Istvan Hont: In Memoriam

A message from the Chairs on the passing of Istvan Hont:

We would like to acknowledge the passing of Istvan Hont, leading historian of modern political thought and long-term member of CSPT. Dr. Hont passed away on March 29th in Cambridge, UK, where he had been University Reader in the History of Political Thought and Fellow of King’s College. Born in Hungary in 1947, Hont studied History and Philosophy at the University of Budapest, completing his doctorate on “David Hume and Scotland” in 1974 under the supervision of Professor Eva Balázs. Shortly thereafter, Hont moved to the UK and continued his research under Hugh Trevor-Roper at Oxford University, where he also was appointed to the Research Fellowship in Intellectual History at Wolfson College in 1977.

In 1978 Hont became a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and directed, along with Michael Ignatieff, the newly established Research Centre project on “Political Economy and Society 1750-1850.” During the years of the project he organized a series of groundbreaking conferences, one of which resulted in the seminal collection on eighteenth-century political economy, Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1983). Other highlights included a rare public exchange between Duncan Forbes and John Pocock, and the participation of Reinhart Koselleck and other leading exponents of Begriffsgeschichte.

Undergraduate lecturing and leading the MPhil in the History of Political Thought were cornerstones of Hont’s distinguished teaching career at Cambridge. Hont would also teach at Columbia University (1986-89), and held visiting posts at Princeton, Chicago, Harvard, Göttingen, Budapest, Chiba, and, most recently, Jena. He was a much-loved and admired teacher known for his rigor, enthusiasm, and generosity.

A number of Hont’s path-breaking papers in the history of political thought were collected in the award-winning Jealousy of Trade: International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective (Harvard, 2005). The essays, and extensive introduction, offered a fundamental revision of the interlinked development of politics and commerce from debates in seventeenth-century natural jurisprudence to present day concerns about nationalism and globalization.

Hont had been a member and active supporter of CSPT.  He took part, most recently, in the CSPT conference on “Reclaiming Adam Smith” at Columbia University in 2006. Hont had been pursuing a project on Rousseau and Smith as theorists of commercial society, parts of which were delivered as the Carlyle lectures in Oxford in 2009 and as the Benedict lectures at Boston University in 2010. In appreciation and remembrance, we have provided to a link to a roundtable on his BU lectures that took place at Harvard University, which attests to the erudition, range, and ambition of Istvan Hont’s work. Additionally, we are attaching two synoptic reviews of Jealousy of Trade by John Robertson and Richard Bourke, respectively.

Karuna Mantena & Bryan Garsten, CSPT Co-Chairs

John Robertson, Review of Jealousy of Trade
Richard Bourke, It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Rousseau and Smith: A Conversation with Istvan Hont
(with Richard Tuck, Eric Nelson, Michael Frazer, and Aaron Garrett)