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Benedetto Croce (; February 25, 1866 – November 20, 1952) was an Italian critic, idealist philosopher, and occasionally also a politician. He wrote on numerous topics, including philosophy, history, methodology of history writing and aesthetics, and was a prominent liberal, although he opposed laissez-faire free trade. His influence on Antonio Gramsci is quite notable.
Croce was born in Pescasseroli in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He came from an influential and wealthy family, and was raised in a very strict Catholic environment. Around the age of 16, he turned away from Catholicism and developed a personal view 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 position for the rest of his life. In 1883, an earthquake hit the village of Casamicciola, Ischia, 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 very long time and barely survived. After the incident he inherited his family's fortune and much like Schopenhauer before him was able to live the rest of his life in relative leisure, enabling him to devote a great deal of time to philosophy as an independent intellectual writing from his palazzo in Naples. (Ryn, 2000:xi
). As his fame increased, many pushed him, against his wishes, to go into politics. He was made Minister of Public Education for a year, and later, in 1910, moved to the Italian Senate, a lifelong position. (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 and he became a well-loved public figure. He was also instrumental in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III's move to the Palazzo Reale in 1923.
When the government that made him Minister of Public Education was ousted from power by Mussolini, he was replaced by Giovanni Gentile as the new Minister, with whom Croce had earlier cooperated in philosophical polemic against positivism. Though Benedetto Croce initially supported Benito Mussolini's Fascist government (1922-24), eventually he openly opposed the Fascist Party, while he also distanced himself from his former philosophical partner, Gentile. Croce was seriously threatened by Mussolini's regime, and his home and library was raided by the fascist troopers. He managed to stay outside prison thanks to his status, but he was under 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. In 1944, when democracy was restored, Croce was again made minister of the new government. (Ryn, 2000:xi-xii
). He later left the government and remained president of the Liberal Party until 1947. (Ryn, 2000:xii ).
His most interesting philosophical ideas are divided into 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
[History as the story of liberty: English translation of Croce's 1938 collection of essays originally in Italian; translation published by Libety Fund Inc. in the USA in 2000 with a foreword by Claes G. Ryn. ISBN 0-86597-268-0 (hardback).])
The Philosophy of Spirit
Heavily influenced by Hegel and other German Idealists, such as Fichte, Croce produced what was called, by him, the Philosophy of 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 transcendentalism and sensationalism, 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 philosophy.
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. The 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 confidence.
Croce also held great esteem for Vico, and shared his view that history should be written by philosophers. Croce's ''On History'' sets forth the view of history as "philosophy in motion", that there is no greater "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 Aesthetic'') appears in the form of four lessons (''quattro lezioni''), as he was asked to write and deliver them at the inauguration of Rice University in 1912. He declined the invitation to attend the event; however, 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 claimed that art is more important than science or metaphysics, since only the former edifies us. He felt 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 put forth 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 heavily debated by such contemporary Italian thinkers as Umberto Eco, who locates the aesthetic within a semiotic construction.
Contributions to liberal political theory
Croce's liberalism is unique when compared to the standard Angloamerican definitions of liberal politics: while Croce theorises that the individual is the centre of society, he rejects social atomism, and while Croce accepts limited government, he refuses that the government should have fixed legitimate powers. Croce disagrees with John Locke in the nature of liberty, in the sense that he believes 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 fit into 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.''
*''Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica'' (1900)
*''L'Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale'' (1902), commonly referred to as ''Aesthetic'' in English.
*''Logica come scienza del concetto puro'' (1909)
*''Breviario di estetica'' (1912)
*''Saggio sul Hegel'' (1912)
*''Teoria e storia della storiografia'' (1916)
*''Racconto degli racconti ''(first translation into Italian from Neapolitan of Giambattista Basile's Lo cunto de li cunti, 1925)
*"Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals" (1 May 1925 in ''La Critica'')
*''Ultimi saggi'' (1935)
*''La poesia'' (1936)
*''La storia come pensiero e come azione'' (meaning ''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 USA 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)
*Parente, Alfredo. ''Il pensiero politico di Benedetto Croce e il nuovo liberalismo'' (1944).
*Myra Moss, ''Benedetto Croce reconsidered'',(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.
*Ernesto Paolozzi, ''Benedetto Croce'', Cassitto, Naples, 1998 (tanslated by M. Verdicchio (2008) www.ernestopaolozzi.it)
* Matteo Veronesi, ''Il critico come artista dall'estetismo agli ermetici. D'Annunzio, Croce, Serra, Luzi e altri'', Bologna, Azeta Fastpress, 2006, ISBN 8889982055