By debbanerji Posthuman Destinies
We could begin with the old Viconian-Hobbesian idea that we, humans, could have proper knowledge of only civil and political institutions because we made them, while nature remains God’s work and ultimately inscrutable to man. “The true is identical with the created: verum ipsum factum” is how Croce summarized Vico’s famous dictum.11 Vico scholars have sometimes protested that Vico did not make such a drastic separation between the natural and the human sciences as Croce and others read into his writings, but even they admit that such a reading is widespread.12
This Viconian understanding was to become a part of the historian’s common sense in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It made its way into Marx’s famous utterance that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please” and into the title of the Marxist archaeologist V. Gordon Childe’s well-known book, Man Makes Himself. 13 Croce seems to have been a major source of this distinction in the second half of the twentieth century through his influence on “the lonely Oxford historicist” Collingwood who, in turn, deeply influenced E. H. Carr’s 1961 book, What Is History? which is still perhaps one of the best-selling books on the historian’s craft.14
Croce’s thoughts, one could say, unbeknown to his legatees and with unforeseeable modifications, have triumphed in our understanding of history in the postcolonial age. Behind Croce and his adaptations of Hegel and hidden in Croce’s creative misreading of his predecessors stands the more distant and foundational figure of Vico.15 The connections here, again, are many and complex. Suffice it to say for now that Croce’s 1911 book, La filosofia di Giambattista Vico, dedicated, significantly, to Wilhelm Windelband, was translated into English in 1913 by none other than Collingwood, who was an admirer, if not a follower, of the Italian master.