The Opium of the Intellectuals
Raymond Aron's In Defense of Decadent Europe was first conceived at a time of great uncertainty for the Western democracies. The postwar economic boom had been interrupted by "stagflation," while communist and socialist parties in Italy and France were powerful factors in Europe's political landscape. Aron's book has a threefold purpose: the analysis of the Soviet Russian regime and its Marxist-Leninist theoretical foundation; the detailed empirical comparison between liberal democracies and collectivist regimes of the East; and, above all, the exploration of what might be termed the "problem" of democracy the tendency of democratic regimes to undermine themselves unless checked in their most extreme tendencies.
Aron denounces the clash between democracy and the Marxist-Leninist mystification and explains how Marxism leads to Soviet-style ideology. The second part of the book constitutes a defense of liberal Europe. The author makes comparisons in terms of productivity, technical innovation, living standards, scientific progress, and human freedom. But Aron also notes there are important ways in which the West must put her house in order by cultivating authority in the church, in universities, in business, and even in the army. This paradox is conveyed by the title of the book, the juxtaposition of the words In Defense of and Decadent Europe.
In the new introduction, Daniel Mahoney and Brian Anderson discuss the disenchanted conservative liberalism of Raymond Aron that set him apart. Among the topics they cover are: the challenge of ideocracy, the decadence of democracy, and Aron as a civic philosopher. In Defense of Decadent Europe combines ideological debate with economic and social analysis. Its thorough examination of Western freedom versus the Eastern communism of the recent past extends well beyond parochial debates into a basic vision of Western societies. The book will be compelling for historians, political scientists, economists, and philosophers.
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