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"Through the Eyes of..."

Benedetto Croce

Count Carlo Sforza [1872 - 1952]

[Sforza was an Italian politican and diplomat. He was part of the Giolitti government after WWI. He resigned after Mussolini took power and went into exile in 1926. He was an anti-Fascist and lived in exile during WWII, primarily in the US. He returned to Italy after the war, joined the government and was instrumental in the entrance of Italy into the Council of Europe. This item appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston West Virginia on Feb 22, 1931. The photo here was not in the original article. There was a sketch of Croce by S.J. Woolf captioned "Benedetto Croce—He Brought Philosophy Down to Earth."]

He Revolutionized Philosophy

And Benedetto Croce, the Italian Philosopher, Has Found Time To Be a Man of Action in the Political Life of His Country as Well as One of Its Most Profound Thinkers

By Count Carlo Sforza
Former Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs; Author of "Makers of Modern Europe"

BENEDETTO CROCE, the great Italian philosopher, hates publicity and lives his life of study and meditation in his beautiful house in the old quarters of Naples; the silence and quiet of his home being broken only in October, 1926, when hordes of Fascists came and sacked his
precious library.

Croce had the good fortune to be born rich; as a consequence he was not obliged to seek a professorial salary. This fact, simple as it may seem, has possibly increased the impression his writings give—the impression of a complete independence of judgment. (Not that professors become slaves of their salaries; but sometimes they
do become slaves of their atmosphere.)

Every big country has some important philosophers living, the United States as well as Germany and France. But none has won such a (one word illegible) recognition among other nations as Croce.

Nevertheless, it is more than probable that other scholars, other philosophers have given to the world of today just as much of research and originality, just as many imposing works as Croce is giving.

What, then, is the secret of Croce's fame, of Croce's outstanding position?

This: Croce has been the first man since the classical philosophers of ancient Greece to assert —and to prove— that there are no essential problems of philosophy or subjective forms of mind enabling a man to pretend that he is this majestic and holy thing —a philosopher. Croce has been the first among the philosophers to laugh at the classic type of sage who ignores all the present interests of life, busy only in contemplating the mystery of human nature.

The great merit, the outstanding originality of Croce consists in his having dragged philosophy away from heaven and placed her on earth, where he obliged her to speak our common language. Continuing his revolution, Croce has forced philosophy to become simply a new form of understanding of human history. When one sees how perfectly he has succeeded in subordinating the old pompous problems of theology and metaphysics to the test of history, one realizes the importance of the fact that before becoming a "philosopher" Croce was a historian and a literary critic.

It is impossible to expound all Croce's ideas in a short article mainly destined to describe Croce the man. The best thing to do. perhaps, is to choose one or two of his pages, where he most strikingly reveals his personal conceptions. This, for instance, taken from his "Theory of Historiography":

"When we think of the psychological observations and moral doubts which poetry, romance and drama, the voices of our society, have accumulated in the course of the nineteenth century alone, and consider that these are, for the most part, still without critical elaboration, we may form some idea of the great tasks which stand waiting for philosophy to undertake. And when, without looking back on the past, we consider the multitude of anxious inquiries raised on every side by the present war—concerning the state, concerning history, right, the duties of peoples, civilization, culture, barbarism, science, art, religion, the end and ideal of life, and so forth—we clearly see how it behooves philosophers to come out of the theologico-metaphysical circle, in which they remain shut up even when impatient of the very mention of theology and metaphysics, since, notwithstanding the new concept they have adopted and professed, their mind and intellect are still oriented toward the old ideas."

For Croce there is no gap between common knowledge and philosophy, as there is no  gap between the common intuition and the intuition of "art"; there is only a difference in intensity according to the degree of real history possessed by each man. Therefore the work of the philosopher is simply a more intense but not a more human degree of the common thought; the perennial philosophy is equivalent to common sense. The specific thought of the philosophers Croce has defined in another one of his works in the following striking terms:

"Their specific thought has just the same value that illnesses, recoveries, crises of growth have for the physical organism, non-conceivable as separate from physiological life."

Such words could have been written only by Croce; to compare philosophy with diseases...

But for those who want to come in touch with the philosophical thought of Croce, I here can only refer them to some of the many books which have been written on his method: the more suggestive authors being, in my opinion, H. Wildon Carr among the English, Flora and De Ruggero among the Italians, Vossler among the Germans.

What is more feasible for me here is to say something about Croce's theory of art. Not only has this theory brought Croce most universal fame, but it probably constitutes the field where the Italian sage has marked out the newest fields. From the critics Croce's esthetic theory has received a name: the Expressionist Theory. Although the term "Expressionist" is not sufficient to characterize all Croce's thought in this field, the fact remains that his main doctrine in Esthetics is that "beauty is expression."

But what is beauty? What is the relation between the vision of the artist and its realization? To those and so many other possible questions Croce gives us an answer. In a passage I take from his "Problems of the Esthetic":

"Art is ruled by imagination, and images are its only wealth. Art does not classify objects, art does not declare them real or imaginary. Art feels and presents them; nothing more. Being, therefore, not an abstract knowledge, but concrete, and apprehending reality without altercations and classifications, art is intuition.

"In being thus simple and naked lies the force of art. As sometimes happens in other fields of life, its force comes from its very weakness. Hence its fascination.

"If, to take the imaginative illustration which philosophers often resort to, we think of man at the first moment of his unfolding theoretic life, his mind as yet unencumbered by any abstraction or reflexion—in that first moment, purely intuitive, he can be but a poet. He contemplates the world with ingenuous and wondering gaze, and in that contemplation all is dispersed and lost. Art, which creates the first presentations and inaugurates the life of knowledge, also continually keeps fresh in our minds the aspects of things which the thought has submitted to reflection and the intellect to abstraction, and so forever is making us poets again.

"Without it, thinking would lose its stimulus and the very material of its mysterious and critical work."

Nothing strange that a man feeling so deeply in himself and around him the eternal renewal of all the sources of life should remain astonishingly young in his scientific as well as political and personal activity. This man, born in 1886, author of forty volumes, covered with glory and fame, is prisoner of no formulas, even of his own. A few months ago I told him that the editor of an important American magazine would have been honored to publish a short article by him; and I suggested as a topic certain ideas on Nationalism, which he had already treated in a French magazine. To my great astonishment, Croce, who keeps all his engagements most strictly, did not send the article at the promised moment. I asked him whether he had forgotten.

"Oh, no, Sforza. But when I began to write the article I went more searchingly into the matter, and I realized that all was not right in what I had written a few months ago for the French review. I am sorry, but I feel that before sending my article I must look into the matter a few more weeks." . . .

Are there many cases of such a delicate conscience among American and European writers?

This modesty does not exclude a legitimate pride; far from it. We feel it in certain pages of one of his most recent books, "A History of Italy from 1871 to 1915." He speaks there of the contemporary Italy in which he played such an important part from the intellectual point of view. He traces the diverse Italian reactions against Positivism, some of them sane and strong, others morbid, especially those inspired by D'Annunzio, whom he describes as "steeped in sensuality, sadism and a cold-blooded dilettantism." At this point Croce places an autobiographical passage, modestly written in the third person: "There was at this time a certain student . . . who had not grown up in the D'Annunzian atmosphere, in the grasping, pleasure-loving spirit of the new industrialism." . . . For all his modest use of the third person, Croce does not hide that he knows that this student became one of the greatest makers of modern Italy. His ideas and ideals are not of the hurried type; he knows that they can wait, for they do not wither.

We thus have the explanation of how this man, with an eternally young spirit, did not hesitate an instant to plunge into the struggle against Fascism, as soon as he had detected in this movement the same morbid elements which made him so mistrustful of D'Annunzio; and we understand also why even in this struggle Croce has lost nothing of his unequaled serenity. He has no personal ambitions, he sees into the future, he knows that what is false and artificial is bound to fall. The same serenity I liked and admired when Croce and I were together in office. I was his colleague in the Giolitti Cabinet of 1920 and 1921. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Croce was Minister of Education.

Croce for the first time in his life had accepted a portfolio. He had done so out of a sense of moral duty, recognizing the necessity of collaborating in the reconstruction of Italy after the terrible ordeal of the war. Loyal supporter as he was of Giolitti's economic policy, which re-established Italy's situation; warm supporter as he was of my foreign policy, which aimed, in western Europe, at a moral and economic peace, and, in eastern Europe, at creating lasting bonds with our Slav neighbors and thereby at creating for Italy a safe field of influence in the Balkans, Croce remained at the same time the sovereign spirit he is in his works. For me it was a deep intellectual joy to work with him: I constantly had the impression that I was looking upon posterity. More than once, coming out together from an agitated discussion at the Chamber of Deputies, where the Nationalists had attacked my policy, Croce told me: "I see why you are so serene; because you know you'll be right in ten years." And I: "Yes, but your telling me so makes me more sure that ours is the only path leading to Italian safety and prosperity."

But his vision of the future did not prevent Croce from seeing most clearly even in the necessities of the day. When some public servants in Rome attempted to start a strike of the Public Services in 1920, the Ministers in Rome met at the Treasury with Bonomi, the Finance Minister, presiding—Giolitti being at his summer place in the Alps. Croce was—with me, I must add— the most determined in declaring that strikes of public servants amounted to anarchy and that the movement must be crushed at once. Which was done in two days, without thinking it necessary—as happened during the Fascist period—to destroy public liberties.

Even in his double personality as a man of thought and, when it is necessary, a man of decision, Croce is one of the highest representatives among recent Italian generations of one of the two sides of the ideal medal representing the double profile of the Italian character. The two types reappear constantly throughout our history; the one is the man of realistic thought and pure, moral character, like Vico, the immortal author of Scienza Nuova, to take the man who has probably influenced Croce most, or—in the political field—Cavour, or, today, Croce himself. The other is given—not to speak of more recent and spectacular phenomena—by men having splendid literary gifts, like D'Annunzio, but with no moral message to their brothers.

The chronicles of the day sometimes may seem filled with men of the second type. No matter. At the "movies" one certainly speaks more frequently of the "stars" of the moment than of Henry James or Emerson. But the "stars"—be they of the literary or of the political stage—quickly fade and disappear, while a Henry James, an Emerson, a Croce, remain and become the most precious message of our age to posterity.

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