Saturday, December 5, 2009

Aurel Kolnai

Aurel Thomas Kolnai109 years ago today, Aurel Thomas Kolnai was born in the number 2 city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Dr. Francis Dunlop wrote a biography on Kolnai back in 2002. It was titled The Life and Thought of Aurel Kolnai. Prof. Graham McAleer reviewed the biography in Modern Age in the summer 2003 issue – A Neglected Political Thinker (PDF).

Graham McAleer writes:

Aurel Thomas Kolnai (1900-1973) passes with flying colors. Indeed, here is a twentieth-century thinker who understands America as a nation suffering still from the original sin of rebellion against King George III!
Readers who are introduced to Kolnai's profound reservations about democracy immediately want to know what his alternative might be, and the “Carta-Memoria” is quite an alternative. He proposes a mixed regime that includes the Crown, a “National Institute” dependent on the Crown and charged with the task of elevating public taste, and an “active citizenry,” about one sixth of the population, elected for life, who vote for candidates to parliament.
The few scholars who work on Kolnai are divided in their judgments of how sympathetic he was to democracy and to liberalism. As the pages of this biography progress, it becomes clear that Kolnai's conservatism increasingly hardened and became a very subtle “Throne and Altar” position, far removed from either democracy or liberalism. That “Throne and Altar” conservatism could be arrived at by an original and inquiring philosophical mind in the middle of the twentieth century raises serious questions for those who confidently assert that only some version of liberal democracy is “historically available” to us.

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