“Croce’s aim was the cultural transformation of Italy through conversion to his Idealist philosophy.”

“Hegemony before Gramsci: The Case of Benedetto Croce.” The Journal of Modern History 52(March 1980):66–84.

The political theory of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, centers around the concept of cultural hegemony, the indoctinated “common sense” or belief system by which a dominant class controls the oppressed. Gramsci sought to understand the techniques of “bourgeois hegemony” in order to replace the cultural hegemony with one that would serve the interests of the proletariat. In the hegemony of the Italian Idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) over Italian intellectual life Gramsci discovered the techniques of social and political change that would establish a dominant culture in the minds of one’s contemporaries. Gramsci appreciated Croce’s skillful use of the scholarly journal and press “to saturate the intellectual life of Italy with a single point of view, a particular culture” and thereby bring about ideological and social change.

Croce’s aim was the cultural transformation of Italy through conversion to his Idealist philosophy. He sought to annihilate positivism, materialism, and their roots in eighteenth century thought (with its abstract, antihistorical opposition to developmental modes of thought). To install his opposing culture, Croce appealed to writers and intellectuals outside the “official culture” of the Italian universities. In all his techniques to achieve his revolution in cultural values, he had a “determinate” point of view, one that was sectarian and partisan to his Idealist faith, and he opposed as misguided the notions of tolerance practiced by “false liberalism.”

One technique of achieving cultural hegemoney for Idealism among young minds was Croce’s founding in 1903 of the scholarly journal, La critica. Together with Giovanni Gentile, Croce’s La criticadominated the rising generation of Southern Italians in thought and culture, and attracted such luminaries of the Idealist movement as Guido de Ruggiero (author of the Idealist movement as Guido de Ruggiero (author of the History of European Liberalism). Through the decades, La critica appeared on schedule, reassuring its readers by its dependability of the sure foundations of its ideology.

Other scholarly techniques by which Croce asserted Idealism’s cultural hegemony were the many book series and publications of his friend Giovanni Laterza’s press at Bari. Laterza’s press was a “serious” and ideological instrument for disseminating Idealist doctrine—through the Library of Modern Culture of which Croce was the director (500 volumes by Croce’s death in 1952), which published Croce, Sorel, and de Ruggiero. Other Crocean‐​dominated book series included Croce’s own works and The Classics of Modern Philosophy. This last series introduced Italians, for the first time, to easily available translations of Hegel and Kant. The British Empiricists (Bacon, Locke, and Shaftesbury) did not appear until the 1950s and 1960s; no works appeared devoted to the French philosophes of the eighteenth century just as there had been no publication of the Italian Enlightenment thinkers Galvani, Beccaria, or Volta in the Writers of Italy Series (some 600 volumes).

Croce’s impact on twentieth century Italian culture was pervasive. Given voice by the publishing house of Laterza and by his journal La critica, Croce dominated the educated Southern Italian middle class. The cultural hegemony soon flowed into libraries and the official cultural bastions, the universities. Croce’s hegemony served Gramsci as an influential model for far different ends.