Benedetto Croce

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The Honourable
Benedetto Croce
Member of the Italian Senate
In office
8 May 1948 – 20 November 1952
Constituency Naples
Member of the Italian Constituent Assembly
In office
25 June 1946 – 31 January 1948
Constituency At-large
Minister of Public Education
In office
15 June 1920 – 4 July 1921
Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti
Preceded by Andrea Torre
Succeeded by Orso Mario Corbino
Member of the Italian Royal Senate
In office
26 January 1910 – 24 June 1946
Monarch Victor Emmanuel III
Personal details
Born (1866-02-25)February 25, 1866
Pescasseroli, Italy
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Naples, Italy
Spouse(s) Adele Rossi (m. 1914; d. 1952)
Domestic partner Angelina Zampanelli (m. 1893; her d. 1913)
Children Elena, Alda, Silvia, Lidia
Profession Historian, writer, landowner

Philosophy career
Era 20th-century
Region Western philosophy
School Idealism
Historism[1] (storicismo)
Main interests
History, aesthetics, politics
Notable ideas
Aesthetic expressivism[2] (art expresses emotions, not ideas)[3]

Benedetto Croce (Italian: [beneˈdetto ˈkroːtʃe]; February 25, 1866 – November 20, 1952) was an Italian critic, idealist philosopher, historian, and politician. He wrote on numerous topics, including philosophy, history, historiography and aesthetics. He 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.

He was President of PEN International, the worldwide writers' association, from 1949 until 1952. He was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature sixteen times.[5]


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 island of 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, 2000:xi[6]).

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,[7] 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.

Political involvement

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[6]). 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 or 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.[8] 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 the 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.[9] 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.[10] 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[6]).[11] He left the government in July 1944 but remained president of the Liberal Party until 1947 (Ryn, 2000:xii[6]).

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.

Philosophical works

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[6]) Croce was philosophically a pantheist, but, from a religious point of view, an agnostic;[12] 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").

The Philosophy of Spirit

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Heavily influenced by Hegel and other German Idealists such as Schelling, 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 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 philosophy.

The Domains of Mind

Croce in 1949

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 confidence.


Croce also had great esteem for Vico, and shared his opinion 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 "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 philosophers as Umberto Eco, who locates the aesthetic within a semiotic construction.[13]

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[6]).

Selected quotations

  • "All history is contemporary history."[14]
  • "As an historian, [I] realize how arbitrary, fantastic and inconclusive are theories of race."[15]
  • "Until eighteen years old everyone writes poems. After that only two categories of people continue to do so: the poets and the idiots."[16]


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Philosophy of spirit

  • Estetica come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale (1902)
  • Logica come scienza del concetto puro (1909)
  • Filosofia della pratica. Economica ed Etica (1909)
  • Teoria e storia della storiografia (1920)

Philosophical essays

  • Ciò che è vivo e ciò che è morto della filosofia di Hegel (1907)
  • Problemi di estetica (1910)
  • La filosofia di Giambattista Vico (1911)
  • Saggio sullo Hegel: seguito da altri scritti di storia della filosofia (1913)
  • Breviario di Estetica (1913)
  • Materialismo storico ed economia marxistica (1918)
  • Nuovi saggi di estetica (1920)
  • Frammenti di Etica (1922)
  • La poesia. Introduzione alla critica e storia della poesia e della letteratura (1937)
  • La storia come pensiero e come azione (1938)
  • Il carattere della filosofia moderna (1941)
  • Etica e politica (1943)
  • Ultimi saggi (1948)
  • Discorsi di varia filosofia (1945; 2 vols.)
  • Filosofia e storiografia (1949)
  • Indagini su Hegel e schiarimenti filosofici (1998)
  • Perché non possiamo non dirci "cristiani" (1998)


  • Il caso Gentile e la disonestà nella vita universitaria italiana (1909)
  • Lirici Marinisti (1910)
  • Primi saggi (1918)
  • L'Italia dal 1914 al 1918. Pagine sulla guerra (1919)
  • Pagine sparse (1919–55; 3 vols.)
  • Cultura e vita morale (1926)
  • Carteggio Croce-Vossler (1951)
  • Scritti e discorsi politici (1993)

Writings of literary and political history

  • Saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento (1911)
  • La rivoluzione napoletana del 1799 (1912)
  • La letteratura della nuova Italia (1914–50; 6 vols.)
  • I teatri di Napoli dal Rinascimento alla fine del secolo decimottavo (1916)
  • Poesia e non poesia (1916)
  • La Spagna nella vita italiana durante la Rinascenza (1917)
  • Storie e leggende napoletane (1919)
  • Goethe (1919)
  • Una famiglia di patrioti ed altri saggi storici e critici (1919)
  • Ariosto, Shakespeare e Corneille (1920)
  • Storia della storiografia italiana nel secolo decimonono (1921–30; 2 vols.)
  • La poesia di Dante (1921)
  • Conversazioni critiche (1924)
  • Storia del Regno di Napoli (1925)
  • Uomini e cose della vecchia Italia (1927)
  • Storia d'Italia dal 1871 al 1915 (1928)
  • Storia dell'età barocca in Italia (1928)
  • Isabella di Morra e Diego Sandoval de Castro (1929)
  • Varietà di storia letteraria e civile (1935)
  • Vite di avventure, di fede e di passione (1936)
  • Poesia antica e moderna (1941)
  • Aneddoti di varia letteratura (1942)
  • Poeti e scrittori del pieno e del tardo Rinascimento (1945)
  • La letteratura italiana del Settecento (1949)
  • Letture di poeti e riflessioni sulla teoria e la critica della poesia (1950)
  • Storia d'Europa nel secolo decimonono (1981)
  • Poesia popolare e poesia d'arte (1991)
  • Nuovi saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento (2003)

Translated into English

  • Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic (1909; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • Philosophy of the Practical, Economic, and Ethic (1913; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (1913; translated by R.G. Collingwood)
  • The Task of Logic (1913; translated by Ethel Meyer)
  • Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (1914; translated by C.M. Meredith)
  • The Conduct of Life (1915; translated by Arthur Livingston)
  • What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel (1915; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • Logic as the Science of the Pure Concept (1917; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • Ariosto, Shakespeare and Corneille (1920; translated by David Ainslie)
  • Theory & History of Historiography (1921; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • The Essence of the Aesthetic (1921; translated by Douglas Ainslie)
  • "In Defense of Imperfect Virtue," The Dial, Vol. LXX (1921)
  • "Balzac," The Dial, Vol. LXXI (1921)
  • "Specialists and Dilettanti," The New Republic, Vol. XXVI (1921)
  • "A Young Philosopher of the Trenches," The Living Age, Vol. CCCX (1921)
  • The Poetry of Dante (1922; translated by Davis Ainslie)
  • "The Young Dante and the Dante of the Comedy," The Yale Review, Vol. XI (1922)
  • "George Sand," The Dial, Vol. LXXII (1922)
  • Goethe (1923; translated by David Ainslie)
  • "Walter Scott: An Italian Estimate," The Living Age, Vol. CCCXVII (1923)
  • European Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1924; translated by David Ainslie)
  • On Disgust with Politics", The Living Age, Vol. CVIII (1924)
  • "Has Liberalism a Future?," New Republic, Vol. XLII (1925)
  • "On the Nature of Allegory," The Criterion, Vol. III, No. 11 (1925)
  • An Autobiography (1927; translated by R.G. Collingwood)
  • "Of Liberty," Foreign Affairs (1932)
  • History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century (1933; translated by Henry Furst)
  • The Defence of Poetry (1933; translated by E.F. Carritt)
  • "The Validity of Pareto's Theories," The Saturday Review, Vol. XII (1935)
  • Freedom, its Meaning (1940; collaboration)
  • "Liberty and Action", The Nation (1941)
  • History as the Story of Liberty (1941; translated by Sylvia Sprigge)
  • Germany and Europe, a Spiritual Dissension (1944; translated by Vincent Sheean)
  • "The Transformation of the German Idea," Foreign Affairs (1944)
  • Politics and Morals (1946; translated by Salvatore J. Castiglione)
  • "Italy Pleads for Her Place as a Ally," Free World (1945)
  • "Considerations on the Moral Problem of Our Day," Horizon (1945)
  • My Philosophy, and Other Essays on the Moral and Political Problems of Our Time (1949; translated by E.F. Carritt)
  • Croce, the King and the Allies; Extracts from a Diary (1950; translated by Sylvia Sprigge)
  • A History of Italy, 1871-1915 (1963; translated by Cecilia M. Ady)
  • Philosophy, Poetry, History (1966; translated by Cecil Sprigge)

See also


  1. Robin Headlam Wells, Glenn Burgess, Rowland Wymer (eds.), Neo-historicism: Studies in Renaissance Literature, History, and Politics, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2000, p. 3.
  2. Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, Routledge, 2002, ch. 11: "Expressivism: Croce and Collingwood."
  3. 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.]
  4. Lorenzo Benadusi, Giorgio Caravale, George L. Mosse's Italy: Interpretation, Reception, and Intellectual Heritage, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, p. 17
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 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 1938.
  7. Croce, Benedetto 'The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico' trans R.G.Collingwood London, 1923
  8. Denis Mack Smith, "Benedetto Croce: History and Politics", Journal of Contemporary History Vol 8(1) Jan 1973 pg 47.
  9. See the detailed description in a letter by Fausto Nicolini to Giovanni Gentile published in Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  10. It is a disdainful term for misgovernment, a late and satirical addition to Aristotle's famous three: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy.
  11. For about a month in the so-called Second Badoglio government and again for a month in the Second Bonomi government.
  12. La Critica. Rivista di Letteratura, Storia e Filosofia diretta da B. Croce, 1, 1903 p. 372
  13. Umberto Eco, "A Theory of Semiotics" (Indiana University Press. 1976)
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  15. Quoted in Salomone, William A., Italy from Risorgimento to Fascism: an Inquiry into the Origins of the Totalitarian State.
  16. Benedetto Croce, Poesia popolare e poesia d'arte, Laterza, Bari, 1933

Further reading

  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  • Caponigri, A. Robert (1955). History and Liberty: The Historical Writings of Benedetto Croce. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Carr, H. Wildon (1917). The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce. London: Macmillan & Co.
  • Carr, H. Wildon (1924). The Scientific Approach to Philosophy. London: Macmmilan & Co.
  • Collingwood, R.G. (1921). "Croce's Philosophy of History," The Hibbert Journal, Vol. XIX, pp. 263–278. Collected in Collingwood, Essays in the Philosophy of History, ed. William Debbins (University of Texas 1965) at 3–22.
  • Crespi, Angelo (1926). Contemporary Thought of Italy. New York: A.A. Knopf.
  • D'Amico, Jack, Ed. (1999). The Legacy of Benedetto Croce: Contemporary Critical Views. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press.
  • De Gennaro, Angelo A. (1961). The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce. New York: The Citadel Press.
  • Gembillo, Giuseppe (2002). "Croce and the Theorists of Complexity," Rivista di Studi Italiani, Anno XX, No. 2, pp. 137–161.
  • Gilbert, Katharine Everett (1927). Studies in Recent Aesthetic. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Keleman, János (2002). "A Paradoxical Truth. Croce's Thesis of Contemporary History," Rivista di Studi Italiani, Anno XX, No. 2, pp. 31–39.
  • Moss, Myra E. (1987). Benedetto Croce Reconsidered: Truth and Error in Theories of Art, Literature, and History . Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
  • Orsini, Gian N.G. (1961). Benedetto Croce: Philosopher of Art and Literary Critic. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Paolozzi, Ernesto (2002). "Science and Philosophy in Benedetto Croce," Rivista di Studi Italiani, Anno XX, No. 2, pp. 126–136.
  • Papini, Giovanni (1922). Four and Twenty Minds. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.
  • Parente, Alfredo (1944). Il Pensiero Politico di Benedetto Croce e il Nuovo Liberalismo. Bari: Laterza.
  • Piccoli, Raffaello (1916). "Benedetto Croce's Esthetics," The Monist, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, pp. 161–181.
  • Piccoli, Raffaello (1922). Benedetto Croce. London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Rizi, Fabio Fernando (2003). Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-3762-6.
  • Roberts, David D. (1987). Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Robertson, J. M. (1922). Croce as Shakespearean Critic. London: George Routledge & Sons.
  • Ryn, Claes G. (1986). Will, Imagination and Reason: Babbitt, Croce and the Problem of Reality. Washington, DC: Regnery Books.
  • Spingarn, J.E. (1918). "The Rich Storehouse of Croce's Thought," The Dial, Vol. LXIV, pp. 485–86.
  • Sprigge, Cecil (1952). Benedetto Croce: Man and Thinker. London: Bowes and Bowes.
  • Ward, David (1996). Antifascisms: Cultural Politics in Italy 1943-1946: Benedetto Croce and the Liberals, Carlo Levi and the Actionists. London: Associated University Presses.

External links

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by International President of PEN International
Succeeded by
Charles Langbridge Morgan