The Limits of State Action

The Limits of State Action
The Limits of State Action by Wilhelm von Humboldt, J. W. Burrow

This text is important both as one of the most interesting contributions to the liberalism of the German Enlightenment, and as the most significant source for the ideas which John Stuart Mill popularized in his essay On Liberty. Humboldt's concern is to define the criteria by which the permissible limits of the state's activities may be determined. His basic principle, like that of Mill, is that the only justification for government interference is the prevention of harm to others. He discusses in detail the role and limits of the state's responsibility for the welfare, security and morals of its citizens. Humboldt's special achievement in this work is to enlarge our sense of what a liberal political theory might be by his particularly sensitive grasp of the complexity of our attitudes to and our need of other people. Dr Burrow has based his translation on Coulthard's version of 1854. In an important introduction, he provides a most perceptive as well as scholarly guide to Humboldt's political thought.

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