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Johann Gottfried Herder and Enlightenment Political Thought: From the Reform of Russia to the Anthropology of Bildung

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Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)31-58
Number of pages28
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number1
PublishedApr 2014

King's Authors


This article revises customary interpretations of Johann Gottfried Herder that stress the non-political or anarchical nature of his philosophy and his opposition to Enlightenment thought. Approaching his politics through the idea of Bildung, it argues that Herder first elaborated on this seminal concept in a series of early texts concerned with the reform of Russia. It analyses Herder’s writings on Russia in the context of wider Enlightenment debates about the reform of the Empire, and shows that Bildung was employed as a means to mediate between contrasting models of political action put forward by contemporaries such as Voltaire and Denis Diderot. An outline of the subsequent development of Bildung in his anthropological works reinforces the political intention behind the concept, and situates Herder’s political thought firmly within late eighteenth-century controversies.

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