In May of 1999 the Acton Institute lost a great friend and supporter with the death of Dr. Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. An internationally acclaimed historian, author, journalist, and lecturer, Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn served for many years on the Institute’s Board of Advisors, as well as on the editorial board for the Institute’s bimonthly publication Religion & Liberty.
According to his friend William F. Buckley, Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was “the world’s most fascinating man,” and he has left a most fascinating legacy. Born in Austria on July 31, 1909, he studied theology, along with civil and canon law, at the University of Vienna. Afterward, he received his doctorate in political science at the University of Budapest. Throughout his life, Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was a prolific writer; he started writing for newspapers and periodicals at age sixteen, first publishing in the London Spectator. Moving to America after World War I, he taught at Georgetown University, Saint Peter’s College, Fordham University, and Chestnut Hill College. He resettled in his native Austria in 1947 and devoted his time to alternating periods of studying, traveling, writing, and lecturing.
Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn was a true and traditional man of letters. He spoke eight languages and read eleven others. He travelled to and lectured in dozens of countries on six continents. A collection of his novels, theoretical books, essays, articles, and occasional pieces would fill a small library. His most recent English books include Leftism Revisited, An Intelligent American’s Guide to Europe, and Liberty or Equality. Furthermore, he had a lasting influence on modern American conservatism (which he preferred to call by its European and, as he thought, more descriptive term liberalism).
His chief intellectual project centered on defending the theoretical foundations of liberty in the modern world, especially in response to the distortions in the idea of liberty precipitated by the French Revolution. In his words, “My studies in political theory and practice have been largely directed toward finding ways to strengthen the great Western tradition of human freedom, now under attack from so many sides.”
Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is survived by his wife, Countess Christian Goess; three children; and seven grandchildren.