Political Theory

Liberty, Individuality, and History in the Thought of Wilhelm von Humboldt


This conference examined the themes of individuality and individual liberty as they present themselves in Humboldt’s two most influential works—The Limits of State Action (1791/1792) and "On the Task of the Historian" (1821)—in order to assess their significance to the overall understanding of human freedom and the institutions necessary to sustain liberty. In particular, conferees discussed whether his thought forms the basis for a viable theory of a free society or a turn to more romantic forms of nineteenth-century mystical irrationality and collectivist holism.


Conference Readings

Beiser, Frederick C. The German Historicist Tradition. New York: Oxford, 2011.

Humboldt, Wilhelm von. “On the Historian’s Task.” History and Theory 6, no. 1 (1967): 57-71.

Humboldt, Wilhelm von. On Language: On the Diversity of Human Language Construction and its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species. Edited by Michael Losonsky. Compiled by Peter Heath. New York: Cambridge, 1999.

Humboldt, Wilhelm von. The Limits of State Action. Edited by J. W. Burrow. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1993.

Sweet, Paul R. “Young Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Writings (1789-93) Reconsidered.” Journal of the History of Ideas 34, no. 3 (July-September 1973): 469-482.