The Genesis of Georges Sorel: An Account of His Formative Period followed by a Study of His Influence

By James H. Meisel | Go to book overview

SUPPLEMENT: THE GREAT COMPANIONS

1. Benedetto Croce and Sorel

The importance of the great Italian thinker in the life and writings of our author needs no further emphasis. Chapter after chapter of this study witness to the friendship, to the intellectual caméraderie of the two men. There remains the question as to the why of their association which was so enduring and so fruitful for both partners. For, at first sight, Sorel and Croce seem to belong to such different intellectual backgrounds, reached such different conclusions, that it is difficult to see what spiritual bond united them for twenty-seven years. When they first got acquainted, both had passed beyond the age in which seniority ( Sorel was the older by nineteen years) or superiority ( Croce was already famous then) could have played a role in their relationship. No, their association was that of equals. Their mutual admiration was based on conscious self-esteem: it was a friendship between monarchs. But what was it that attracted the neoidealist and Hegelian, Croce, to the enemy of those who continue "to battle chimeras and to navigate through the empyrean" of idealism?1 What did the Italian liberal have in common with the French syndicalist? Their tolerance toward each other is all the more remarkable as both men are extremely pugnacious: Benedetto Croce's literary career is as crowded with bitter polemics as that of the notorious scoffer and scolder, Georges Sorel.

There are two possible explanations of the fact that, with one exception, Croce and Sorel never crossed swords. One is, that their spheres of interest were too remote from each other to engender friction. But this is not so: there was Vico, there was Marx; there was the problem treated by Sorel in his Renan -- all topics about which both men felt as intensely as possible. There is, on Sorel's part an intimation of polite restraint. So, in acknowledging the receipt of one of Croce's books on aesthetics, he would plead non-competence, and this, although he had been publishing not a few works in the same field.2 But the dominant note in his letters is lavish praise; indeed this praise of all and any of his friend's works would seem a bit on the obsequious side on the part of a man less sincere than Sorel. It may, however, be not disrespectful to assume that Sorel's approval of Croce's oeuvre was in the nature of a blanket endorsement that covered most specifically the work of the historian and political observer Croce; the rest was respect, and an anxiety -- not in any way disreputable -- to keep the friend in good humor.

____________________
1
See chapter 4, p. 99, and note 40 v.
2
See chapter 5, note 12.

-282-

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