Giovanni Gentile
Gentile, 1930s
President of the Royal Academy of Italy
In office
25 July 1943 – 15 April 1944
MonarchVictor Emmanuel III
Preceded byLuigi Federzoni
Succeeded byGiotto Dainelli Dolfi
Minister of Public Education
In office
31 October 1922 – 1 July 1924
Prime MinisterBenito Mussolini
Preceded byAntonino Anile
Succeeded byAlessandro Casati
Member of the Senate of the Kingdom
In office
5 November 1922 – 5 August 1943
Appointed byVictor Emmanuel III
Personal details
Born(1875-05-30)30 May 1875
Castelvetrano, Kingdom of Italy
Died15 April 1944(1944-04-15) (aged 68)
Florence, RSI
Resting placeSanta Croce,
Florence, Italy
Political partyNational Fascist Party
Height1.84 m (6 ft 0 in)
Erminia Nudi
(m. 1901)
Children6, including Federico Gentile
Alma materScuola Normale Superiore[1]
University of Florence[1]
ProfessionPhilosopher, politician, pedagogue

Philosophy career
Notable work
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics, dialectics, pedagogy
Notable ideas
Actual idealism, fascism, immanentism (method of immanence)[2]

Giovanni Gentile (Italian: [dʒoˈvanni dʒenˈtiːle]; 30 May 1875 – 15 April 1944) was an Italian philosopher, fascist politician, and pedagogue.

He, alongside Benedetto Croce, was one of the major exponents of Italian idealism in Italian philosophy, and also devised his own system of thought, which he called "actual idealism" or "actualism", which has been described as "the subjective extreme of the idealist tradition".

Described by himself and by Benito Mussolini as the "philosopher of fascism", he was influential in providing an intellectual foundation for Italian fascism, notably through writing the 1925 Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals, and part of the 1932 "The Doctrine of Fascism" with Mussolini. As Minister for Public Education, he introduced in 1923 the so-called Gentile Reform, which would last in some capacity until 1962. He also helped found the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia with Giovanni Treccani, and was its first editor.

Though his political influence waned as Mussolini sought the alliance of the Catholic Church in the late 1920s, which conflicted with Gentile's secularism, he remained a faithful Fascist, even after the 1943 armistice with the Allies, and followed Mussolini into the Italian Social Republic. He was eventually assassinated in 1944 by partisans of the Italian resistance.


Early life and career

Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Italy. He was inspired by Risorgimento-era Italian intellectuals such as Mazzini, Rosmini, Gioberti, and Spaventa from whom he borrowed the idea of autoctisi, "self-construction", but also strongly influenced and mentored 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 (Epistemology), 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.[3] In religion he presented himself as a Catholic (of sorts), and emphasised actual idealism's Christian heritage; Antonio G. Pesce insists that 'there is in fact no doubt that Gentile was a Catholic', but he occasionally identified himself as an atheist, albeit one who was still culturally a Catholic.[4][5]

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.

In 1898 he graduated in Letters and Philosophy with a dissertation titled Rosmini e Gioberti, that he realized under the supervision of Donato Jaja, a disciple of Bertrando Spaventa.[6]

During his academic career, Gentile served in a number of positions, including:

Involvement with Fascism

In 1922, on the recommendation of Benedetto Croce, who had refused the role himself, Gentile was named Minister for Public Education for the government of Benito Mussolini.[7] The cabinet, though strongly right-wing, was broadly non-partisan;[8] Gentile's inclusion, alongside several other notable non-fascists, was taken as a sign of reconciliation and the promised return to law-and-order.[9]

In this capacity, he instituted the Gentile Reform, which the first major reform of the secondary school system since the Unification of Italy and the Casati Law [it]; it had a long-lasting impact on Italian education, not being fully replaced until 1962. It gave equal distinction to private (notably Catholic) and state schools, and allowed both to sit the same qualification exams for entrance into higher education; these were important elements of the programme of the Catholic Popular party, and did much to shore up Catholic opinion of the Fascist regime—a long-standing problem for Italian governments due to the Roman Question—as part of a wider programme of concessions by Mussolini to the Catholic Church.[10][11]

Included in this reform was an attempt to limit the number of women teachers in schools, part of Italian Fascism's wider campaign against feminism, suggesting that:

Women do not have, nor will they ever have, either the moral or mental vigor to teach in those schools which formed the ruling class of the country.[12]

In 1925, Gentile headed two constitutional commissions that helped establish the corporate state of Fascism as part of the Exceptional Fascist Laws [it], and was a member of the Fascist Grand Council from 1925 to 1929.[13]

Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini examining the first volumes of the Enciclopedia Italiana

Giovanni Gentile was described by Mussolini, and by himself, as "the philosopher of Fascism"; he was the ghostwriter of the first part of the essay "The Doctrine of Fascism" (1932), attributed to Mussolini.[14] It was first published in 1932, in the Italian Encyclopedia, 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 which was signed by a number of writers and intellectuals, including Luigi Pirandello, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

Gentile's political influence in the regime waned in the late 1920s. He lost favor for remarking that fascism was a minority movement, and was further sidelined following the Lateran Treaty, with his anti-clericalism no longer appropriate if the regime was to maintain the support of the Catholic Church.[15] Gentile remained loyal to Mussolini, however, and continued to support him even after the fall of the Fascist government in 1943, following him in the establishment of the Republic of Salò, a puppet state of Nazi Germany, and accepted an appointment in its government despite having criticized its anti-Jewish laws. Gentile was the last president of the Royal Academy of Italy (1943–1944).[16]


Bruno Fanciullacci, Gentile's assassin

On 30 March 1944, Gentile received death threats blaming him for the execution of the Martyrs of Campo di Marte by Republic of Salò troops and accusing him of promoting fascism.[17] Only two weeks later on 15 April 1944, Bruno Fanciullacci and Antonio Ignesti, both of whom belonged to the communist partisan organization Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (GAP), approached Gentile in his parked car, hiding pistols behind a book. When Gentile lowered the car window to speak to them, he was immediately hit with several bullets to the chest and heart, killing him. Fanciullacci was killed several months later as he tried to escape capture.[18][19]

Gentile's assassination divided the anti-fascist front. It was disapproved of by the Tuscan branch of the CLN with the sole exception of the Italian Communist Party, which approved the assassination and claimed responsibility for it.[20]

Villa di Montalto in Florence, location of Giovanni Gentile's assassination. Fascist and Communist graffiti honouring and denouncing Gentile, respectively, is visible.

Gentile was buried in the church of Santa Croce in Florence.[21]


Main article: Actual Idealism

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."[22] His philosophical basis for fascism was rooted in his understanding of ontology and epistemology, in which he found vindication for the rejection of individualism, and acceptance of collectivism, with the state as the ultimate location of authority and loyalty outside of which individuality had no meaning (and which in turn helped justify the totalitarian dimension of fascism).[23]

The conceptual relationship between Gentile's actual idealism and his conception of fascism is not self-evident. The supposed relationship does not appear to be based on logical deducibility. That is, actual idealism does not entail a fascist ideology in any rigorous sense.[original research?] Gentile enjoyed fruitful intellectual relations with Croce from 1899 – and particularly during their joint editorship of La Critica from 1903 to 1922 – but broke philosophically and politically from Croce in the early 1920s over Gentile's embrace of fascism. (Croce assesses their 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 corporatism, 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 reality in thinking. Whereas it was common in the philosophy of the time to see the conditional subject as abstract and the object as concrete, Gentile postulated (after Hegel) the opposite, that the subject is concrete and the object a mere 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, because of his actualist system, a notable philosophical presence across Europe during his time. At its base, Gentile's brand of idealism asserted the primacy of the "pure act" of thinking. This act is foundational to all human experience – it creates the phenomenal world – and involves a process of "reflective awareness" (in Italian, "l'atto del pensiero, pensiero pensante") that is constitutive of the Absolute and revealed in education.[24] Gentile's emphasis on seeing Mind as the Absolute signalled his "revival of the idealist doctrine of the autonomy of the mind."[25] It also connected his philosophical work to his vocation as a teacher. In actual idealism, then, pedagogy is transcendental and provides the process by which the Absolute is revealed.[16] His idea of a transcending truth above positivism garnered particular attention by emphasizing that all modes of sensation only take the form of ideas within one's mind; in other words, they are mental constructs. To Gentile, for example, even the correlation of the function and location of the physical brain with the functions of the physical body was merely a consistent creation of the mind, and not of the brain (itself a creation of the mind). Observations like this have led some commentators to view Gentile's philosophy as a kind of "absolute solipsism," expressing the idea "that only the spirit or mind is real".[26]

Actual idealism also touches on ideas of concern to theology. 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 possible sense, so long as God 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 that makes it) are presupposed. Benedetto Croce objected that Gentile's "pure act" is nothing other than Schopenhauer's will.[27]

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 modelled as objects to one's own thinking. Whereas solipsism would feel trapped in the realization of its solitude, actualism rejects such 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 is felt as true others when found to be the nonrelativistic 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

A number of developments in Gentile's thought and career helped to define his philosophy, including:

Gentile's definition of and vision for Fascism

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Gentile considered Fascism the fulfilment of the Risorgimento ideals,[29] particularly those represented by Giuseppe Mazzini[30] and the Historical Right party.[31]

Gentile sought to make his philosophy the basis for Fascism.[32] However, with Gentile and with Fascism, the "problem of the party" existed by virtue of the fact that the Fascist "party", as such, arose organically rather than from a tract or pre-established socio-political doctrine. 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 viewpoints via Gentile's authorship helped with an official consideration, even though the "problem of the party" continued to exist for Mussolini as well.

Gentile placed himself within the Hegelian tradition, but also sought to distance himself from those views he considered erroneous. He criticized Hegel's dialectic (of Idea-Nature-Spirit), and instead proposed that everything is Spirit, with the dialectic residing in the pure act of thinking. Gentile believed Marx's conception of the dialectic to be the fundamental flaw of his application to system making. To the neo-Hegelian Gentile, Marx had made the dialectic into an external object and therefore had abstracted it by making it part of a material process of historical development. The dialectic to Gentile could only be something of human precepts, something that is an active part of human thinking. It was, to Gentile, a concrete subject and not abstract object. This Gentile expounded on 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's externalizing of 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 individual's 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 is the mean condition of those interests as ever they exist. Even criminality is unified as a necessary 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

Systematic works

Historical works

Various works

Letter collections


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Forster, Michael N.; Gjesdal, Kristin (5 February 2015). The Oxford Handbook of German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-106552-1.
  4. ^ James Wakefield, Giovanni Gentile and the State of Contemporary Constructivism: A Study of Actual Idealist Moral Theory, Andrews UK Limited, 2015, note 53.
  5. ^ Giovanni Gentile, Le ragioni del mio ateismo e la storia del cristianesimo, Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, n. 3, 1922, pp. 325–28.
  6. ^ Gentile, Giovanni (1899). Rosmini e Gioberti (in Italian). Vol. 1 vol. Pisa. pp. XII, 318. OCLC 551630913. Retrieved 10 May 2021.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) (WorldCat record)
  7. ^ Smith, Denis Mack (1973). "Benedetto Croce: History and Politics". The Historical Journal. 8 (1): 41–61.
  8. ^ Christopher Seton-Watson, Italy from Liberalism to Fascism, 1967, p. 630
  9. ^ Clark, Martin (2008). Modern Italy, 1871 to the present (3 ed.). Harlow: Pearson Longman. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-4058-2352-4.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Seton-Watson, Christopher (1967). Italy from Liberalism to Fascism (1 ed.). Frome; London: Routledge. p. 633. ISBN 9781032737188.
  12. ^ De Grand, Alexander (1976). "Women under Italian Fascism". The Historical Journal. 19 (4): 947–68. doi:10.1017/S0018246X76000011. JSTOR 2638244.
  13. ^ Gregor, A. James (2007). Giovanni Gentile: philosopher of fascism (4 ed.). New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-7658-0593-5.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Denis Mack Smith, Modern Italy: A Political History, 1997, pp. 357
  16. ^ a b "Giovanni Gentile | Italian philosopher". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  17. ^ Turi, Gabriele (1995). Giovanni Gentile. Una biografia. Florence: Giunti Editore. ISBN 88-09-20755-6.
  18. ^ Turi, Gabriele (1998). "Giovanni Gentile: Oblivion, Remembrance, and Criticism". The Journal of Modern History. 70 (4): 913–933. doi:10.1086/235171. ISSN 0022-2801. JSTOR 10.1086/235171. S2CID 143276729.
  19. ^ "L'assassinio di Gentile - Vita e morte di Giovanni Gentile". Archived from the original on 21 April 2014.
  20. ^ "E dopo 70 anni nuovi scenari dietro l'esecuzione di Gentile - la". La Repubblica (in Italian). 24 April 2016. Retrieved 26 September 2022.
  21. ^ "Giovanni Gentile". Italy On This Day. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  22. ^ Benedetto Croce, Guide to Aesthetics, Translated by Patrick Romanell, "Translator's Introduction," The Library of Liberal Arts, The Bobbs–Merrill Co., Inc., 1965
  23. ^ Mussolini – THE DOCTRINE OF FASCISM. Retrieved 21 December 2016. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  24. ^ Harris, H.S. (1967). "Gentile, Giovanni (1875-1944)". In Gale, Thomas (ed.). Encyclopedia of Philosophy – via
  25. ^ "Giovanni Gentile". Encyclopedia of World Biography. The Gale Group, Inc. 2004 – via
  26. ^ Gentile, Giovanni (1 January 2008). The Theory of Mind as Pure Act. Living Time Press. ISBN 9781905820375.
  27. ^ Runes, Dagobert, editor, Treasure of Philosophy, "Gentile, Giovanni".
  28. ^ "Croce and Gentile," The Living Age, 19 September 1925.
  29. ^ From Myth to Reality and Back Again: The Fascist and Post-Fascist Reading of Garibaldi and the Risorgimento
  30. ^ M. E. Moss (2004) Mussolini's Fascist Philosopher: Giovanni Gentile Reconsidered; New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.; p. 58-60
  31. ^ Guerraggio, Angelo; Nastasi, Pietro (20 January 2006). Italian Mathematics Between the Two World Wars. Springer. ISBN 9783764375126.
  32. ^ The Philosophical Basis of Fascism By Sir Giovanni Gentile.


Further reading


In Italian