cover image The Dawn of Universal History

The Dawn of Universal History

Raymond Aron. Basic Books, $35 (544pp) ISBN 978-0-465-00407-2

This collection of essays and book excerpts covering seminal moments in the political history of the 20th century by French intellectual and Le Figaro columnist Aron-who died in Paris in 1983-might be a little dense and daunting, but close, patient readers will be amply rewarded for their efforts. Written between 1939 to 1973, the bulk of the pieces date from the 1950s, when Aron was concerned with examining the causes and global effects of World Wars I and II, European nationalism, French imperialism, Marxism, Fascism and more. It's not a big stretch to find ideas that will still speak to the present: Aron, a realist, consistently refuses to conflate military and moral superiority. Nor does he view war as an inevitability, but rather as an ever-present possibility that should be avoided through the correct choices: ""perhaps the absence of a great war will strike historians of the future as the equivalent of a great peace."" His was not an optimistic voice, but a powerful, worldly and challenging one.