The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 19, 2014

JOURNAL ARCHIVE
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Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: A Remembrance
William F. Campbell (MA 41:4, Fall 1999) - 09/18/08

Perhaps I can begin with a pun at the beginning, since it is based on something I learned from Erik. As the ancient Etruscans used to say, “being a person is a hard act to follow.”

Erik loved to point out that the word person derived from the Etruscan phersu which meant an actor playing out a role in a sacred drama. Erik was not just a hard act to follow, but an impossible one. There will never be another person like Erik.

Erik was always a personalist rather than an individualist or a collectivist. He detested the excesses of the French Revolution, communism, and Nazism. His hatred of these movements can be found both in writings and in his art work. A sample of his art work can be found on The Philadelphia Society’s Townhall web site which fortunately we were able to share with the world before Erik’s death. You will find in his paintings a Boschian combination of drollery and serious critique of his times.

Erik worked closely with Modern Age and Russell Kirk from the very beginning. Not only was he a long-time member of the advisory board, but he was a frequent contributor in the early years. That does not mean that he didn’t have friendly disagreements with Russell on minor issues.

Unlike Russell Kirk who always equated the word ideology with the above excesses, Erik had a fondness for ideology, properly understood. Not all isms gave him the jisms. He understood ideology to be a set of principles which could be rationally articulated and defended. Erik’s most succinct statement of his principles can be found in The Portland Declaration, a copy of which accompanies the paintings.

Erik and Russell were, of course, both right. Truly this was a semantic difference, but a semantic difference which caught the different tenors of their mind. Russell was a conservative; Erik was a liberal.

Erik was insistent on the point that he was a liberal in the European sense of that word and not the bastardized American meaning. He believed in free men endowed by their creator with the freedom to choose; they were also burdened with the responsibility for their actions.

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