Probing the limits of Crocean historicism
Charles L. Leavitt
This article reconsiders the post-war reaction against Benedetto Croce, focusing on the critical reappraisal of Crocean historicism that followed the defeat of Italian Fascism. Motivated by a growing sense of historical uncertainty, Italians increasingly dissented from Croce, but they remained more wedded to Crocean thought – and in particular to Crocean historicism – than has often been argued. Like their predecessors in previous generations, post-war Italian intellectuals positioned themselves dialogically, in constant conversation with Croce's hegemonic philosophy. The antecedents of their reaction against Crocean historicism can therefore be identified in earlier responses to Croce's thought, and in this essay I examine two such responses: those of Antonio Gramsci and Renato Serra. I also examine the contemporary resonances of the (partial) anti-Crocean turn, exemplified by a consequential 1992 debate over Holocaust historiography pitting Carlo Ginzburg against Hayden White. Comparing these various assaults on the 'Crocean citadel of historicist idealism', I argue that the challenge to Croce has been posed most cogently by those whose dissent from his dominant intellectual paradigm was inspired not by outright opposition but rather by doubt and scepticism. In the essay's conclusion, I explore the significance of such scepticism, exemplified by the post-war critique of Crocean historicism, for the ongoing debates over 'probing the limits of representation'.
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