Giovanni Gentile

For the composer, see Giovanni Gentile (composer). For the 16th-century Italian humanist, see Giovanni Valentino Gentile.
The Honourable
Giovanni Gentile
President of the Royal Academy of Italy
In office
25 July 1943  15 April 1944
Monarch Victor Emmanue III
Preceded by Luigi Federzoni
Succeeded by Giotto Dainelli Dolfi
Minister of Public Education
In office
31 October 1922  1 July 1924
Prime Minister Benito Mussolini
Preceded by Antonino Anile
Succeeded by Alessandro Casati
Member of the Italian Senate
In office
11 June 1921  5 August 1943
Monarch Victor Emmanue III
Personal details
Born (1875-05-30)30 May 1875
Castelvetrano, Italy
Died 15 April 1944(1944-04-15) (aged 68)
Florence, RSI
Political party National Fascist Party
Spouse(s) Erminia Nudi (m. 1901; his death 1944)
Children Teresa
Education Scuola Normale Superiore[1]
Alma mater University of Florence[1]
Profession Teacher, philosopher
Religion None (Spiritualism)

Philosophy career
Notable work
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophers
School Idealism, Metaphysics
Main interests
Immanentism, Dialectic, Pedagogy
Notable ideas
Actual Idealism, Fascism, method of immanence[2]

Giovanni Gentile (Italian: [dʒoˈvanni dʒenˈtiːle]; 30 May 1875 – 15 April 1944) was an Italian neo-Hegelian Idealist philosopher and politician, a peer of Benedetto Croce. He described himself as 'the philosopher of Fascism', and ghostwrote part of A Doctrine of Fascism (1932) for Benito Mussolini. He also devised his own system of philosophy, Actual Idealism.


Early life and career

Gentile in the 1910s

Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily. He was inspired by Italian intellectuals such as Mazzini, Rosmini, Gioberti, and Spaventa from whom he borrowed the idea of autoctisi, "self-construction", but also was 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, a theory for a structure of knowledge that makes no assumptions. Friedrich Nietzsche, too, influenced him, as seen in an analogy between Nietzsche's Übermensch and Gentile's Uomo Fascista. In Religione he presents himself as a Catholic (of sorts), and emphasises actual idealism's Christian heritage, Antonio G. Pesce insists that 'there is in fact no doubt that Gentile was a Catholic', but he occasionally identifies himself as an atheist, albeit one who is still culturally a Catholic.[3][4]

He won a fierce competition to become one of four exceptional students of the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Humanities.

During his academic career, Gentile was a Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Palermo (27 March 1910), Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Pisa (9 August 1914), Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Rome (11 November 1917), professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Rome (1926), Commissioner of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (1928-1932), Director of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (1932-1943) and Vice President of Bocconi University in Milan (1934 to 1944).

Involvement in Fascism

In 1923 he was named Minister of Public Education for the government of Benito Mussolini. In this capacity he instituted the "Riforma Gentile" — a reformation of the secondary school system that had a long-lasting influence upon Italian education.[5][6] His philosophical works included The Theory of Mind as Pure Act (1916) and Logic as Theory of Knowledge (1917), with which he defined Actual Idealism, a unified metaphysical system reinforcing his sentiments that philosophy isolated from life, and life isolated from philosophy, are but two identical modes of backward cultural bankruptcy. For Gentile, that theory indicated how philosophy could directly influence, mould, and penetrate life: philosophy could govern life.

His philosophical system viewed thought as all-embracing: no-one could actually leave his or her sphere of thought, nor exceed his or her thought. Reality was unthinkable, except in relation to the activity by means of which it becomes thinkable, positing that as a unity — held in the active subject and the discrete abstract phenomena that reality comprehends — wherein each phenomenon, when truly realised, was centered within that unity; therefore, it was innately spiritual, transcendent, and immanent, to all possible things in contact with the unity. Gentile used that philosophic frame to systematize every item of interest that now was subject to the rule of absolute self-identification — thus rendering as correct every consequence of the hypothesis. The resultant philosophy can be interpreted as an idealist foundation for Legal Naturalism.

Giovanni Gentile was described by Mussolini, and by himself, as 'the philosopher of Fascism'; moreover, he was the ghostwriter of part of the essay A Doctrine of Fascism (1932), by Benito Mussolini.[7] It was first published in 1932, in the Italian Encyclopedia, (directed by Gentile, editor in Chief Antonino Pagliaro, edited by Giovanni Treccani), wherein he described the traits characteristic of Italian Fascism at the time: compulsory state corporatism, Philosopher Kings, the abolition of the parliamentary system, and autarky. He also wrote the Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals, signed by many writers and intellectuals, including Luigi Pirandello, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

Final years and murder

Gentile became a member of the Fascist Grand Council of the régime, and remained loyal to Mussolini even after the fall of the Fascist government in 1943. He supported Mussolini in the establishment of the "Republic of Salo", a puppet state of Nazi Germany, despite having criticized its anti-Jewish laws, and he accepted an appointment in the government. Gentile was last president of Royal Academy of Italy (1943-1944).[8]

In 1944 a group of anti-fascist partisans, led by Bruno Fanciullacci, shot ‘the philosopher of Fascism’ dead as he returned from the Prefecture in Florence, where he had argued for the release of anti-fascist intellectuals.[9]


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."[10] 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).

The conceptual relationship between Gentile's Actual Idealism and his fascism is not evident. The supposed relationship does not appear to be one of logical deducibility. Actual Idealism does not entail a fascist ideology in any rigorous sense. Gentile, who enjoyed fruitful intellectual relations with Croce from 1899 and particularly during their joint editorship of La Critica, 1903–22, broke philosophically and politically from Croce in the early 1920s. Croce assesses the philosophical disagreement in Una discussione tra filosofi amici in Conversazioni Critiche, II.

Ultimately, Gentile foresaw a social order wherein opposites of all kinds weren't to be considered as existing independently from each other; that 'publicness' and 'privateness' as broad interpretations were currently false as imposed by all former kinds of Government, including capitalism and communism; and that only the reciprocal totalitarian state of Corporative Syndicalism, a fascist state, could defeat these problems which are made from reifying as an external reality that which is in fact, to Gentile, only a thinking reality. Whereas it was common in the philosophy of the time to see the conditional subject as abstract and the object as concrete, Gentile postulated (influenced by Hegel) the opposite, that the subject is the concrete and the object is an abstraction (or rather, that what was conventionally dubbed "subject" is in fact only conditional object, and that the true subject is the 'act of' being or essence of the 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. Benedetto Croce objected that Gentile's "pure act" is nothing other than Schopenhauer's will.[11]

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 colligate in perception; 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. Whereas solipsism would feel trapped in realization of its solitude, Actualism rejects such a privation and is an expression of the only freedom which is possible within objective contingencies, where the transcendental self does not even exist as an object, and the dialectical co-substantiation of others necessary to understand the empirical self are felt as true others when found to be the unrelativistic subjectivity of that whole self and essentially unified with the spirit of such higher self in actu, where others can be truly known, rather than thought as windowless monads.

Phases of his thought

There are a number who have developments his thought and career which defined his philosophy.

Gentile's definition of and vision for Fascism

The honorable philosopher of Fascism Sir Giovanni Gentile

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. [13] However, with Gentile and 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 Hegelian and Marxist traditions and in many respects, but he criticized the Hegel's dialectic (Idea- Nature-Spirit) saying that everything is Spirit, and the dialectic is in the pure act of thinking. About Marx, Gentile believed that Marx's conception of the dialectic to be the fundamental flaw of his application to system making. To the neo-Hegelian 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 and 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 and 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 (influenced by the Hegelian theory of the state) justified the corporative system, where in the individualized and particular interests of all divergent groups were to be personably incorporated into the state ("Stato etico") 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 and private were a priori identified with each other in an active and 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 and 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 (as in Hegel) 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.


Collected works

Works in English translation

His eminent sayings

''The State is a wholly spiritual Creation'' [14]

'' Nation itself is a creation of mind, and is not a material presupposition'' [15]


  1. 1 2 Gregor, 2001, p. 1.
  2. Gentile's so-called method of immanence "attempted to avoid: (1) the postulate of an independently existing world or a Kantian Ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself), and (2) the tendency of neo-Hegelian philosophy to lose the particular self in an Absolute that amounts to a kind of mystical reality without distinctions" (M. E. Moss, Mussolini's Fascist Philosopher: Giovanni Gentile Reconsidered, Peter Lang, p. 7).
  3. James Wakefield, Giovanni Gentile and the State of Contemporary Constructivism: A Study of Actual Idealist Moral Theory, Andrews UK Limited, 2015, note 53.
  4. Giovanni Gentile, Le ragioni del mio ateismo e la storia del cristianesimo, Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, n. 3, 1922, pp. 325-28.
  5. 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.
  6. Riforma Gentile on Italian Wikipedia.
  7. "The first half of the article was the work of Giovanni Gentile; only the second half was Mussolini's own work, though the whole article appeared under his name." Adrian Lyttelton, Italian Fascisms: from Pareto to Gentile, 13.
  9. Bruno Fanciullacci on Italian Wikipedia. The surname Fanciullacci translates as "Bad kids" in English, while Gentile's actualism proposed the identity of philosophy, political action, and paedagogy (see, Gentile's Sommario di pedagogia come scienza filosofica).
  10. Benedetto Croce, Guide to Aesthetics, Translated by Patrick Romanell, "Translator's Introduction," The Library of Liberal Arts, The Bobbs–Merrill Co., Inc., 1965
  11. Runes, Dagobert, editor, Treasure of Philosophy, "Gentile, Giovanni"
  12. "Croce and Gentile," The Living Age, September 19, 1925.
  13. The philosophic Basis Of Fascism By Sir Giovanni Gentile .
  14. The Philosophic Basis Of Fascism by Sir Gentile.
  15. The Philosophic Basis Of Fascism by Sir Giovanni Gentile .


Further reading


In Italian

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