Kjellén, Rudolf

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Kjellén, Rudolf



Rudolf Kjellén (1864–1922), Swedish political scientist, politician, and publicist, was born in a vicarage on Torsö, an island in the lake of Vener, and was raised in a conservative Lutheran atmosphere typical of the period. He studied at the University of Uppsala, where he came under the influence of Oscar Alin, professor of political science and one of the conservative leaders of the Swedish Senate.

Kjellén taught at the University of Gothenburg from 1891 until 1916, when he became professor of political science at Uppsala. From 1905 to 1908 and again from 1911 to 1917 he was a free conservative member of the Swedish parliament. His integrity and eloquence were highly appreciated, but his political importance may have been diminished by a rhetoric too high-flown for the dispassionate Swedish parliament.

Many influences shaped his thought. He was touched both by the realistic European literature of the 1880s and by the romantic Swedish poetry of the 1890s. The strong Linnaean tradition in Swedish culture and his own hobby, ornithology, made him particularly receptive to the current biological modes of thought. Many ideas were suggested to him by the works of the geographer Friedrich Ratzel. The imperialistic theories of Heinrich von Treitschke and John R. Seeley and the imperialistic struggles among nations at the turn of the century changed his conception of the state. He came to see it not simply as a Rechtssubjekt, a legal abstraction, but as a reality, an organism.

Kjellén felt it was the business of historians and political scientists to study the state. He read Seeley’s Expansion of England (1883) and was impressed with the assertion that history must be “scientific in its method”; this was an idea common to many social scientists at that time, such as Comte, Marx, and Spencer. Later, Seeley extended this aim to the political sciences (Introduction to Political Science, 1896), referring explicitly to Linnaeus as a master of “description and classification.” Although it is not clear whether Kjellén read Seeley’s Introduction, he certainly shared his approach to political science. In fact he once confessed that it was his ambition to be known as a forerunner of some future Linnaeus of the political sciences.

Kjellén published a statement in 1901 (see reprint in [1916] 1924), asserting that the primary task for political science is to give a systematic account of modern states and the laws that governed their development. In Stormakterna (1905) he followed his earlier programmatic statement with a realistic analysis of the great powers of the time. In discussing the factors which caused their development he tended (following Ratzel and Lamprecht, but not going as far as H. T. Buckle) to stress the material ones over the psychological.

During World War I, Kjellén was much preoccupied with the dangers of Russian expansion and the decline of European power and, under the spell of Nietzsche and Sombart, he predicted the replacement of the old values of liberty, equality, and fraternity by duty, order, and rectitude. After the war he returned to more systematic writing, developing the principles of an organic system of political science in Staten som lifsform (1916), Schweden (1917), and finally in Grundriss zu einem System der Politik (1920). Schweden represents the application of his system to a modern state.

The study of the political organism (the state) has the following aspects:

(1) Geopolitik, a term inspired by Ratzel’s politische Geographic, describes those conditions and problems of the state which originate in its geographic characteristics;

(2) Oecopolitik deals with the economic factors which influence the position and power of the state;

(3) Demopolitik deals with the racial and ethnic composition of the state and the problems caused by that composition;

(4) Sociopolitik analyzes the social groups and classes of the state and the way in which they affect its unity;

(5) Kratopolitik describes and analyzes the constitutional law and the constitutional life of the state, discussing institutions and organizations such as political parties and pressure groups.

Like many modern sociologists, Kjellén gave much attention to terminology. Although material considerations were always of primary importance in his investigations, he did occasionally use as romantic a term as Volksgeist (borrowed from the German historical school).

At the time of his death Kjellén was working on a book in which he hoped to give a systematic exposition and analysis of the different forms of constitutions and their inherent tendencies. He was particularly interested in the tendency of democracies to move toward Caesarism.

Kjellén’s importance to Swedish political science can be seen in the change of emphasis in the literature from a juridical point of view to a political one. However, his influence in Germany was far greater than it ever was in Sweden. Geopolitik became in Germany an ideological slogan, some-times rather remote from the social scientific context in which Kjellén had developed the concept.

There were many conflicting tendencies in Kjellén’s personality. He was an idealist, but he tried to construct a naturalist conception of the state. He was a moralist with a great respect for Ibsenian individualism and humanistic ideas, but he also had great understanding of the politicians “beyond good and evil” and of the imperialists with their tough-minded methods.

Georg AndrÉn

[For the historical context of Kjellén’s work, seePolitical Science; and the biographies ofLamprecht; Ratzel; Some Art; Treitschke.]


1897 Om den svenska grundlagens anda. Göteborg, Högskola, Göteborg högskolas årsskift, 1897: no. 5. University of Gothenburg.

(1905) 1911–1913 Stormakterna: Konturer kuring samtidens storpolitik. 4 vols., 2d ed. Stockholm: Gerber. → Volume 1: F.d. stormakter samt Österrike-Ungern och Italien. Volume 2: Frankrike och Tyskland. Volume 3: Det Brittiska världsriket. Volume 4: Förenta staterna; Ryssland; Japan; Slutsatser.

(1914) 1933 Die Grossmächte vor und nach dem Weltkriege. 24th ed., rev. & enl. Edited by Karl Haushofer. Leipzig: Teubner. → First published as Samtidens stormakter.

1914–1915 Politiska essayer: Studier till dagskrönikan (1907–1913). 3 vols. Stockholm: Gerber. → Volume 1: Internationell politik och geopolitik. Volume 2:Sam-häalls- och författningspolitik. Volume 3: Svensk statsrätt och svensk geopolitik.

(1916) 1924 Der Staat als Lebensform. 4th ed. Berlin: Vowinckel. → First published in Swedish as Stolen som lifsform.

1917 Schweden. Munich: Oldenbourg. → Published as Sverige the same year.

1920 Grundriss zu einem System der Politik. Leipzig: Hirzel.

1921 Dreibund und Dreiverband: Die diplomatische Vorgeschichte des Weltkriegs. Rev. ed. Munich: Duncker & Humblot. → First published as “Die Koalitionspolitik im Zeitalter 1871–1914” in Schmollers Jahrbuch.


ArrhÉn, Erik 1933 Rudolf Kjellén och “unghögern”: Sammanställning och diskussion. Stockholm: Seelig.

Elvander, Nils 1961 Harald Hjärne och konservatismen: Konservativ idédebatt i Sverige, 1865–1922. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Haussleiter, Otto 1925 Rudolf Kjlléns empirische Staatslehre und ihre Wurzeln in politischer Geographic und Staatenkunde. Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 54: 157–198.

Kihlberg, Mats; and SÖderlind, Donald 1961 Två studier i svensk konservatism: 1916–1922. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Seeley, John R. (1883) 1931 The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures. London: Macmillan.

Seeley, John R. (1896) 1923 Introduction to Political Science: Two Series of Lectures. London: Macmillan.

Vogel, W. 1926 Rudolf Kjellén und seine Bedeutung für die deutsche Staatslehre. Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft 81: 193–241.