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Croce on History

Aesthetic Defiguring

Massimo Verdicchio

The book is the first critical reading of all the major writings on history by Benedetto Croce. The study is not a summary but a critical assessment based on the relevance of Croce’s aesthetics for his concept of history. This account differs from previous studies which are characterized by the excluding or by minimizing the aesthetic, a process the author calls “defiguring.” Within this framework Croce’s concept of history is not a total philosophy but only an allegory of history: a narrative of the impossibility of history. In other words, Croce’s history is not unlike his definition of Hegel’s Phenomenology or his system as fiction. It is also not unlike Vico’s New Science, the other major influence on Croce’s concept of history, as an imaginative science. This study realigns Croce’s concept of history with Hegel’s and Vico’s to redefine, thanks to Croce, how we understand history.
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Chapter 3. History as the Story of Liberty

Extract

Croce takes up his reflections on history in 1938, twenty-two years after Teoria e storia della storiografia, with La storia come pensiero e come azione,1 rendered into English as History as the Story of Liberty. In this work, the issue of history is examined from the point of view of the relation between history and practical action, which Croce defines in the Preface (Avvertenza):

The relation between historiography and practical action is that … dialectical process whereby historical thought is born from a labor of practical passion, transcends it by freeing itself in the pure judgment of truth and, by means of this judgment, passion is converted in resoluteness of action. (SPA 7)

In order for practical passion to be converted into action, it is necessary to understand what Croce means by “pure” judgment. It means, first, that a history book cannot be judged either as literature or as rhetoric (eloquenza), or according to a principle of verisimilitude, or according to the exactness of the facts that it offers, or whether it has an impact on the imagination (SPA 10). The only criterion of “pure” judgment is that it must conform to its own nature, to its historicity, just as a book of poetry is judged uniquely according to its poeticity. Croce defines historicity as an act of understanding which must first free itself of all doubts and uncertainties that can stand in the way of a transition to action:

And historicity can be...

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