BENEDETTO CROCE (Italian: ; 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 both Marxist
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
Nobel Prize in Literature sixteen
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Political involvement
* 1.2 Relations with
* 1.3 The new Republic
* 1.4 Philosophical works
* 2 The
Philosophy of Spirit
* 2.1 The Domains of Mind
* 4 Beauty
* 5 Contributions to liberal political theory
* 6 Selected quotations
* 7 Selected bibliography
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 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
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, 2000:xi ).
He studied law, but never graduated, at the University of
while reading extensively on historical materialism . His ideas were
publicized at the University of Rome towards the end of the 1890s by
Antonio Labriola . Croce was well acquainted with and
sympathetic to the developments in European socialist philosophy
August Bebel ,
Friedrich Engels ,
Karl Kautsky , Paul
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
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, 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
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
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
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
Fascism as 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
Fascism as 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
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
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
Philosophy of Spirit").
THE 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 absence.
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
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 refuses 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, 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: Kessinger, 2004.
* 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
Giambattista Basile 's
Pentamerone , Lo cunto de li
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
the story of liberty in 1941 in London by George Allen
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* ^ Robin Headlam Wells, Glenn Burgess, Rowland Wymer (eds.),
Neo-historicism: Studies in Renaissance Literature, History, and
Politics, Boydell 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 1938 .
* ^ Croce, Benedetto 'The
Giambattista Vico ' trans
R.G.Collingwood London, 1923
* ^ Denis Mack Smith, "Benedetto Croce:
History and Politics",
Journal of Contemporary
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
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,
History as 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,
* Parente, Alfredo. Il pensiero politico di
Benedetto Croce e il
nuovo liberalismo (1944).
* Hayden White, "The Abiding Relevance of Croce's Idea of History."
The Journal of Modern History, vol. XXXV, no 2, June 1963, pp.
* Hayden White, "The Question of Narrative in Contemporary
History and Theory, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1984),
* 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 the
Philosophy of History, ed. William Debbins (University
of Texas 1965) at 3–22.
* Roberts, Jeremy, Benito Mussolini, Twenty-First Century Books,
2005. ISBN 978-0-8225-2648-3 .
* 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::