Benedetto Croce (Italian: [beneˈdetto ˈkroːtʃe]; 25 February
1866 – 20 November 1952) was an Italian idealist philosopher,
historian and politician, who wrote on numerous topics, including
philosophy, history, historiography and aesthetics. In most regards,
Croce was a liberal, although he opposed laissez-faire free trade and
had considerable influence on other Italian intellectuals, including
Antonio Gramsci and fascist Giovanni Gentile. Croce was
President of PEN International, the worldwide writers' association,
from 1949 until 1952. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in
Literature sixteen times.
1.1 Political involvement
1.2 Relations with Fascism
1.3 The new Republic
1.4 Philosophical works
Philosophy of Spirit
2.1 The Domains of Mind
5 Contributions to liberal political theory
6 Selected quotations
7 Selected bibliography
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Croce was born in
Pescasseroli in the
Abruzzo region of Italy. His
family was influential and wealthy, and he was raised in a very strict
Catholic environment. Around the age of 16, he quit Catholicism and
developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life, in which religion
cannot be anything but an historical institution where the creative
strength of mankind can be expressed. He kept this philosophy for the
rest of his life.
In 1883, an earthquake occurred in the village of Casamicciola on the
Ischia near Naples, where he was on holiday with his family,
destroying the home they lived in. His mother, father, and only sister
were all killed, while he was buried for a long time and barely
survived. After the earthquake he inherited his family's fortune
and—much like Schopenhauer—was able to live the rest of his life
in relative leisure, devoting a great deal of time to philosophy as an
independent intellectual writing from his palazzo in Naples. (Ryn,
He studied law, but never graduated, at the University of Naples,
while reading extensively on historical materialism. His ideas were
publicized at the University of Rome towards the end of the 1890s by
Professor Antonio Labriola. Croce was well acquainted with and
sympathetic to the developments in European socialist philosophy
exemplified by August Bebel, Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, Paul
Lafargue, Wilhelm Liebknecht, and Filippo Turati.
Influenced by Neapolitan-born Gianbattista Vico's thoughts about art
and history, he began studying philosophy in 1893. Croce also
purchased the house in which Vico had lived. His friend, the
philosopher Giovanni Gentile, encouraged him to read Hegel. Croce's
famous commentary on Hegel, What is Living and What is Dead in the
Philosophy of Hegel, was published in 1907.
As his fame increased, Croce was persuaded, against his initial
wishes,[verification needed] to become involved with politics. He was
appointed to the Italian Senate, a lifelong position, in 1910. (Ryn,
2000:xi). He was an open critic of Italy's participation in World
War I, feeling that it was a suicidal trade war. Though this made him
initially unpopular, his reputation was restored after the war. He was
Minister of Public Education between 1920 and 1921 for the 5th and
last government headed by Giovanni Giolitti.
Benito Mussolini assumed
power slightly more than a year after Croce's exit from government;
Mussolini's first Minister of Public Education was Giovanni Gentile,
an independent who later became a fascist and with whom Croce had
earlier cooperated in a philosophical polemic against positivism.
Gentile remained minister for only a year, but managed to begin a
comprehensive reform of Italian education that was based partly on
Croce's earlier suggestions. Gentile's reform remained in force well
beyond the Fascist regime, and was only partly abolished in 1962.
Croce was instrumental in the relocation of the Biblioteca Nazionale
Vittorio Emanuele III to Naples'
Palazzo Reale in 1923.
Relations with Fascism
Croce initially supported Mussolini's Fascist government that took
power in 1922. However, the assassination by Fascists of the
socialist politician, Giacomo Matteotti, in June 1924 shook Croce's
support for Mussolini. In May 1925 Croce was one of the signatories to
Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals which had been written
by Croce himself; however in June of the previous year he had voted in
the Senate in support of the Mussolini government. He later explained
that he had hoped that the support for Mussolini in parliament would
weaken the more extreme Fascists who, he believed, were responsible
for Matteotti's murder.
Croce was seriously threatened by Mussolini's regime, though the only
act of physical violence he suffered at the hands of the fascists was
the ransacking of his home and library in
Naples in November 1926.
Although he managed to stay outside prison thanks to his reputation,
he remained subject to surveillance, and his academic work was kept in
obscurity by the government, to the extent that no mainstream
newspaper or academic publication ever referred to him. Croce later
coined the term onagrocrazia (literally "government by asses") to
emphasize the anti-intellectual and boorish tendencies of parts of the
Fascist regime. However, in describing
anti-intellectual Croce ignored the many Italian intellectuals who at
the time actively supported Mussolini's regime, including Croce's
former friend and colleague, Gentile. Croce also described
malattia morale (literally "moral illness"). When Mussolini's
government adopted antisemitic policies in 1938, Croce was the only
non-Jewish intellectual who refused to complete a government
questionnaire designed to collect information on the so-called "racial
background" of Italian intellectuals.
The new Republic
In 1944, when democracy was restored in Southern Italy, Croce, as an
"icon of liberal anti-fascism", became minister without portfolio in
governments headed by
Pietro Badoglio and by
Ivanoe Bonomi (Ryn,
2000:xi–xii). He left the government in July 1944 but
remained president of the Liberal Party until 1947 (Ryn, 2000:xii).
Croce voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum of June
1946, after having persuaded his Liberal party to adopt a neutral
stance. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly which existed in
Italy between June 1946 and January 1948. He spoke in the Assembly
against the Peace treaty (signed in February 1947), which he regarded
as humiliating for Italy. He declined to stand as provisional
President of Italy.
Croce's most interesting philosophical ideas are expounded in three
works: Aesthetic (1902), Logic (1908), and
Philosophy of the Practical
(1908), but his complete work is spread over 80 books and 40 years
worth of publications in his own bimonthly literary magazine, La
Critica. (Ryn, 2000:xi) Croce was philosophically a pantheist, but,
from a religious point of view, an agnostic; however, he did
publish an essay entitled "Why We Cannot
Help Calling Ourselves
Christians". This essay shows the Christian roots of European culture,
but religion is considered by Croce a mere propaedeutic study for
philosophy, which is the only true science: philosophy is in fact the
science of spirit (the "
Philosophy of Spirit").
Philosophy of Spirit
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Heavily influenced by
Hegel and other German Idealists such as
Schelling, Croce produced what was called, by him, the
Spirit. His preferred designations were "Absolute Idealism" or
"Absolute Historicism". Croce's work can be seen as a second attempt
(contra Kant) to resolve the problems and conflicts between empiricism
and rationalism (or sensationalism and transcendentalism,
respectively). He calls his way immanentism, and concentrates on the
lived human experience, as it happens in specific places and times.
Since the root of reality is this immanent existence in concrete
experience, Croce places aesthetics at the foundation of his
The Domains of Mind
Croce's methodological approach to philosophy is expressed in his
divisions of the spirit, or mind. He divides mental activity first
into the theoretical, and then the practical. The theoretical division
splits between aesthetic and logic. This theoretical aesthetic
includes most importantly: intuitions and history. The logical
includes concepts and relations. Practical spirit is concerned with
economics and ethics. Economics is here to be understood as an
exhaustive term for all utilitarian matters.
Each of these divisions have an underlying structure that colors, or
dictates, the sort of thinking that goes on within them. While
Aesthetic is driven by beauty, Logic is subject to truth, Economics is
concerned with what is useful, and the moral, or Ethics, is bound to
the good. This schema is descriptive in that it attempts to elucidate
the logic of human thought; however, it is prescriptive as well, in
that these ideas form the basis for epistemological claims and
Croce also had great esteem for Vico, and shared his opinion that
history should be written by philosophers. Croce's On
forth the view of history as "philosophy in motion", that there is no
"cosmic design" or ultimate plan in history, and that the "science of
history" was a farce.
Croce's work Breviario di estetica (The Essence of Aesthetics) appears
in the form of four lessons (quattro lezioni) that he was asked to
write and deliver at the inauguration of
Rice University in 1912. He
declined an invitation to attend the event, but he wrote the lessons
and submitted them for translation, so that they could be read in his
In this brief, but dense, work, Croce sets forth his theory of art. He
believed that art is more important than science or metaphysics, since
only art edifies us. He claimed that all we know can be reduced to
logical and imaginative knowledge.
Art springs from the latter, making
it at its heart, pure imagery. All thought is based in part on this,
and it precedes all other thought. The task of an artist is then to
invent the perfect image that they can produce for their viewer, since
this is what beauty fundamentally is – the formation of inward,
mental images in their ideal state. Our intuition is the basis of
forming these concepts within us.
This theory was later debated by such contemporary Italian
philosophers as Umberto Eco, who locates the aesthetic within a
Contributions to liberal political theory
Croce's liberalism differs from the theories advocated by most
proponents of liberal political thought, including those in Britain
and in the United States of America: while Croce theorises that the
individual is the basis of society, he rejects social atomism, and
while Croce accepts limited government, he disputes the idea that the
government should have fixed legitimate powers.
Croce did not agree with
John Locke about the nature of liberty. Croce
believed that liberty is not a natural right but an earned right that
arises out of continuing historical struggle for its maintenance.
Croce defined civilization as the "continual vigilance" against
barbarism, and liberty conformed to his ideal for civilization as it
allows one to experience the full potential of life.
Croce also rejects egalitarianism as absurd. In short, his variety of
liberalism is aristocratic, as he views society being led by the few
who can create the goodness of truth, civilization, and beauty, with
the great mass of citizens simply benefiting from them but unable to
fully comprehend their creations (Ryn, 2000:xii).
"All history is contemporary history."
"As an historian, [I] realize how arbitrary, fantastic and
inconclusive are theories of race."
"Until eighteen years old everyone writes poems. After that only two
categories of people continue to do so: the poets and the idiots."
Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica (1900). English edition:
Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx. Whitefish, MT:
L'Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale
(1902), commonly referred to as Aesthetic in English.
Benedetto Croce, (1908)
Philosophy of the Practical Economic and
Douglas Ainslie (trans.) (1913) Macmillan and Co., Limited,
Croce, Benedetto (1909). Logica come scienza del concetto puro,
Edizione 2. Bari, Italy: Gius. Laterza & Figli.
Croce, Benedetto (1912). La Rivoluzione Napoletana del 1799 :
biografie, racconti, ricerche. Terza Edizione Aumentata. Bari, Italy:
Gius. Laterza & Figli.
Breviario di estetica (1912)
Croce, Benedetto (1915). What is Living and What is Dead of the
Hegel (Saggio sullo Hegel);
Douglas Ainslie (trans.). St
Martin's St, London, England: Macmillan and Co.
Croce, Benedetto (1920). Teoria e storia della storiografia. Bari,
Italy: Gius. Laterza & Figli.
See English edition: Theory and history of Historiography, Douglas
Ainslie, Editor: George G. Harrap. London (1921).
Racconto degli racconti (first translation into Italian from
Neapolitan of Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone, Lo cunto de li cunti,
"Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals" (1 May 1925 in La
Ultimi saggi (1935)
La poesia (1936)
La storia come pensiero e come azione (
History as thought and as
action; 1938), translated in English by Sylvia Sprigge as History
as the story of liberty in 1941 in London by George Allen & Unwin
and in US by W.W. Norton. The most recent edited translation based on
that of Sprigge is
Liberty Fund Inc. in 2000. The 1941 English
translation is accessible online through Questia.
Il carattere della filosofia moderna (1941)
Filosofia e storiografia (1949)
Contributions to liberal theory
^ Robin Headlam Wells, Glenn Burgess, Rowland Wymer (eds.),
Neo-historicism: Studies in Renaissance Literature, History, and
Politics, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2000, p. 3.
^ Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, The Routledge Companion to
Aesthetics, Routledge, 2002, ch. 11: "Expressivism: Croce and
^ Benedetto Croce, Breviario di estetica, 1912: "Not the idea, but the
feeling, is what confers upon art the airy lightness of a symbol: an
aspiration enclosed in the circle of a representation—that is art."
[Non l'idea, ma il sentimento è quel che conferisce all'arte l'aerea
leggerezza del simbolo: un'aspirazione chiusa nel giro di una
rappresentazione, ecco l'arte.]
^ Lorenzo Benadusi, Giorgio Caravale, George L. Mosse's Italy:
Interpretation, Reception, and
Intellectual Heritage, Palgrave
Macmillan, 2014, p. 17
^ "Nomination Database". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 31 January
^ a b c d e f g
History as the story of liberty: English translation
of Croce's 1938 collection of essays originally in Italian;
translation published by
Liberty Fund Inc. in the US in 2000 with a
foreword by Claes G. Ryn. ISBN 0-86597-268-0 (hardback). See
^ Croce, Benedetto 'The
Philosophy of Giambattista Vico' trans
R.G.Collingwood London, 1923
^ Denis Mack Smith, "Benedetto Croce:
History and Politics", Journal
History Vol 8(1) Jan 1973 pg 47.
^ See the detailed description in a letter by Fausto Nicolini to
Giovanni Gentile published in Sasso, Gennaro (1989). Per invigilare me
stesso. Bologna: Il mulino. pp. 139–40.
^ It is a disdainful term for misgovernment, a late and satirical
addition to Aristotle's famous three: tyranny, oligarchy, and
^ For about a month in the so-called Second Badoglio government and
again for a month in the Second Bonomi government.
^ La Critica. Rivista di Letteratura, Storia e Filosofia diretta da B.
Croce, 1, 1903 p. 372
^ Umberto Eco, "A Theory of Semiotics" (Indiana University Press.
^ Allan, George (1972). "Croce and Whitehead On Concrescence". Process
Studies. 2 (2): 95–111. Allan lists the sources Croce,
the Story of Liberty, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1941 (see
Croce 1938) and Croce, History: Its Theory and Practice, New York:
Russell & Russell, 1960.
^ Quoted in Salomone, William A.,
Italy from Risorgimento to Fascism:
an Inquiry into the Origins of the Totalitarian State.
^ Benedetto Croce, Poesia popolare e poesia d'arte, Laterza, Bari,
Parente, Alfredo. Il pensiero politico di
Benedetto Croce e il nuovo
Hayden White, "The Abiding Relevance of Croce's Idea of History." The
Journal of Modern History, vol. XXXV, no 2, June 1963, pp. 109-124.
Hayden White, "The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical
History and Theory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1984), pp. 1–33.
Myra E. Moss,
Benedetto Croce reconsidered: Truth and Error in
Theories of Art, Literature, and
History ,(1987). Hanover, NH: UP of
New England, 1987.
Ernesto Paolozzi, Science and
Philosophy in Benedetto Croce, in
"Rivista di Studi Italiani", University of Toronto, 2002.
Janos Keleman, A Paradoxical Truth. Croce's Thesis of Contemporary
History, in "Rivista di Studi Italiani, University of Toronto, 2002.
Giuseppe Gembillo, Croce and the Theorists of Complexity, in "Rivista
di Studi Italiani, University of Toronto, 2002.
Fabio Fernando Rizi,
Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism, University
of Toronto Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8020-3762-6.
Ernesto Paolozzi, Benedetto Croce, Cassitto, Naples, 1998 (translated
by M. Verdicchio (2008) www.ernestopaolozzi.it)
Carlo Schirru, Per un’analisi interlinguistica d’epoca: Grazia
Deledda e contemporanei, Rivista Italiana di Linguistica e di
Dialettologia, Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa–Roma, Anno XI, 2009, pp.
Matteo Veronesi, Il critico come artista dall'estetismo agli ermetici.
D'Annunzio, Croce, Serra, Luzi e altri, Bologna, Azeta Fastpress,
2006, ISBN 88-89982-05-5
Roberts, David D.
Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism.
Berkeley: U of California Press, (1987).
Claes G. Ryn, Will, Imagination and Reason: Babbitt, Croce and the
Problem of Reality (1997; 1986).
R. G. Collingwood, "Croce's
Philosophy of History" in The Hibbert
Journal, XIX: 263–278 (1921), collected in Collingwood, Essays in
Philosophy of History, ed. William Debbins (University of Texas
1965) at 3–22.
Roberts, Jeremy, Benito Mussolini, Twenty-First Century Books, 2005.
Richard Bellamy, A Modern Interpreter:
Benedetto Croce and the
Politics of Italian Culture, in The European Legacy, 2000, 5:6, pp.
845-861. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/713665534
Daniela La Penna, The Rise and Fall of Benedetto Croce: Intellectual
Positionings in the Italian Cultural Field, 1944-1947, in Modern
Italy, 2016, 21:2, pp. 139-155. DOI::
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Benedetto Croce
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce
Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, founded by Benedetto Croce
Benedetto Croce at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Benedetto Croce at Internet Archive
Benedetto Croce at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Online English translations of books by Croce
Aesthetics At the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Carlo Scognamiglio Pasini, "Liberismo e liberalismo nella polemica fra
Croce ed Einaudi" (in Italian)
Antonio Zanfarino, "Liberalismo e liberismo. Il confronto
Croce-Einaudi" (in Italian)
Non-profit organization positions
International President of PEN International
Charles Langbridge Morgan
ISNI: 0000 0001 2135 5490
BNF: cb11898185z (data)