Sponsored by the Centre of Idealism and New Liberalism
Professor Giacomo Rinaldi (University of Urbino, Italy)
Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944) was unquestionably the greatest and most influential Italian philosopher of the 20th century. He explicitly presented his own philosophical perspective as the outcome of a “reform of Hegelian dialectic” purporting to overcome its alleged shortcomings by reducing Hegel’s whole System to its final section—i.e., to a philosophy of the “absolute forms of spirit”, Art, Religion, and Philosophy. Whereas one can legitimately doubt the relevance of the contribution given by his Actual Idealism to the development of Aesthetics and of the Philosophy of Religion, it is nevertheless undeniable that in his most important works—e.g., Teoria dello spirito come atto puro (1916) and Sistema di logica come teoria del conoscere (1917/1921)—the critical self-consciousness of the “act of thinking” reaches a level of logical depth and consistency unparalleled in contemporary Italian philosophy. His crucial assumptions in this regard are, on the one hand, the unqualified identification of thought and will, theory and praxis, and, on the other, a radically holistic conception of the will, whose actual subject, according to him, is never the “abstract” individual’s morality, but the “concrete” ethical Whole—namely, the political State.
Gentile developed his political conception not only on the purely theoretical level, but also in close historical-critical confrontation of the major trends of contemporary political thought—be they Catholic conservatism (Rosmini e Gioberti, 1898), Marxist socialism (La filosofia di Marx, 1899), Mazzini’s republican democratism (I profeti del Risorgimento italiano, 1928), individualistic liberalism (cf. Genesi e struttura della società, 1945, Ch. 6, § 6), or fascism itself, to the doctrinal elaboration of which he himself actively contributed (cf. his entry “Fascism” in the Enciclopedia italiana).
In this paper Rinaldi will try, first of all, to reconstruct the theoretical and historical-critical content of Gentile’s political thought. Secondly, he shall distinguish in its development three major phases, pointing out that his notorious apology of fascism is confined to the second alone, and that Gentile’s last book, Genesi e struttura della società, is devoted, rather, to the working out of a “transcendental” conception of the political State as a “societas in interiore homine” whose humanistic and organicistic overtones are far more Hegelian than narrowly nationalistic in character. Finally, Rinaldi shall try to assess both the merits and the limits of Gentile’s political thought, identifying the root of its major shortcomings with his untenable rejection of Hegel’s crucial distinction between objective and absolute spirit.
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