Carl J. Friedrich

Carl J. Friedrich books and biography


Carl Joachim Friedrich

Carl Joachim Friedrich (* June 5, 1901 in Leipzig; † 1984)) was a German-American professor and political theorist.

His writings on Law and Constitutionalism made him one the world's leading political scientists in the post-World War II period. He is one of the most influential scholars of Totalitarianism.



As the son of a renowned professor of medicine (inventor of the surgical rubber glove) and a Prussian countess, Friedrich received an elite classical high school education (at his American naturalization procedure, he described his religion as "Homer"). Friedrich studied under Alfred Weber, the brother of Max Weber, at the University of Heidelberg, where he graduated, after a brief stint working in the Belgian coal mines, in 1925. He first came to America as founder (and president) of the German Academic Exchange Service, when he met (and later married) the love of his life, Lenore Pelham, who was studying at Rockford College outside of Chicago. He then began a distinguished career as a political theorist at Harvard University, where he became professor for “Government” in 1936.

An extremely popular lecturer and author of thirty one volumes (and editor of another twenty-two, then the second most in Harvard's long history), he was also a leading activist in the efforts to repatriate Jewish scholars, lawyers, and journalists from Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes to the United States in the 1930s, with a student of his, a then-unknown scholar named David Riesman by his side. One of those he helped, the pianist Rudolf Serkin, he convinced to give a concert at his farm in Brattleboro, Vermont, an event which led to the establishment of the now-renowned Marlboro Music Festival.

After World War II, he supported American troops in the denazification of Occupied Germany and was involved in the creation of Germany's states' constitutions as well as the constitution of Israel. Between 1954 and 1966 he taught alternately at Harvard and Heidelberg, until his retirement in 1971. He later taught at the University of Manchester and Duke University, among others. He was the teacher of such noted political theorists as Judith Shklar and Benjamin Barber.


Friedrich's concept of a "good democracy" rejected basic democracy as totalitarian. Some of the assumptions of Friedrich's theory of totalitarianism - particularly his acceptance of Carl Schmitt's idea of the "constitutional state" - are viewed as potentially anti-democratic by Hans J. Lietzmann. Klaus von Beyme sees the main focus of Friedrich's theories in the "creation and preservation of robust institutions". This can be seen as influencing his work on the creation of Germany's states' constitutions. He presciently predicted and laid out a theoretical framework for the European Union, and also predicted, from his perspective as a scholar of totalitarianism, that the United States would turn towards dictatorship (his best guess as to when this might occur was the year 2000).



  • Carl J. Friedrich, Der Verfassungsstaat der Neuzeit (The Modern Constitutional State). (Berlin, 1953)
  • Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski: Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956)
  • Carl J. Friedrich, Totalitäre Diktatur (The Totalitarian Dictatorship). (Stuttgart, 1957)
  • Carl J. Friedrich, Man and His Government: An Empirical Theory of Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963)
  • Carl J. Friedrich, The Age of the Baroque: 1610-1660 (New York: Harper & Row, 1952)
  • Carl J. Friedrich, Tradition and Authority (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972)


  • Hans J. Lietzmann, Von der konstitutionellen zur totalitären Diktatur. Carl Joachim Friedrichs Totalitarismustheorie (From Constitutionalism to Totalitarian Dictatorship: Carl Joachim Friedrichs' Totalitarianism Theory). Alfred Söllner, Ed. Totalitarismus. Eine Ideengeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts (Totalitarianism: A History of 20th Century Thought"). (1997)

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