Monday, June 04, 2007

Croce: History of Europe in the 19th Century

Who is Benedetto Croce? Allow the blurb at back of my book to tell you:

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), generally acknowledged as the greatest thinker and historian of twentieth-century Italy, Senator of Italy in 1910, Minister of Education in 1920-21, and Minister Without Portfolio in 1944, is the author of more than forty books ranging widely through philosophy, literature, and history.

I first heard about Croce last summer while I was studying Yeats in Ireland. Yeats read and admired Croce's whilom friend Giovanni Gentile. In learning about Gentile, I learned about Croce. In fact, I blogged about him (uninformatively) back in August, 2006.

I came across Croce's history of 19th century Europe last weekend. In studying Yeats I became conscious of my ignorance of Europe in the 19th century; Romantics, Nationalism, and the Industrial Revolution were all jumbled together unhelpfully in my brain. I have since several books covering the time period, but, given the connection to Yeats, Croce's book was an excellent find.

Three quarters of the way through, I have not been disappointed. Although I feel my own lack of factual knowledge as I read, Croce's view is sweeping and moves me along in its wake. Liberty is the dominating idea and the forces that realize or resist it shape the century's history. And for Croce the 19th century spills over into the 20th, ending with the end of WWI in 1918.

This grand sweep is helpful for me in placing Yeats. He lived through the culmination and collapse of one century, and was present at the beginning of another. What amazes me about Yeats is that he wrote poetry all the while. His style never stuck in one era or mood.

Croce's vision is also helpful in placing this notion of "liberty." Seeing the historical development of liberalism and parliamentarianism give me a perspective that will (perhaps) be salutary as I continue to intern at the Goldwater Institute.

It is also good to remember that the content of categories like "liberal" and "conservative" shift over time. More on that later.

No comments: