Claes G. Ryn

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Claes Gösta Ryn (born 12 June 1943) is a Swedish-born, American academic and educator.[1]


Ryn was born and raised in Norrköping in Sweden. He attended the Latin Gymnasium, Norrköpings Högre Allmänna Läroverk' (1959–63). He did military service in the Royal Life Company at the I 4 Regiment in Linkoping and the Signal Corps at the S 1 Regiment in Uppsala. He was an undergraduate and a doctoral student at Uppsala University. He did further doctoral study at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, United States, (Ph.D. 1974).


He is a professor of politics at Catholic University of America (CUA), where he was also chairperson of his department. He taught also at the University of Virginia and Georgetown University. He is chairperson of the National Humanities Institute and editor of the academic journal Humanitas. He is president of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters.[2] He is a past president of the Philadelphia Society (2001 to 2002).[3]

Ryn's fields of teaching and research include ethics and politics; epistemology; historicism; politics and culture; the history of Western political thought; conservatism; the theory of constitutionalism and democracy; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Irving Babbitt; Benedetto Croce.[4]

He has written much on ethics and politics and on the central role of culture, specifically, the imagination, in shaping politics and society. He has sought to reconstitute the epistemology of the humanities and social sciences, paying close attention to the interaction of will, imagination and reason. He has criticized abstract, ahistorical conceptions of rationality as inadequate to the study of distinctively human life and to the study of real universality. He has argued that there is a much different, experientially grounded form of rationality, the reason of philosophy proper, that is capable of at once humble and penetrating observation. He has developed a philosophy known as value-centered historicism, which demonstrates the potential union of universality and historical particularity. In political theory he has been a sharp critic of Straussian anti-historical thinking and so-called neoconservatism. He has argued that in essential ways neoconservatism resembles the ideology of the French Jacobins and is neo-Jacobin.[5][6][7]

Ryn's discussion of democracy emphasizes that popular government can assume radically different forms, only some of which can be judged compatible with a higher, ethical striving. Theories of what he calls plebiscitary democracy assume romantic and utopian notions of human nature and society. Constitutional democracy is based on a more realistic view of man and is more consonant with the actual moral terms of human existence. This form of government has demanding moral and cultural preconditions and is endangered wherever those preconditions are not satisfied.

In 2000 he gave the Distinguished Foreign Scholar Lectures at Beijing University, which also published this lecture series in Chinese translation as a book, Unity Through Diversity (2001). He has lectured and published widely in China. In 2007 he gave a keynote address at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing. The Chinese edition (2007) of his book America the Virtuous became one of the most hotly discussed in China. Dushu, China's preeminent intellectual magazine,[according to whom?] described it as "the kind of classical work that will be read over the generations."[citation needed]

In 2012 Beijing Normal University named Ryn Honorary Professor.[8]


Students he has mentored include:

  1. Nathanael Blake
  2. Coyle Neal
  3. Jay Starliper
  4. Nong Cheng
  5. William F. Byrne, St. John's University
  6. Carl Johan Ljungberg, author of several books
  7. Linda Raeder, author of John Stuart Mill and the Religion of Humanity
  8. Joseph Devaney
  9. Justin Garrison, author of "'An Empire of Ideals': The Chimeric Imagination of Ronald Reagan"
  10. James Miclot
  11. James Boitano
  12. Patricia M. Lines
  13. Saleh Zahrany
  14. Gregory Ahern
  15. Gregory Cleva, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Approach to Foreign Policy
  16. Ryan Holston
  17. Michael P. Federici, Mercyhurst College, author of Eric Voegelin and The Challenge of Populism
  18. W. Wesley McDonald, Elizabethtown College, author of the definitive intellectual study of Russell Kirk, Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology
  19. H. Lee Cheek, Jr., a leading scholar of American political thought, author of Calhoun and Popular Rule
  20. Laurence Reardon
  21. Edward Hudgins, who has worked in think tanks including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and The Atlas Society.
  22. Charles R. Smith

Selected bibliography[edit]

The following is a partial list of Dr. Ryn's published works:

  • America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire (2003)
  • The New Jacobinism (1991; 2011)
  • Democracy and the Ethical Life: A Philosophy of Politics and Community (1990)
  • Will, Imagination and Reason: Babbitt, Croce and the Problem of Reality (1987, 1997)
  • A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural World (2003)


External links[edit]