István Hont (1947-2013)
The historian and King's Fellow István Hont died last Friday, 29 March, age 65. He was a noted teacher and writer on the history of political thought, in particular on the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Hont was born in Hungary and studied History and Philosophy at the University of Budapest, where he also completed his MA and PhD. His thesis was on ‘David Hume and Scotland’.
He began work as a Research Officer at the Institute of History in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, but in 1974 he and his wife took the decision to move to the UK. Hont had to restart his academic career, and he studied for another PhD, this time at Oxford under the supervision of Hugh Trevor-Roper.
In 1978 he was elected a Fellow of King's and directed, along with Michael Ignatieff, the newly-established Research Centre project on ‘Political Economy and Society 1750-1850’. During the six years of the project he organised a series of ground-breaking conferences, which resulted in Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, which he co-edited with Ignatieff.
Apart from a short period at Columbia University (1986-9), Hont remained at King's. He became University Lecturer then Reader in Political Thought in the Faculty of History, and took a leading role in teaching the history of political thought at the University.
He continued to publish regularly, and developed his interests in David Hume, Adam Smith, the Scottish Enlightenment, commerce, and nationalism. He argued that it was eighteenth-century political economy (in particular that of Hume and Smith), rather than nineteenth-century economics and politics, that established the framework for modern thinking about international politics. His major papers were collected in the prize-winning volume Jealousy of Trade. International Competition and the Nation-State in Historical Perspective (2005).