Ovi Magazine pubblica la traduzione del volume di E.P., Benedetto Croce: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/9708
Quella che segue è l’ Introduzione all’e-book in preparazione.
Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom. An e-book by Ernesto Paolozzi (2013). Translation from Italian by Massimo Verdicchio.
Introduction by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella
It is an honor to have been asked by Professor Ernesto Paolozzi to write a brief introduction to this extraordinary book which valiantly attempts not only to recover and commemorate the memory of one of the foremost philosophical geniuses that Italy has given to the world from the neglect he suffered after his death, but also to show how relevant he remains to our post-modern philosophical concerns.
He has recently put together a series of writing in honor of the 50th anniversary of the death of the great thinker Benedetto Croce that appeared in the prestigious Italian journal Libro Aperto. The contributions arrived from all over the world. Mine was a reevaluation of my own perception of Croce’s thought since the time I submitted a dissertation on Vico at Yale University. Indeed, Croce may be dead but he is far from been forgotten. If anything, it is his thought which has been misguidedly found passé and has consequently been neglected. Paolozzi, not unlike Tagliacozzo for Vico, is about to correct such and unfortunate mistake with this gem of a book on Croce’s philosophy of history and of freedom.
Some scholars have confused historicism with relativism and then have gone on to identify multiculturalism and diversity in the EU as cultural relativism, even nihilism, as the cultural cancer threatening the very identity of Western Civilization. To speak of modern historicism is to speak of post-metaphysical historicism. An uncritical return to the Enlightenment runs the risk of making us think of Vico and especially Croce as the culmination of the Enlightenment rather than the culmination of Italian Humanism. There is an unfortunate tendency to understand the central categories of both thinkers in Hegelian, still-metaphysical terms. Croce was fully abreast of the debates about history that brought Wilhelm Dilthey to the fore in Germany by the late nineteenth century. In fact, Croce’s absolute historicism was a synthesis of the Hegelian sense of totality and the opposing emphasis on individuality in German historicism. Thus he came to characterize his historicism as absolute, in contrast to the individualizing romanticizing German version.
Against the positivist insistence that history had to be a science if it was to count as knowledge, Croce would sustain that history is not a form of science, seeking to derive law-like generalizations with predictive power, but a form of art-art, however, understood idiosyncratically, as the mode of knowledge of particulars. His initial emphasis stemmed from a sense that reality is particular and thus in some sense historical. To assume that science gets at stable laws, categories, or essences was the height of metaphysics, Croce argued. Up to a point, of course, this argument paralleled that of many of Croce’s contemporaries, from Bergson to the American pragmatists. But Croce was taking an extra step into a radical historicism; our ways of understanding the human world cannot be scientific because they are aspects of the ongoing creation, or coming to be, of something new, which endlessly makes necessary a renewed understanding even of what there already is.
Croce was also aware that the old questions about the whole or totality did not simply disappear; rather, they had to be confronted afresh. Enters Hegel whom Croce treats systematically in a famous essay on Hegel published in 1906 and to whom he returns repeatedly throughout his long career. For Croce, Hegel’s way of positing the totality as a single history was indeed essential, but Croce anticipated in some way postmodernism in denying that anything like Hegel’s grand master story was at work in that total history. As far as Croce is concerned Hegel’s conception rested on unwarranted teleological assumptions. The challenge for Croce was to posit a post-Hegelian totality and to conceive that single history as radically open, without following some necessary deterministic dialectic, that is to say, without telos. Thus in Croce’s synthesis, the totality becomes concrete and mundane, particular and forever incomplete. Croce had intuited that deterministic progressivism undermines man’s freedom and, as Kant had suggested, without freedom there is no ethics either.
It is now de rigueur in Vichian studies to point out Croce’s alleged idealist deformation of Vico, a sort of subsuming of Vico to Hegel, based on the assumption that Croce was a Hegelian affording privilege to conceptual thought. That way of adapting Vico, it is argued, led him to miss some of what Vico had to say. I must frankly acknowledge that this line of thinking can indeed be found in my own dissertation on Vico at Yale University (1990) titled “The Paradox of Transcendence and Immanence in Vico’s concept of Providence.”
But my view of Croce has evolved since then. I now tend toward the view that Croce was not so much deforming Vico as pursuing one of the several directions Vico had opened up. Croce found his way beyond the dichotomy between Hegel and historicism by developing one possibility in the legacy of his Neapolitan predecessor. He claimed that only in our time, with the eclipse of metaphysics, could we begin to appreciate the most radical implications of Vico’s thought. He may well have had it on target. It is this insight that makes Paolozzi’s book so relevant to our modern post-metaphysical concerns.
Croce fully understood the revolutionary import of Vico’s “poetic” conception of thought, and his notion of the autonomy of fantasia. For Vico, imagination is the original, creative power of spirit; it does not simply afford images of something-something already here-but gives form to mind and life, to thinking and acting. But for Croce we are also forever making a kind of rational sense of the world, through a distinguishable cognitive faculty. Thus Croce posits an endless “circle” of related but distinguishable forms of the spirit, or facets of human being, so that neither imagination nor cognition can be conceived as higher. Rather, they complement each other; each is equally essential to human beings and to the endless coming to be of the world. And each is eternal.
Adapting Vico, Croce posits not telos, or even progress, but only neutral growth; what we do can only respond to-and grow upon-the resultant of what has been done before. In this sense, past actions endure even as something new results from what we do. The “reason” at work in history is nothing but this coherence, which is sufficient for there to be some particular world. For Croce, then, as for Vico, it was axiomatic that at every moment a world has resulted from history, a world open to human understanding; we can look back and see how it came to be this way and not some other way. Indeed, we perceive a species of necessity to its becoming. But this is simply to say that the history had to be this way for there to be this world and not some other, not that the history had to be this way in some metaphysical sense.
An Hegelian might well disagree with this deviation from Hegel, but what Croce was proposing was not trivial as some have misguidedly claimed; for it opened the way to a certain, relatively productive kind of post-metaphysical culture. Part of what Croce found in Vico was a way of positing the creativity and novelty that seemed essential to a world that was perpetually incomplete. If we ponder the endless growth of the world through human response, we conclude that what there is, is creative-and indeed may be conceived as a single creative spirit. The spirit does not operate apart from differentiated, historically specific human beings. Rather, it is nothing but us. We are all finite embodiments of the spirit, and as such, we all participate in the process through which a particular world endlessly comes to be. Each individual is creative, but our creativity must respond to the present resultant of history, or the total activity of the spirit so far, and we necessarily interact with others as we respond.
Thus the creation of reality in history is a supra-personal task, not of any one individual, but of the universal spirit, or Dio-creatore , immanent in all individuals. Here is Croce’s radical immanentism with which I took issue in my dissertation. I thought then, and still think now, that Croce, as a secular liberal with anti-clerical and even anti-religion sentiments, was ignoring the transcendent more Christian aspect of Vico’s concept of Providence, its transcendence, to be kept in tension with immanence; that is to say, the two poles belong together complementarly and can be distinguished but not separated.
Though his reliance on the term “spirit” breeds confusion, Croce’s way of relating totality and individuality anticipated more recent efforts to do without the strong Cartesian self. In one sense, the Vichian Croce never embraced in the first place the assumptions that led to the “sovereign ego” so evident in an academic world so full of fanatical absolutist ego-maniacs, and the other aspects of modern philosophy that thinkers from Nietzsche to Rorty have taken such pains to reject. So Croce found it relatively easy to deny a self conceivable apart from the happening, or coming to be, of this particular world. The world at every moment results from the interaction of all our efforts to impose our own form, interpretation, or truth. To be sure, this anti-Cartesian stance is already there in Vico prior to Croce.
But for Croce, human response remains “moral” insofar as it stems from “care” for what the world becomes. The ethical impulse that Croce emphasized aims to free up human creativity-and thus converges in some way with the Nietzschean imperative of life enhancement via the quest for power. Crocean freedom is the freedom to respond creatively. Croce emphasized our continual striving for ever more freedom by overcoming obstacles to our creativity. It is indeed the quest for creativity rather than power. Notice that the second part of the title of this book is “the Duty of Freedom.”
Whereas Nietzsche and Heidegger ended up proposing extreme strategies in response to the loss of transcendence, Croce sought a kind of middle ground. And this has to be emphasized because it is an important difference. Croce was attempting to head off what he found to be the overreaction that threatened with the eclipse of metaphysics. So he held on to “history” to specify a way of conceiving both knowing and doing in a post-metaphysical world. We can know the world as history, and history is what we need to know; in fact, as Vico teaches, we may know with certitude only the world we ourselves make: the world of culture, while the natural world was made by God and only He can know it fully. Moreover, it is history that we make when we act, building onto every present moment, each of which is nothing but the resultant of all human actions so far. Which is to say, the proposition that man makes history is true but the proposition that history makes man is equally true.
Such notions on “originative thinking” seem bland and tame nowadays alongside those of Nietzsche and Heidegger, but in fact they are already there in Vico’s New Science, so it has been rather easy to miss Croce’s radical originality. To some he was a systematic, neo-Hegelian philosopher; to others, primarily an aesthetician and literary critic; to others, a historian, moralist, and organizer of culture. Then, after World War II, Italian intellectuals began to consider him passé as they looked for fresh ideas after Fascism. Many embraced Antonio Gramsci’s innovative form of Marxism as a way beyond the Crocean framework. Gramsci’s critique of Croce in his posthumously published Prison Notebooks helped cement the notion that Croce invited a premium on abstract speculation or mere understanding as opposed to the praxis emphasized by Gramsci.
Indeed, Croce seemed to stand for a passive, conservative acceptance of whatever results from history. He began to be considered a retrograde humanist. In effect he was neglected. It was assumed that to come to terms with the likes of Heidegger one had to move as far from Croce as possible. Yet there was something anomalous about Croce’s dramatic eclipse, a fact which is noted by René Wellek, the distinguished historian of literary criticism who spent most of his academic career at Yale University. Wellek was astonished at discovering that in movements considered influential since Croce’s death, from Russian formalism and structuralism to hermeneutics and deconstruction, Croce is not referred to or quoted, even when he discusses the same problems and gives similar solutions as post-modern systems of philosophy do. Yet Croce, as far as Wellek is concerned, was arguably the most erudite and wide-ranging figure in the history of criticism; even greater than the 19th century literary critic Francesco De Santis.
Even a cursory look, from the perspective that becomes possible with the waning of metaphysics, would suggest that Croce came to be neglected for dubious reasons-and that he might fruitfully be rediscovered and reconsidered in the 21st century. Unfortunately, by the 1960s Croce gets generally lumped with R. G. Collingwood, a misleading juxtaposition, because certain of Collingwood’s best-known themes-reenactment, for example-are not really Crocean. Later on, once the focus of historiographical discussion shifts with the appearance of White’s Metahistory in 1973, when Croce virtually disappears from the scene. Croce is then viewed as a neo-idealist system builder, operating within an essentially Hegelian framework. The relevancy of this book resides exactly in the corrective it makes to the unfortunate neglect of Croce after his death and show how relevant he remains to our post-modern concerns.
Croce insisted all along that no philosophy, including his own, could be definitive. Indeed, his repeated attacks on system building and any pretense of definitive absolutistic philosophy are among the most striking features of his thought. In effect Croce was seeking, among other things, to understand the role philosophy plays in a world without foundations, essences, rules, or structures that philosophy had tried to establish since Plato and Aristotle. Sadly, all of this has been confused with relativism giving ammunition to anti-multiculturalists who preach intolerance toward alien non-Western cultures. But I repeat, Croce’s philosophy is not relativistic, far from it, but even great philosophers have fallen in that trap.
For example, Ernst Cassirer noted with disapproval in 1913 that Croce’s whole doctrine, even while proclaiming logic as the basic science, in fact turns out to be an unlimited historical relativism in which change is studied so to speak for its own sake, in which no objective-logical enduring factors of any kind are discerned or set off. Cassirer understood that Croce’s was no ordinary logic; it was rather a kind of giving in to history and historicism. But Cassirer fails to understand that for Croce, philosophy would always be with us, but it would always be ad hoc and provisional-hardly foundational. In effect Cassirer had mistaken historicism for relativism. This book attempts to correct that kind of confusion.
In fact it did not help much that Croce himself had portrayed himself as a radical historicist which was in turn mistaken for absolutism. Major Italian students of European historicism on both sides of the Atlantic pond, while embracing the German tradition of individualizing historicism, from Herder to Dilthey, have sadly failed to give Croce his due. Because Croce criticized that German tradition, these critics have found it easy to lump him with Hegel and the system builders of philosophical idealism. So it is hardly surprising that Croce’s thinking has proven elusive-and easily misconstrued. He has suffered the same neglect suffered by his great Neapolitan predecessor Vico who was finally discovered in the American academic world thanks to the efforts of Giorgio Tagliacozzo and the translation into English of Bergin and Fisch.
It is high time that Croce too, like Vico, be rediscovered and appreciated in his own right, as the other great modern Neapolitan philosophical genius that he is. This book will undoubtedly be a giant step in that direction.
Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy Barry University, Miami Florida