Giovanni Gentile

Giovanni Gentile

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophers
era = 20th-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

name = Giovanni Gentile
birth = May 30, 1875 (Castelvetrano, Italy)
death = April 15, 1944 (Florence, Italy)
school_tradition = Idealism, Metaphysics
main_interests = Immanentism, Dialectic, Pedagogy
influences = Pre-Socratics, Protagoras, Plato, Vico, Hegel, Gioberti, Rosmini, Spaventa, Mazzini, Foscolo, Galluppi, Marx, Sorel, Nietzsche, Croce, de Sanctis, d'Ancona, Antonio Labriola, Donato Jaja
influenced = Ugo Spirito, Guido Calogero, Benedetto Croce, Martin Heidegger, Bernard Bosanquet, William Ernest Hocking, Edwin Burtt, Timothy L. S. Sprigge, Clarence Irving Lewis, Benito Mussolini
notable_ideas = Actual Idealism, Fascism

Giovanni Gentile (pronounced|dʒoˈvɑnni dʒenˈtile; May 30, 1875ndash April 15, 1944) was an Italian neo-Hegelian Idealist philosopher, a peer of Benedetto Croce. He described himself as 'the philosopher of Fascism', and ghostwrote "A Doctrine of Fascism" (1932) for Benito Mussolini. He also devised his own system of philosophy, Actual Idealism.

Life and thought

Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily. Gentile was inspired by such Italian thinkers as Mazzini, Rosmini, Gioberti and Spaventa from whom he borrowed the idea of "autoctisi" or self-construction, but was just as strongly influenced by the German idealist and materialist schools of thought – namely Karl Marx, Hegel, and Fichte with whom he shared the ideal of creating a Wissenschaftslehre, or theory for a structure of knowledge which makes no assumptions. Friedrich Nietzsche too, played an influence on Gentile, as can be seen in an analogy between Nietzsche's "Übermensch" and Gentile's "Uomo Fascista".

He held the philosophy chair at Palermo University, from 1907 to 1914, and later in Pisa. He was also Benito Mussolini's minister of Public Education in 1923, implementing sweeping reform of the Italian secondary school system, commonly referred to as the "Riforma Gentile", which had a deep and long-lasting influence on Italian education. [Richard J. Wolff, "Catholicism, Fascism and Italian Education from the Riforma Gentile to the Carta Della Scuola 1922-1939", History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1980, pp. 3-26.] [ |Riforma Gentile on Italian Wikipedia.]

Soon after, Gentile formulated important works such as "The Theory of Mind as Pure Act" (1916) & "Logic as Theory of Knowledge" (1917). In these works Gentile devised what he called Actual Idealism, a unified metaphysical system reinforcing his sentiments that philosophy when isolated from life, and alternately, life when isolated from philosophy are two modes of the same backwards cultural bankruptcy. It was a theory that for him could finally realise how philosophy could directly influence, mould, and penetrate into life: philosophy could govern life.

His system saw thought as all-embracing: he claimed none could actually leave their sphere of thinking or exceed their own thought. Reality to Gentile could not be thinkable except in relation to the activity by means where it becomes thinkable. Gentile posited this as a unity held within the active subject along with the multitude of abstract separate phenomena of all that was. Wherein each phenomenon when truly realized was in fact then centered in this unity and it was therefore innately spiritual, transcendent and immanent to all other possible things that were in contact with it. Gentile used this as a framework to begin an entire systematization of all otherwise seemingly disparate items of interest now subject to this rule of absolute self-identification, making all consequences that arise from this hypothesis the correct ones. What resulted may be interpreted as an idealist foundation for Legal Naturalism.

Gentile, described both by himself and Mussolini as 'the philosopher of Fascism', ghostwrote "A Doctrine of Fascism" for Benito Mussolini. It first appeared in 1932 in the Italian Encyclopedia (which was edited by Gentile). In it he described the traits characteristic of Italian Fascism at the time: compulsory state corporatism, Philosopher Kings, abolition of the parliamentary system, and autarky. He also wrote the "Manifesto of the Italian Fascist Intellectuals" which was signed by many thinkers and writers such as Luigi Pirandello. Gentile was minister of education and later a member of the Fascist Grand Council during the Fascist regime. He stayed loyal to Mussolini after the establishment of the Republic of Salò and accepted an appointment from the government. In 1944 he was killed by a group of anti-fascist partisans led by Bruno Fanciullacci, [Bruno Fanciullacci on Italian Wikipedia. The name "Fanciullacci" means literally "Bad kids" in English, while Gentile's actualism preached the identity of philosophy, political action and paedagogy (see, for example, Gentile's [ "Sommario di pedagogia come scienza filosofica"] ).] while returning from the Prefecture in Florence, where, ironically or perhaps poignantly, he had argued for the release of anti-fascist intellectuals.

Gentile had believed so firmly in the philosophical concreteness of Fascism as having a dialectical intelligence surpassing intellectual scrutiny, that he presumed intellectual opposition could only reinforce and give credence to help the truth of his conception of Fascism as a superior and liberally thinking polity.

Phases of his thought

There are a number of developments within his thought and career which defined his philosophy.

  • The discovery of Actual Idealism in his work "Theory of the Pure Act" (1903)
  • The political favour he felt for the invasion of Libya (1911) and the entry of Italy into World War I (1915)
  • The dispute with Benedetto Croce over the historic inevitability of Fascism.
  • His role as education minister (1923)
  • His belief that Fascism could be made to be subservient to his thought and the gathering of influence through the work of such students as Ugo Spirito.


Benedetto Croce wrote that Gentile "...holds the honor of having been the most rigorous neo–Hegelian in the entire history of Western philosophy and the dishonor of having been the official philosopher of Fascism in Italy." [Benedetto Croce, "Guide to Aesthetics", Translated by Patrick Romanell, "Translator's Introduction," The Library of Liberal Arts, The Bobbs–Merrill Co., Inc., 1965] His philosophical basis for fascism was rooted in his understanding of ontology and epistemology, in which he found vindication for the rejection of individualism, acceptance of collectivism, with the state as the ultimate location of authority and loyalty to which the individual found in the conception of individuality no meaning outside of the state (which in turn justified totalitarianism).

Ultimately, Gentile foresaw a social order wherein opposites of all kinds weren't to be given sanction as existing independently from each other; that 'publicness' and 'privateness' as broad interpretations were currently false as imposed by all former kinds of Government; capitalism, communism, and that only the reciprocal totalitarian state of Corporative Syndicalism, a Fascist state, could defeat these problems made from reifying as an external that which is in fact to Gentile only a thinking reality. Whereas it was common in the philosophy of the time to see conditional subject as abstract and object as concrete, Gentile postulated the opposite, that subject was the concrete and objectification was abstraction (or rather; that what was conventionally dubbed "subject" was in fact only conditional object, and that true subject was the 'act of' being or essence above any object).

Gentile was a notable philosophical theorist of his time throughout Europe, since having developed his 'Actual Idealism' system of Idealism, sometimes called 'Actualism.' It was especially in which his ideas put subject to the position of a transcending truth above positivism that garnered attention; by way that all senses about the world only take the form of ideas within one's mind in any real sense; to Gentile even the analogy between the function & location of the physical brain with the functions of the physical body were a consistent creation of the mind (and not brain; which was a creation of the mind and not the other way around). An example of Actual Idealism in Theology is the idea that although man may have invented the concept of God, it does not make God any less real in any sense possible as far as it is not presupposed to exist as abstraction and except in case qualities about what existence actually entails (i.e. being invented apart from the thinking making it) are presupposed.

Therefore Gentile proposed a form of what he called 'absolute Immanentism' in which the divine was the present conception of reality in the totality of one's individual thinking as an evolving, growing and dynamic process. Many times accused of Solipsism, Gentile maintained his philosophy to be a Humanism that sensed the possibility of nothing beyond what was contingent; the self's human thinking, in order to communicate as immanence is to be human like oneself, made a cohesive empathy of the self-same, without an external division, and therefore not modeled as objects to one's own thinking.

Gentile maintained the need for an intelligent opposition to the intellectualizing of systems into being, divorced from practice, which he would classify 'abstract' and for that reason unwieldy if not unworkable. Though this stand is cited by his terminology as "anti-intellectualism" he attributes to it still the factor of intelligence. Meaning 'intelligence' is as it penetrates, and not as it is object, i.e. not as it is when in the "intellectual" tense of the word. In the common meaning of this term outside of Gentiles highly analytic interpretation of it to his philosophy, Gentiles philosophy in fact contains all of the criteria in regard to comporting a favorable position toward having "intellectual" pursuits.

Gentile took the stand against psychology and psycho-analysis that one cannot abstract (i.e. make object out of) the source that creates its own surrounding reality, as one does by his own philosophy, and that any empirical observations of behavioral anthropology appear true because empiricalism always adheres to its own laws, being a closed system it is true within its own considered vacuum. Rather than look to the external for the source of ones mentality, Gentile held that any colourations on what the external first manifests as are initially created within the self, and therefore the external is a product of one's psychology and not the other way around.

Gentile's theory may be considered an extreme form of Occam's Razor, though it can appear to common sense to defy Occam's Razor outright by the complex thinking involved to relate with his theory. Gentile however deduced that common sense in considering material reality was to him not philosophical because it was not self-critical of its sensory presuppositions. To Gentile, making a thought category of his theory itself defied it by turning it into object, as any such idea of the philosophy that was not kept in subject or truly 'actual' could not be Actual Idealism.

One of his most important works is "Genesi e Struttura della Società" in which he argues that the individual is an abstraction originating from analysis of society. One of the consequences he draws is that the state and the individual are one and the same and that their division is an example of formal abstraction. The work was written after Mussolini had been deposed by the Fascist Grand Council but before the proclamation of the armistice between Italy and the Allies on September 8 1943 and the Republic of Salò on September 14 1943.

Gentile's definition of and vision for Fascism

Gentile sought to make his philosophy become the basis of Fascism in much the same manner Marx had developed his philosophy as the basis of Communism. However, with Gentile & with Fascism, the 'problem of the party' existed, and existed by the fact that the Fascist party came to be organically rather than from a tract or pre-made doctrine of thought. This complicated the matter for Gentile as it left no consensus to any way of thinking among Fascists, but ironically this aspect was to Gentile's view of how a state or party doctrine should live out its existence: with natural organic growth and dialectical opposition intact. The fact that Mussolini gave credence to Gentile's view points via Gentile's authorship helped with an official consideration, even though the 'problem of the party' continued to exist for Mussolini himself as well.

Gentile placed himself in the Marxist tradition in many respects, but he believed that Marx's conception of the dialectic to be the fundamental flaw of his application to system making. To Gentile, Marx made the dialectic into external object, and therefore abstracted it by making it part of some process that theoretically exists of outward matter & material. The dialectic to Gentile could only be something of human precepts, something that is an active part of human thinking. Dialectic was to Gentile concrete subject and not abstract object. This Gentile expounded by how humans think in forms wherein one side of a dual opposite could not be thought of without its complement.

"Upward" wouldn't be known without "downward" and "heat" couldn't be known without "cold", while each are opposites they are co-dependent for either one's realization: these were creations that existed as dialectic only in human thinking and couldn't be confirmed outside of which, and especially could not be said to exist in a condition external to human thought like independent matter & a world outside of personal subjectivity or as an empirical reality when not conceived in unity and from the standpoint of the human mind.

To Gentile, Marx externalizing the dialectic was essentially a fetishistic mysticism. Though when viewed externally thus, it followed that Marx could then make claims to the effect of what state or condition the dialectic objectively existed in history, "a posteriori" of where any individuals opinion was while comporting oneself to the totalized whole of society. i.e. people themselves could by such a view be ideologically 'backwards' and left behind from the current state of the dialectic and not themselves be part of what is actively creating the dialectic as-it-is.

Gentile thought this was absurd, and that there was no 'positive' independently existing dialectical object. Rather, the dialectic was natural to the state, as-it-is. Meaning that the interests composing the state are composing the dialectic by their living organic process of holding oppositional views within that state, and unified therein. It being the mean condition of those interests as ever they exist. Even criminality, is unified as a necessarily dialectic to be subsumed into the state and a creation and natural outlet of the dialectic of the positive state as ever it is.

This view justified the corporative system, wherein the individualized and particular interests of all divergent groups were to be personably incorporated into the state, each to be considered a bureaucratic branch of the state itself and given official leverage. Gentile, rather than believing the private to be swallowed synthetically within the public as Marx would have it in his objective dialectic, believed that public & private were "a priori" identified with each other in an active & subjective dialectic: one could not be subsumed fully into the other as they already are beforehand the same. In such a manner each is the other after their own fashion & from their respective, relative, and reciprocal, position. Yet both constitute the state itself and neither are free from it, nothing ever being truly free from it, the state existing as an eternal condition and not an objective, abstract collection of atomistic values and facts of the particulars about what is positively governing the people at any given time.


{|class="talk collapsed collapsible"
-! Complete writings of Giovanni Gentile as published by Le Lettere
- style="text-align: left;"! =Opere sistematiche=

I-II. Sommario di pedagogia come scienza filosofica.(Vol. I: Pedagogia generale; vol. II: Didattica).III. Teoria generale dello spirito come atto puro.IV. I fondamenti della filosofia del diritto.V-VI. Sistema di logica come teoria del conoscere (voll. 2).VII. La riforma dell'educazione.VIII. La filosofia dell'arte.IX. Genesi e struttura della società.

Opere storiche

X. Storia della filosofia. Dalle origini a Platone.XI. Storia della filosofia italiana (fino a Lorenzo Valla).XII. I problemi della Scolastica e il pensiero italiano.XIII. Studi su Dante.XIV Il pensiero italiano del Rinascimento.XV. Studi sul Rinascimento.XVI. Studi vichiani.XVII. L'eredità di Vittorio Alfieri.XVIII-XIX. Storia della filosofia italiana dal Genovesi al Galluppi (voll. 2).XX-XXI. Albori della nuova Italia (voll. 2).XXII. Vincenzo Cuoco. Studi e appunti.XXIII. Gino Capponi e la cultura toscana nel secolo decimonono.XXIV. Manzoni e Leopardi.XXV. Rosmini e Gioberti.XXVI. I profeti del Risorgimento italiano.XXVII. La riforma della dialettica hegeliana.XXVIII. La filosofia di Marx.XXIX. Bertrando Spaventa.XXX. Il tramonto della cultura siciliana.XXXI-XXXIV. Le origini della filosofia contemporanea in Italia. (Vol. I: I platonici; vol. II: I positivisti; voll. III e IV: I neokantiani e gli hegeliani).XXXV. Il modernismo e i rapporti fra religione e filosofia.

Opere varie

XXXVI. Introduzione alla filosofia.XXXVII. Discorsi di religione.XXXVIII. Difesa della filosofia.XXXIX. Educazione e scuola laica.XL. La nuova scuola media.XLI. La riforma della scuola in Italia.XLII. Preliminari allo studio del fanciullo.XLIII. Guerra e fede.XLIV. Dopo la vittoria.XLV-XLVI. Politica e cultura (voll. 2).


XLVII-XLVIII. Frammenti di estetica e di teoria della storia (voll. 2).XLIX-L. Frammenti di critica e storia letteraria.LI-LII. Frammenti di filosofia.LIII-LV. Frammenti di storia della filosofia.

Letter collections

I-II. Carteggio Gentile-Jaja (voll. 2)III-VII. Lettere a Benedetto Croce (voll. 5)VIII. Carteggio Gentile-D'AnconaIX. Carteggio Gentile-OmodeoX. Carteggio Gentile-MaturiXI. Carteggio Gentile-PintorXII. Carteggio Gentile-ChiavacciXIII. Carteggio Gentile-CalogeroXIV. Carteggio Gentile-Donati

Rare and unpublished

1. Eraclito. Vita e frammenti.2. La filosofia della storia. Saggi e inediti.

Works about Giovanni Gentile in English

*A. James Gregor, "Giovanni Gentile: Philosopher of Fascism" (Transaction Publishers, 2001). ISBN 0-7658-0072-1
*A. James Gregor, "Origins and Doctrine of Fascism: With Selections from Other Works by Giovanni Gentile" (Transaction Publishers, 2004). ISBN 0-7658-0577-4
*M. E. Moss, "Mussolini's Fascist Philosopher, Giovanni Gentile Reconsidered" (Lang, 2004). ISBN 0-8204-6838-X
*William A. Smith, "Giovanni Gentile on the existence of God" (Beatrice-Naewolaerts, 1970)

Works about Giovanni Gentile in Italian

*"Giovanni Gentile" (Augusto del Noce, Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990)
*"Giovanni Gentile filosofo europeo" (Salvatore Natoli, Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 1989)
*"Giovanni Gentile" (Antimo Negri, Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1975)
*"Faremo una grande università: Girolamo Palazzina-Giovanni Gentile; Un epistolario (1930-1938)", a cura di Marzio Achille Romano (Milano: Edizioni Giuridiche Economiche Aziendali dell'Università Bocconi e Giuffré editori S.p.A., 1999)
*Parlato, Giuseppe. "Giovanni Gentile: From the "Risorgimento" to Fascism." Trans. Stefano Maranzana. " TELOS" 133 (Winter 2005): pp. 75-94.


See also

*Actual Idealism

External links

* [ "The theory of mind as pure act (1922)" at]
* [ "Castelvetrano website"]

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