The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 19, 2017

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

Although he was far from being a free market ideologue, he was an unabashed defender of the classical liberal understanding of the market. Erik constantly fought the mushy, reactionary elements in the Catholic Church traumatized by economic liberalism. He participated in conferences and dialogues between European Catholics, bishops and priests in the hierarchy, and economic liberals, attempting to straighten up the occasionally cloudy thinking of the Church which existed prior to Centesimus Annus. I will have to rely on Erik’s Catholic friends to tell that story in more detail and recount his loyalty to and admiration for the current Pope.

Erik’s economics were shaped most closely upon his friendship with Wilhelm Roepke. Roepke was also Russell Kirk’s favorite economist. It is interesting to note that in the early 1960s, Kirk was denied membership in the Mont Pelerin Society. Hayek delivered his famous address, “Why I Am Not A Conservative” (subsequently a chapter in his Constitution of Liberty); Russell Kirk was at the meeting and gave a spirited rejoinder. Around the same time, Wilhelm Roepke left the MPS in the famous Hunold controversy; Erik who had been a member for about two years, also resigned out of loyalty to Roepke.

But what was indicative of Erik’s liberal temper of mind was that he loved to recount his frequent and lengthy meetings with Hayek during the summer months where they would take long walks and discuss wide-ranging topics including religion. I don’t know the details of these meetings and the upshot of these discussions, but I would love to have been the proverbial fly on the wall.

Three generations of my family had the good fortune to visit Erik in his home in Lans, Austria. My parents got to know him and his lovely wife, Christian, in the early 1950s. Through Dad’s work with ISI, Wabash College, Hillsdale College and multiple other conservative organizations, he got to know Erik quite well. A delightful chapter in my Dad’s book, Hoosiers Abroad, is devoted to his experiences with Herr Erik.

After my father died, I came across a couple of undated index cards which he used to introduce a talk by Russell Kirk at a conservative forum in Indianapolis organized by Don Lipsett when he was the Midwestern Director of ISI. As my father worked into the introduction of Russell, he told a story of his attempt to verify the rumor that Archduke Otto von Hapsburg considered Russell the world’s greatest living scholar. He wrote a cable to Erik which read, “Otto Von Hapsburg has stated that Russell Kirk is the greatest living scholar in this country. Is this true?” The response came back, “The answer is ‘NO.’ You people have an adopted son from Austria who is in 1st place. Modesty prevents me from naming him. But my friend Russell Kirk is in 2nd place—this is good because he will try harder. Herr Erik.” Although the story may be apocryphal, it not only reveals my father’s wonderful sense of humor, but it could also be true. Whether Herr Erik or Russell Kirk get the laurel for scholarship, I will leave in the lap of the Gods.

Through our friendship with Don and Norma Lipsett, Helen and I got to know Erik better. Don was his most important American supporter. One time in Europe, in loyalty to Erik, Don and Norma, Ed and Linda Feulner, Helen and I went to visit the residence of the Archduke Otto von Habsburg! Don was just one of Erik’s many American friends and supporters—we could form a fan-club that would fit into every nook and cranny of these United States.

Helen and I were fortunate enough to visit Erik and his wife on several occasions at his house in Lans. While enjoying spaetzl and delectable white wines, we shared the usual dazzling conversations. When Erik was in the United States, he came frequently to Baton Rouge to lecture at Louisiana State University and stay with us. He loved to refer to my daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, as his “little kittens.” Elizabeth and her husband, David Corey, also made the pilgrimage to Lans to visit Erik.

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