Rudolf Kjellén

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Rudolf Kjellén 1864-1922

Johan Rudolf Kjellén (Swedish: [ɕɛlleːn], 13 June 1864, Torsö – 14 November 1922, Uppsala) was a Swedish political scientist and politician who first coined the term "geopolitics". His work was influenced by Friedrich Ratzel. Along with Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Ritter, and Ratzel, Kjellén would lay the foundations for the German Geopolitik that would later be espoused prominently by General Karl Haushofer.

Kjellén completed gymnasium in Skara in 1880 and matriculated at Uppsala University the same year. He completed his Ph.D. in Uppsala in 1891 and was a docent there from 1890 to 1893. He also taught at Gothenburg University from 1891 and was professor of political sciences and statistics there from 1901 until he received the prestigious Skyttean professorship of Eloquence and Government in Uppsala in 1916.

A conservative politician, he was a member of the Second Chamber of the Parliament of Sweden from 1905 to 1908 and of its First Chamber from 1911 to 1917.


Kjellén was Ratzel’s student and would further elaborate on organic state theory, coining the term "geopolitics" in the process.

The basics of his ideas were presented in 1900 in the book Introduction to Swedish Geography, based on his lectures at Gothenburg University. Kjellén's The State as a Living Form, published in 1916, is generally regarded as his most important book on geopolitics. It outlines five key concepts that would shape German geopolitik:

  1. Reich was a territorial concept consisting of Raum (Lebensraum), and strategic military shape;
  2. Volk was a racial conception of the state;
  3. Haushalt was a call for autarky based on land, formulated in reaction to the vicissitudes of international markets;
  4. Gesellschaft was the social aspect of a nation’s organization and cultural appeal, Kjellén anthropomorphizing inter-state relations more than Ratzel had; and,
  5. Regierung was the form of government whose bureaucracy and army would contribute to the people’s pacification and coordination.

Kjellén disputed the solely legalistic characterization of states and argued that state and society are not opposites but a synthesis of the two elements. The state has a responsibility for law and order but also for social welfare/progress, and economic welfare/progress.

Autarky, for Kjellén, was a solution to a political problem, not an economic policy in itself. Dependence on imports would mean that a country would never be independent. Territory would provide for internal production; for Germany, Central and Southeastern Europe were key, along with the Near East and Africa.

The three characteristics of a state, according to Kjellén, were Topopolitik, Physiopolitik and Morphopolitik. The first two of them correspond to Lage and Raum, which respectively mean position and territory, whereas Morphopolitik is connected with the shape and the form of a state.


General Karl Haushofer, who would adopt many of Kjellén's ideas, was not interested in economic policy but would advocate autarky as well; a nation constantly in struggle would demand self-sufficiency.

Adolf Hitler adopted policies in line with Kjellén’s five key concepts, whether or not his writing was directly transmitted to Hitler or not. Nazism would echo Kjellén’s concept of state integration into every aspect of life, especially concerning the provision of social and economic welfare. The Nazis would also target the same territories that Kjellén emphasised and pursued economic domination throughout the former Austro-Hungarian states and the Balkans, monopolising their output to the point that they could dictate the countries' production and dump German industrial goods into their markets[citation needed].

Kjellén also (but aafter Maurice Barrès and numerous "national socialist" parties such as the Czech National Social Party) was an early user of the term "national socialism" in 1910. His terminology took form in the Swedish postwar welfare state, Folkhemmet, a term that he coined, which was largely inspired by the social reform-minded conservatism of Otto von Bismarck's Germany.[citation needed]


  • Dorpalen, Andreas. The World of General Haushofer. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., New York: 1984.
  • Kjellén, Rudolf, Die Grossmaechte der Gegenwart. Leipzig, Berlin, 1914.
  • Kjellén, Rudolf, Die politische Probleme des Weltkrieges. Leipzig, 1916.
  • Kjellén, Rudolf, Der Staat als Lebensform. Leipzig, 1917.
  • Kjellén, Rudolf, Die Grossmaechte vor und nach dem Weltkriege. Leipzig, Berlin, 1930.
  • Mattern, Johannes. Geopolitik: Doctrine of National Self-Sufficiency and Empire. The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore: 1942.
  • Tunander, Ola. 'Swedish-German Geopolitics for a New Century – Rudolf Kjellén’s ‘The State as a Living Organism’, Review of International Studies, vol. 27, no. 3, 2001.