The Sphere and Duties of Government (1792, 1854)
A mid-19th century translation of this work. “The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument … unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.” This description by Wilhelm von Humboldt of his purpose in writing The Limits of State Action animates John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and serves as its famous epigraph. Seldom has a book spoken so dramatically to another writer. Many commentators even believe that Humboldt’s discussion of issues of freedom and individual responsibility possesses greater clarity and directness than Mill’s. 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 classical 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.
The Sphere and Duties of Government. Translated from the German of Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, by Joseph Coulthard, Jun. (London: John Chapman, 1854).
The text is in the public domain.
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Table of Contents
- CHAPTER I.: introduction.
- CHAPTER II.: of the individual man, and the highest ends of his existence.
- CHAPTER III.: on the solicitude of the state for the positive welfare of the citizen.
- CHAPTER IV.: of the solicitude of the state for the negative welfare of the citizen—for his security.
- CHAPTER V.: on the solicitude of the state for security against foreign enemies.
- CHAPTER VI.: on the solicitude of the state for the mutual security of the citizens.—means for attaining this end.—institutions for reforming the mind and character of the citizen.—national education.
- CHAPTER VII.: religion.
- CHAPTER VIII.: amelioration of morals.
- CHAPTER IX.: the solicitude of the state for security more accurately and positively defined.—further development of the idea of security.
- CHAPTER X.: on the solicitude of the state for security with respect to actions which directly relate to the agent only. (police laws.)
- 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.)
- CHAPTER XII.: on the solicitude of the state for security as manifested in the juridical decision of disputes among the citizens.
- CHAPTER XIII.: on the solicitude for security as manifested in the punishment of transgressions of the state’s laws.
- CHAPTER XIV.: on the solicitude of the state for the welfare of minors, lunatics, and idiots.
- CHAPTER XV.: means for the preservation of the state organism. completion of the theory.
- CHAPTER XVI.: practical application of the theory proposed.