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Limits of State Action

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Hayek called Humboldt Germany's greatest philosopher of freedom.
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Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was one of the great thinkers in the history of the German nation and language, a leading light of the German liberal school that is now being rediscovered by a new generation of libertarians. This is his great treatise - an essential read for any lover of freedom.

He was a friend of Goethe and Schiller, a philosopher, a diplomat, an educator, and a specialist in language. He was also the inspiration for many generations of true lovers of liberty in the German-speaking world and beyond. In some ways, his spirit pervades even the works of Mises and Hayek and their contemporaries.

In fact, when Mises listed the five architects of classical liberalism, he named four English thinkers and one German: Humboldt.

"The true end of man — not that which capricious inclination prescribes for him, but that which is prescribed by eternally immutable reason — is the highest and most harmonious cultivation of his faculties into one whole. For this cultivation, freedom is the first and indispensable condition."

Ralph Raico writes: "If we ask what are the primary contributions of Humboldt to libertarian thought, we will find the answer in his ideas on the value of the free, self-sustaining activity of the individual, and of the importance of the unhindered collaboration — often unconscious — of the members of society."

The Limits of State Action, by "Germany's greatest philosopher of freedom," as F. A. Hayek called him, has an exuberance and attention to principle that make it a valuable introduction to liberal political thought. It is also crucial for an understanding of liberalism as it developed in Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Humboldt explores the role that liberty plays in individual development, discusses criteria for permitting the state to limit individual actions, and suggests ways of confining the state to its proper bounds. In so doing, he uniquely combines the ancient concern for human excellence and the modern concern for what has come to be known as negative liberty. - J. W. Burrow is Professor of History at the University of Sussex.


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Chapter I --- Introduction 3

Chapter II -- Of the individual man, and the highest ends of his existence 10

Chapter III -- On the solicitude of the State for the positive welfare of the citizen 16

Chapter IV -- Of the solicitude of the State for the negative welfare of the citizen n For his security 38

Chapter V -- On the solicitude of the State for security against foreign enemies 41

Chapter VI -- On the solicitude of the State for the mutual security of the citizens n Means for attaining this end n Institutions for reforming the mind and character of the citizen n National education 46

Chapter VII -- Religion 53

Chapter VIII -- Amelioration of morals 70

Chapter IX -- The solicitude of the State for security more accurately and positively defined n Further development of the idea of security 82

Chapter X -- On the solicitude of the State for security with respect to actions which directly relate to the agent only (Police laws) 86

Chapter XI -- On the solicitude of the State for security with respect to such of the citizens’ actions as relate directly to others (Civil laws) 94

Chapter XII -- On the solicitude of the State for security as manifested in the juridical decision of disputes among the citizens 106

Chapter XIII -- On the solicitude for security as manifested in the punishment of transgressions of the State’s laws (Criminal laws) 110

Chapter XIV --- On the solicitude of the State for the welfare of minors, lunatics, and idiots 127

Chapter XV -- Measures for the maintenance of the State n Completion of the theory 134

Chapter XVI -- Practical application of the theory proposed 139

Index 149

Comparative table of subjects in Wilhelm von Humboldt's Limits of State Action and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty

ISBN 9780865971097
Publisher Liberty Fund
Publication Date 1993
Binding PB
Page Length 158

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