László Kontler

laszlo-kontlerMember of the Executive Committee, Founder Member (2009) and Former President of the European Society for the History of Political Thought

Professor of History, Central European University (CEU), Budapest (Hungary)



He is is one of editors of the book series of the European Society for the History of Political Thought, History of European Political and Constitutional Thought, Brill.










“I am a historian born, raised and educated in Budapest, but my academic experience has been shaped by a great deal of time spent at universities and research centres across Europe and in North America. My specific anchorage is in European intellectual history and political thought in the early-modern period and the Enlightenment. This was a quite unusual choice for a historian in Hungary in the 1980s, when my career began (it has become less so in the meantime). My early inspirations were both “Cambridge” (linguistic contextualism) and “Bielefeld” (Begriffsgeschichte); as a historian of political thought, I rendered works by Locke, Hume, Burke and other classics into Hungarian, and published on them as well as Central European topics extensively. From the later 1990s, besides political thought in the strict sense, I became increasingly interested in the politics and history of historical discourses, and in translation and reception in the history of ideas. The outcome has been several articles of a methodological focus, and a monograph and further studies on the German reception of William Robertson, as a case study on the potentials and limitations of intellectual communication across cultural and linguistic frontiers within the enlightened “republic of letters”, and as a contribution to discussions about the unity versus diversity of the European Enlightenment. As this project implied the study of “doing history” as an emerging discipline and as a scholarly and academic practice in the eighteenth century, it also inspired an interest in practices of scholarship more broadly, and the contexts and agendas which shape the production and circulation of scientific knowledge. In studying these subjects, I find that I still benefit greatly from my background in intellectual history and political thought, and endeavour to produce work in these recently discovered territories that is relevant to my older preoccupations.

As regards teaching and curriculum development, over the past thirty years I have taught a broad range of undergraduate and graduate courses, and supervised theses in the field at CEU and elsewhere, most recently participating in the development of an interdisciplinary specialization and advanced certificate programme in political thought, https://pasts.ceu.edu/political-thought . See also the of CEU History of Political Thought Interdisciplinary Research Group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1483542525275981/.

Publications relevant to the history of political thought


Az állam rejtelmei. Brit konzervativizmus és a politika kora újkori nyelvei (The mystery of the state. British conservatism and the early-modern languages of political thought, in Hungarian) (Budapest: Atlantisz, 1997), 318 pp.

Translations, Histories, Enlightenments: William Robertson in Germany 1760-1795 (Basingstoke:Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014)

Edited volumes

Enlightenment and Communication: Regional Experiences and Global Consequences, special issue of European Review of History/Revue européenne d’histoire, 13:3 (2006)

(with Mark Somos), Trust and Happiness in the History of European Political Thought (forthcoming, Leiden: Brill, 2017)

Text editions

Edmund Burke, Töprengések a francia forradalomról (Reflections on the Revolution in France, in Hungarian, Budapest: Atlantisz, 1990) Translation, introduction (pp. 9-80.) and notes by László Kontler. 401 pp.

(with Péter Takács), David Hume, Összes esszéi (Complete essays), 2 vols. (Budapest: Atlantisz, 1992- 1994), 298 + 439 pp.

Konzervativizmus 1593-1872. Szöveggyűjtemény (Conservatism 1593-1872. An anthology, in Hungarian) (Budapest: Osiris, 2000), 644 pp. (selected, edited, notes, partly translation; afterword pp. 573-640.)

John Locke, A vallási türelemről (On religious toleration, in Hungarian) (Budapest: Stencil Kulturális Alapítvány, 2003) 262 pp. (selected, edited, notes, partly translation; introduction pp. 7-55.)

Selected refereed journal articles and book chapters in English

“William Robertson’s history of manners in German 1770-1795”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 1997:1, 125-144.

“The ancien régime in memory and theory. Edmund Burke and his German followers”, European Review of History, 4:1 (1997), 31-43.

“Superstitition, enthusiasm and propagandism: Burke and Gentz on the French Revolution”, in B. Taithe, T. Thornton (eds.): Propaganda. Political Rhetoric and Identity 1300¾2000 (Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 97-114.

“Mahometan Christianity: Islam and the English Deists”, in Eszter Andor, István Gy. Tóth (ed.), Frontiers of Faith. Religious Exchange and the Constitution of Religious Identities 1400-1750. (Budapest: CEU, 2001), 107-120.

“William Robertson and his German audience on European and non-European civilisations”, Scottish Historical Review LXXX (2001), 63-89.

“Historians from the Enlightened Periphery: William Robertson and Mihály Horváth”, The Hungarian Quarterly, 45 (Spring 2004), 109-126.

“Foundation Myths and the Reflection of History in Modern Hungary”, in Sima Godfrey and Frank Unger (eds.), The Shifting Foundation of Modern Nation States (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 131-149.

“Beauty or Beast, or Monstrous Regiments? Robertson and Burke on Women and the Public Scene”, Modern Intellectual History, 1:3 (2004), 305-330.

“Introduction: The Enlightenment in Central Europe?”, in Balázs Trencsényi and Michal Kopecek (eds.), Discourses of Collective Identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945). I: Late Enlightenment – Emergence of the Modern National Idea (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006), 33-44.

“Introduction: What Is the (Historians’) Enlightenment Today?”, in Enlightenment and Communication: Regional Experiences and Global Consequences, ed. László Kontler = European Review of History / Revue d’histoire européenne, special issue 13:3 (2006), 337-355.

(with Balázs Trencsényi) “Hungary”, in Howell Lloyd, Glenn Burgess, Simon Hodson (eds.), Religion, Politics, and Philosophy: European Political Thought 1450-1700 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 176-207.

“Translation and Comparison: Early-Modern and Current Perspectives”, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 3:1 (2007), 71-103.

“Translation and Comparison II: A Methodological Inquiry into reception in the History of Ideas”, Contributions to the History of Concepts, 4:1 (2008), 27-56.

“Time and Progress – Time as Progress. An Enlightened Sermon by William Robertson”, in Tyrus Miller, ed. Given World and Time: Temporalities in Context (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2008), 191-215.

“The Lappon, the Scythian and the Hungarian, or our former selves as Others. Philosophical history in eighteenth-century Hungary”, in Guido Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness. Diversities and Transcultural Experiences in Early Modern European Culture (Trieste: Edizioni Universitá di Trieste, 2011), 131-146.

“Polizey and Patriotism: Joseph von Sonnenfels and the Legitimacy of Enlightened Monarchy in the Gaze of Eighteenth-Century State Sciences”, in Cesare Cuttica, Glenn Burgess (eds.), Monarchism and Absolutism in Early-Modern Europe (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012)

“Mankind and Its Histories: William Robertson, Georg Forster and a Late Eighteenth-Century German Debate”, Intellectual History Review 23:3 (2013), 411-429.

“Historical discourses and the science of man in the late eighteenth century: separate Scottish and German paths?”, in Jean-François Dunyach and Ann Thomson (eds.), The Enlightenment in Scotland: national and international perspectives (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2015), 107-139.

(with Per Pippin Aspaas), “Before and After 1773: Central European Jesuits, the Politics of Language and Discourses of Identity in the Late Eighteenth Century Habsburg Monarchy”, in Gábor Almási and Lav Subarić (eds.), Latin at the Crossroads of Identity. The Evolution of Linguistic Nationalism in the Kingdom of Hungary (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 95-118.

“Enlightenment and Empire”, in John MacKenzie et al. (eds), The Encyclopedia of Empire (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016) , DOI: 10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe318

“Varieties of Old Regime Europe: Thoughts and Details on the Reception of Burke’s Reflections in Germany”, in Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones (eds.), The Reception of Burke in Europe (forthcoming, London: Bloomsbury Books, 2016), 313-329.

“Concepts, contests and contexts: Conceptual history and the problem of translatability”, in Michael Freeden and Willibald Steinmetz (eds.), Conceptual History in the European Space (forthcoming, New York: Berghahn, 2017)

“Review of Paschalis Kitromilides, Enlightenment and Revolution: The Making of Modern Greece”, History of Political Thought (forthcoming)

The Thinker by Rodin