Friday, February 19, 2010

Croce, Kowalski -- speaking out against tyranny

On page 211 of Consciousness and Society, H. Stuart Hughes wrote, “Both natural and social science, Croce maintained, dealt only with data externally perceived.  History, on the contrary, strove for ‘internal’ comprehension.  In this assertion Croce took up the full inheritance of German idealism.  But he pushed the idealist line of thinking to a sharper point by arguing that ‘every true history is contemporary history.’  By this paradoxical assertion – which became the most celebrated of his dicta – Croce was trying to suggest that the essence of historical knowledge consisted in an imaginative grasp of the great problems of the past, first, as the historical actors themselves had understood them, second, as they took on relevance for the historian’s own time.  Actually these two aspects of the problem were combined in the historian’s mind: he could be said to have understood his material only when he had integrated it with his own consciousness, when he had fused it in his own thought and made it ‘vibrate’ in his ‘soul.’

“Thus all true history must be re-lived or re-experienced by the historian: ascertaining ‘facts’ and interpreting or judging them were part of the same process of imaginative re-creation.  In the absence of such a process, Croce argued, history could be no more than ‘chronicle’ – ‘dead history,’ which had been ‘recorded,’ not ‘thought’ by the historical mind.  Croce was severe in judging the work of the chroniclers or ‘philological’ historians, in which category he included most of the specialized historical writers of the nineteenth century. . . .”

COMMENT:  It would be unfair to judge Kowalski’s Tyranny to Freedom, Diary of a former Stalinist     ( ) by standards Croce applies to historians.  Kowalski is not an historian but a scientist who happened to have lived through the Stalinist period.  In his book he “chronicles” some of his experiences.  If there is any criticism I might make against Kowalski’s “diary,” it is to wish that he had done some historical “judging” in the Croce sense, perhaps one final chapter to underline what his title declares.

Present in Kowalski’s book and in any narration of intellectuals living in a nation governed by a tyrannical form of government, is the threat of discovery.  If the intellectual’s true thoughts are discovered then he will be subject to discipline of some sort.  So the typical intellectual keeps quiet.  In Kowalski’s case, he  was also a member of the Communist Party in Poland.  His diary records his disillusionment as party leaders in Moscow and Poland abandoned the ideals that had caused him to join the party.  It was fortunate that he was able to leave Poland before his disenchantment was discovered.

But what of Croce?  He was in a similar situation.  He was an enthusiastic supporter of Mussolini and Fascism, but Croce was by that time “senator for life” in the Italian government.  He was so famous and well-established that he was impervious to intimidation or punishment.  He did speak out against Italian Fascism, and eventually he followed through to the logical conclusion.  He became “a liberal.”  Hughes said that the word “democracy” would have stuck in Croce’s throat, but that is where he ended up – favoring Liberal Democracy. 

That is where Kowalski ended up as well; although not being an historian or a philosopher, he is more succinct, and doesn’t stray far from his personal experiences. 

Heidegger was not impervious to punishment.  Had he spoken out he would almost certainly have suffered some form of punishment.  Nor was he inclined to leave Germany.  And then after the Second World War, Heidegger chose to say very little of a critical nature against Germany’s Third Reich.  Many have speculated about Heidegger’s reticence.  Heidegger never embraced Liberal Democracy, nor did he abandon the idea that had German National Socialism progressed as he wanted it to, Germany would have become the spiritual leader of Europe that he hoped for.

It isn’t enough to make negative statements about Fascism or Communism.  We need to follow with the reasons why we admire our Liberal Democracies.  Many do not find these reasons self-evident, but someone like Noam Chomsky can find much to criticize in the American example, because “freedom of speech” is a cornerstone of our form of government.  And this “freedom” permits criticism.  So any enemy such as Chomsky or the Islamists will have a smorgasbord of criticisms to choose from.   We can counter the Islamists by exploring what it is they advocate.  Unlike Chomsky they have been in control of a nation (Afghanistan) and been a major force in many other nations.  We see that they favor aspects of both Fascism and Communism. . . .   Surely, we think, the lessons of history are sufficient to counter a Middle-Eastern foray into forms of government that proved to be European disasters.   But this isn’t so.  Just as Heidegger thought National Socialism might have worked with the right leadership; so do many Leftists think Communism could have worked with better leadership.   So why should the Islamists be deterred by anyone who shows the relationship between the form of government they advocate and the two European disasters of the 20th century?

Critics describe us a nation of dissolute performers, athletes and corrupt politicians, but we have other examples:  people who live productive but quiet lives, people who don’t use their “freedom” to lie about unearned military honors or engage in drug-induced debaucheries.  We have a number of people who write about the good things of our Liberal Democracies, but such writings would be of little worth if it were not for individuals such as Kowlaski who live productive lives and even in retirement continue doing their best, contributing to the well-being of their Liberal Democracies.  Maybe Kowalski couldn’t manage that last chapter I asked for, but his example is worth much more.



J. L. Speranza said...

I like Croce.

I am familiar with the Croce of "Aesthetics" and more recently with Croce the "Gricean".

He influenced Collingwood, and it's not strange then that Collingwood also wrote largely on History.

What I appreciate in Croce is not his Germanism, but his IDEALISM. As an Italian (I am one) I can connect with Croce, and I can't think he was so Kant!

---- In general, Croce is not studied much at the Swimming-Pool Library but he should!

If you don't want to burden your log with this, readers of this comment may want to know I may talk about Croce in my griceclub.blogspot, where Helm has JUST been made an author!


J. L. Speranza

islamicnet said...

In general, Croce is not studied much at the Swimming-Pool Library but he should!