written in a style of scathing polemic
and bitter irony, inevitably becomes in certain historical situations a tool
of combat, that is to say, when those to whom he reserved his rudest
blows underwent the assault of adversaries sharing his pessimism and
prepared to hear his appeal to force ..." (ibid.).
Aron's long career as an intellectuel engage began during the interwar
period on the left and soon included a strong commitment to antifascism.
Following World War II, he became a defender of liberalism against the
threat posed by Communism and the Soviet Union. Despite his claim to
being primarily a spectateur engage, Aron was very much a participant
in a half century of European conflict, and political considerations played
a major role in shaping his theoretical arguments. The new configuration
of European forces that emerged from the fascist defeat of 1945 led to
Aron's reconsideration of previous attitudes, including those toward
Pareto. Aron commented in our conversation of November 1982: "In
politics, one chooses one's enemies and not one's friends." Struggling
first against those who supposedly believed everything permissible in a
world where nothing new was possible, and then against those who
apparently believed all things permissible in their attempt to achieve the
impossible, Aron as a twentieth-century liberal found in Pareto's sociology
an ambiguous legacy.
Finally, I would suggest that the ambiguity of the Paretoan legacy
points the way toward four Arons: (1) the antifascist of the prewar and
wartime periods who described Pareto as one of the enemy; (2) the anti-
Communist combatant of the immediate postwar era who employed
Pareto's Machiavellian skepticism as an antidote to Marxism; (3) the
spokesman for Comte's industrial society who found Pareto a bit too
cynical, but nevertheless useful, in arguing that oligarchy remained in-
evitable and utopia impossible; and finally (4) an older Aron, no longer
so sanguine about Comtean productivism and increasingly reflective about

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the meaning of his political odyssey through the most recent age of
Europeandisorder.Duringthose fifty years,Aron was seldomand never
permanentlyof one mind as he contemplatedthe meaningof Vilfredo
Pareto.Unableto escapeambivalence,Aron towardsthe end of his life
ultimatelysettledthe questionby projectinghis indecisionuponthe object
of his study:there were four Paretos.

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