Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
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Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (born July 31, 1909 in Tobelbad (now Haselsdorf-Tobelbad), Austria-Hungary; died May 26, 1999, in Lans, Austria) was an Austrian Catholic nobleman and socio-political theorist. Describing himself as an "extreme conservative arch-liberal" or "liberal of the extreme right", Kuehnelt-Leddihn often argued that majority rule in democracies is a threat to individual liberties, and declared himself a monarchist and an enemy of all forms of totalitarianism. Described as "A Walking Book of Knowledge", Kuehnelt-Leddihn had an encyclopedic knowledge of the humanities and was a polyglot, able to speak eight languages and read seventeen others. His early books The Menace of the Herd and Liberty or Equality were influential within the American conservative movement. His best-known writings appeared in National Review, where he was a columnist for 35 years.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn was born in Austria. At the age of 16, he became the Vienna correspondent of The Spectator. From then on, he wrote for the rest of his life. He studied civil and canon law at the University of Vienna at the age of eighteen. From there, he went to the University of Budapest, from which he received an M.A. in economics and his doctorate in political science. Moving back to Vienna, he took up studies in theology. In 1935, Kuehnelt-Leddihn travelled to England to become a schoolmaster at Beaumont College, a Jesuit public school. Subsequently he moved to the United States, where he taught at Georgetown University (1937–38), Saint Peter's College, New Jersey (head of the History and Sociology Department, 1938–43), Fordham University (Japanese, 1942–43), and Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia (1943–47). In a 1939 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Kuehnelt-Leddihn critiqued the design of every American coin then in circulation—except for the Washington quarter, which he allowed was "so far the most satisfactory coin"—with the Mercury dime judged to be "the most deplorable".
After publishing books like Jesuiten, Spießer und Bolschewiken in 1933 (published in German by Pustet, Salzburg) and The Menace of the Herd in 1943, in which he criticised the National Socialists as well as the Socialists directly or between the lines, he could not return to Nazi-occupied Austria.
After the Second World War, he resettled in Lans in Tyrol where he lived until his death. However, he was an avid traveler: he had visited the USSR in 1930–31, and eventually traveled to every state in the United States.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote for a variety of publications, including Chronicles, the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Catholic World, and the Norwegian business magazine Farmand. He also worked with the Acton Institute, which declared him after his death "a great friend and supporter," and was an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. For much of his life, Kuehnelt was also a painter; he illustrated some of his own books.
His socio-political writings dealt with the origins and the philosophical and cultural currents that formed Nazism. He endeavored to explain the intricacies of monarchist concepts and the systems of Europe, cultural movements such as Hussitism and Protestantism, and the disastrous effects of an American policy derived from anti-monarchical feelings and a concomitant ignorance of European culture and history.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn directed some of his most significant critiques towards Wilsonian foreign policy activism. Traces of Wilsonianism could be detected in the foreign policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt; specifically, the assumption that democracy is the ideal political system in any context. Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed that Americans misunderstood much of Central European culture, including but not limited to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed this was one of the contributing factors to the rise of Nazism. He also highlighted characteristics of the German society and culture (especially the influences of both Protestant and Catholic mentalities) and attempted to explain the sociological undercurrents of Nazism. Thus he concludes that sound Catholicism, or sound Protestantism, or even—probably—sound popular Sovereignty (i. e. German-Austrian unification in 1919) all three would have prevented National Socialism, although Kuehnelt-Leddihn rather dislikes the latter two.
Contrary to the prevailing view that the Nazi Party was a radical right-wing movement with only superficial and minimal leftist elements, Kuehnelt-Leddihn asserted that Nazism (National Socialism) was a strongly leftist, democratic movement ultimately rooted in the French Revolution that unleashed forces of egalitarianism, conformity, materialism and centralization. He argued that Nazism, fascism, radical-liberalism, and communism were essentially democratic movements, based upon inciting the masses to revolution and intent upon destroying the old forms of society. Furthermore, Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed that all democracy is basically totalitarian and that all democracies eventually degenerate into dictatorships. This he did not say of "republics" (which word, for Kuehnelt-Leddihn, has also the meaning of what Aristotle calls πολιτεία), e. g. Switzerland, or the United States as to its Constitution; however in his view, the United States has been to a certain extent subject to a silent democratic revolution in the late 1820s.
In Liberty or Equality, his magnum opus, Kuehnelt-Leddihn contrasted monarchy with democracy and presented his arguments for the superiority of monarchy: diversity is upheld better in monarchical countries than in democracies, monarchism is not based on party rule, and it "fits organically into the ecclesiastic and familistic pattern of Christian society". After insisting that the demand for liberty is about how to govern and by no means by whom to govern a given country, he draws arguments for his view that monarchical government is genuinely more liberal in this sense, while democracy naturally advocates for equality, even by enforcement, and thus becomes antiliberal. As modern life becomes increasingly complicated across many different sociopolitical levels, Kuehnelt-Leddihn submits that the Scita—i.e., the political, economic, technological, scientific, military, geographical, psychological knowledge of the masses and of their representatives—and the Scienda—i.e., the knowledge in these matters that is necessary to reach logical-rational-moral conclusions—are separated by an incessantly and cruelly widening gap and that democratic governments are totally inadequate for such undertakings.
- The Gates of Hell: An Historical Novel of the Present Day, London: Sheed & Ward, 1933.
- Night Over the East, Sheed & Ward, 1936.
- Moscow 1979, Sheed & Ward, 1946.
- Black Banners, Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1954.
- The Menace of the Herd (under the pseudonym of "Francis S. Campell" to protect relatives in wartime Austria), Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1943.
- Liberty or Equality, Front Royal, Virginia: Christendom Press, 1952, 1993.
- The Timeless Christian, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1969.
- Leftism, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, Publishers, 1974.
- The Intelligent American's Guide to Europe, Arlington House, 1979.
- Leftism Revisited, From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990.
- “Credo of a Reactionary,” The American Mercury, July 1943.
- “An Anti-Nazi Allegory,” The American Mercury, July 1944.
- “Recuperating Spain,” Modern Age 1, N°. 1, March 1957.
- “Revolution, Crime, and Sin in the Catholic World,” Modern Age 2, N°. 2, June 1958.
- “The Artist and the Intellectual in Anglo-Saxonry and on the Continent,” Modern Age 3, N°. 4, December 1959.
- “The Roots of Leftism in Christendom,” The Freeman 18, N°. 2, February 1968.
- “Latin America in Perspective,” The Freeman 18, N°. 4, April 1968.
- “The Woes of the Underdeveloped Nations,” The Freeman 21, N°. 1, January 1971.
- “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?,” Modern Age 15, N°. 1, March 1971.
- “We and the Third World,” The Freeman 22, N°. 2, February 1972.
- “The Years of Godlessness,” Modern Age 16, N°. 1, March 1972.
- “Free Enterprise and the Russians,” The Freeman 22, N°. 8, August 1972.
- “The Roots of ‘Anticapitalism’,” The Freeman 22, N°. 11, November 1972.
- “Portrait of an Evil Man,” The Freeman 23, N°. 9, September 1973.
- “Scita Et Scienda: The Dwarfing of Modern Man,” Hillsdale College, 1974.
- “The Unholy Ikons,” Modern Age 20, N°. 1, March 1976.
- “Utopias and Ideologies: Another Chapter in the Conservative Demonology,” Modern Age 21, N°. 3, September 1977.
- “Controversy,” Policy Review 15, January 1981.
- “The Problems of a Successful American Foreign Policy,” Imprimis 14, N°. 11, November 1985.
- “Democracy’s Road to Tyranny,” The Freeman 38, N°. 5, May 1988.
- “Operation Parricide: Sade, Robespierre, and the French Revolution,” Fidelity Magazine, October 1989.
- “The Four Liberalisms,” Religion & Liberty 2, N°. 4, July/August 1992.
- “Economics in the Catholic World,” Religion & Liberty 4, N°. 4, July/August 1994.
- “Christianity, the Foundation and Conservator of Freedom,” Religion & Liberty 7, N°. 6, November – December 1997.
- “Liberalism in America,” The Intercollegiate Review 33, N°. 1, Fall 1997.
- “Hebrews and Christians,” The Rothbard-Rockwell Report 9, N°. 4, April 1998.
- “Monarchy and War,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies 15, N°. 1, December 2000.
- “The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises,” Studies in Classical Liberalism, n.d.
Notes and references
- William F. Campbell, “Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: A Remembrance,” First Principles, September 2008.
- William F. Buckley, Jr. (1985-12-31). "A Walking Book of Knowledge". National Review. p. 104.
- Erik v. Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Letter to the Editor, Our Coins Criticized: Visitor Finds Artistic Faults in All Except the Quarter, N.Y. Times, Nov. 26, 1939, at 75.
- George W. Rutler, “Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn,” Crisis Magazine, November 19, 2007.
- "Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909–1999)". Acton Institute. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
- Rockwell, Lew. "Remembering Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn." LewRockwell.com Blog, July 31, 2008.
-  Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Accessed: 20 February 2013.
- Jorn K. Baltzersen, “The Last Knight of the Habsburg Empire,” Lew Rockwell, July 31, 2009.
- Lee Congdon, “Kuehnelt-Leddihn and American Conservatism,” Crisis Magazine, March 26, 2012.
- John Lukacs, “Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: A Memoir,” The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1999.
- Allan C. Brownfeld, “Leftism, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn,” The Freeman, July 1974.
- John Chamberlain, “Leftism Revisited,” The Freeman 41, N°. 7, July 1991.
- Intellectual Conservative's Review of Leftism Revisited.
- Philadelphia Society tribute to Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
- Memorial page by his grandson.
- The Principles of The Portland Declaration Compiled by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.
- Info page at Lexikon Literatur.