Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

gigatos | January 30, 2022


Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (Tobelbad (Styria), July 31, 1909 – Lans in Tirol (Tyrol), May 26, 1999) was an Austrian Catholic aristocratic philosopher and intellectual who described himself as an “extreme conservative primal liberal. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is the father of the thesis that majority decision-making in democracies is a threat to individual freedoms (libertates). He was further a self-proclaimed monarchist and an enemy of all forms of totalitarianism. He fought in writing and in words national socialism, fascism, racism, communism, progressive liberalism and also every variant of unbridled nationalism. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was described by friend and foe alike as a walking encyclopedia; he was a well-traveled person, a polyglot, was fluent in eight foreign languages in addition to German, and could read seventeen languages. His early publications such as Menace of the Herd and Liberty or Equality were influential in the conservative movement in the United States. He was a columnist for the National Review for 35 years. Some call him a paleo-conservative, others point out that Kuehnelt-Leddihn cannot be placed in any one group of thinkers and that the description extreme-conservative primal liberal is effective. He was a man of the world, but not secularized, Kuehnelt-Leddihn remained a devout Catholic Christian throughout his life. Marxist committed historians and critics consequently made Kuehnelt-Leddihn out to be a reactionary.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn was born in Austria-Hungary. He experienced the collapse of the multi-ethnic empire at the age of nine. At the tender age of 16, the gifted and well-educated Erik became an official correspondent in Vienna for The Spectator. From that time on, he would remain active as a writer throughout his life. Kuehnelt studied civil and ecclesiastical law at the University of Vienna after his 18th birthday. After completing his law studies, Kuehnelt left for the University of Budapest, where he graduated as an economist and received his doctorate in political science. After returning to Vienna, he began studying Catholic theology. In 1935, Kuehnelt-Leddihn traveled to England to become a teacher at Beaumont College, a prestigious Jesuit boarding school. He then moved to the United States, where he taught at Georgetown University (1937-1938), at Saint Peter”s College in New Jersey (1938-1943), at Fordham University (teaching Japanese linguistics, 1942-1943) and at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia (1943-1947).

After publishing his book Jesuiten, Spießer und Bolschewiken (Jesuits, Philistines and Bolsheviks) in 1933 (with Pustet in Salzburg), which would be followed by The Menace of the Herd in 1943, he could not return to the German Empire and Austria. He had firmly criticized and condemned the Marxists in Austria, but especially had portrayed the National Socialists as barbarians and extremists. The book was initially welcomed by Engelbert Dollfuß”s strongly anti-Nazi and anti-CommunistVaterländische Front, but was later declared undesirable, as it also rejected the fascism and populism of Austria”s then ally Benito Mussolini.

After the end of World War II in Europe, Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was able to return to the western occupation zone of Austria. He settled in Lans in Tyrol where he would remain until his death. Kuehnelt remained a renowned traveler: he had visited and studied the difficult-to-access Soviet Union in 1930 and 1931 and had witnessed firsthand the horrors of the NKVD and the plan system. He also visited every state in the US. Even before the start of World War II, Kuehnelt recognized that these two powers would one day dominate the world.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote for a whole spectrum of magazines and newspapers, including Chronicles and The Catholic World. He also worked with the Acton Institute in his later years. The A.I. called him a great friend and supporter after his death.

His sociological and political science works mainly dealt with the origins and the philosophical and cultural currents that had produced National Socialism. Furthermore, he sought to explain the coherence of monarchist concepts, and dealt with European insurrectionary movements such as Protestantism and the movement around Jan Hus. He also denounced the anti-monarchist bias that he believed determined US foreign policy and had led to disasters in Central European countries after World War I.

He directed some of his criticism against Woodrow Wilson”s foreign policy and Wilson”s followers, to which he included Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He also considered the American view wrong that for all countries of the world, regardless of culture and local situation, liberal democracy was the best system. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was convinced that Americans did not understand many characteristics of Central and Eastern European, Asian and African countries. In particular, Kuehnelt-Leddihn considered the dissolution and division of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with American support to be one of the major causes of the later rise of National Socialism, Revanchism, and World War II.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn dealt with many peculiarities and characteristics of German society and the German-speaking cultural countries in his scholarly tracts and opinion works. He paid particular attention to the difference between Catholic and Protestant Lutheran parts, but also proved the similarities across the gap of confessions. He also exposed the social attitudes that would later root National Socialism.

Contrary to the later and to this day predominant opinion of many historians, Kuehnelt-Leddihn considered National Socialism (Nazism) to be a leftist and even democratic movement that had its roots in the French Revolution of 1789-1796 that aimed at egalitarianism, conformism, materialism, and centralization. In this sense, Kuehnelt considered Nazism, Fascism, radical liberalism, and Marxism to be essentially democratic movements based on mobilizing the popular masses for revolution. These ideologies, according to Kuehnelt, were all out to destroy the old, organic forms of society. He claimed, following Aristotle, that every democracy is doomed to fall into autocracy or dictatorship by a particular elite or person. He even went so far as to say that democracy is essentially totalitarian. He saw the destruction of the old structures of society that he saw in the ideologies mentioned above realized in the last decades of the 20th century in intra-church revolutions, the social introduction of abortion provocatus, and the de facto erosion of marriage and the family.

In his magnum opus Liberty or Equality, Kuehnelt-Leddihn contrasts monarchy with democracy and gives his arguments for the superiority of a partially monarchical system:- diversity is better preserved in monarchical states than in democratic ones- monarchy is not based on the government of a single party- monarchy “fits seamlessly into the ecclesiastical and familial patterns of Christian society. “Also, it would be easier to depose a single mad monarch than an entire party caste. Further, a monarch would be bound to his predecessors and obligated on personal conscience to serve the common good and not party interests. Further, it would be more prevalent that a single monarch is good than the entire party or a majority in a democratic political party. After all, party politics works on the principle of Social Darwinism. However, the strongest is not always the best for the interests of the entire society or the entire people. From this, Kuehnelt-Leddihn concludes that the monarchy is in fact more liberal and, above all, offers more guarantees with regard to individual freedoms. Especially for family, religion, choice of education, urban community and the right to life. Diversity would also fall less easily prey to partisan politics. Moreover, the overthrow and influence of social mores and norms by lobby groups within the political elite is not possible. Therefore, the monarchy is not easily manipulated because the monarch already possesses the power and does not need to constantly reacquire it through, for example, populism and lobbyism.

Because modern life is increasingly complicated and takes place in different and numerous sociopolitical fields and levels, Kuehnelt-Leddihn teaches that the Scita – the political, economic, technological, scientific, military geographical, and psychological knowledge of the masses and their representatives, and the Scienda – the minimal knowledge in these areas needed to make logical-rational-moral policy conclusions – are separated by an incessant and immeasurably growing gap, and that democratic governments are inherently inept and incapable of wisely employing and fulfilling these tasks and forms of knowledge.

Against capitalism, Kuehnelt-Leddihn shows himself sometimes fierce, sometimes approving, especially in the area of innovation by global corporations. He sees the free market and especially the right to private property as great goods, but at the same time he wishes for far-reaching social solidarity and community thinking, especially towards the weak. In some features, the influence of corporatism emerges. However, he criticizes the social democratic welfare state as prone to abuse and profiteering. The duty to work for healthy people is paramount, while he does wish the government to spend money on good education.

Scientific works


  1. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
  2. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
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