Actual idealism is a system of philosophy developed by the Sicilian-born philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Two fundamental assumptions of actual idealism are that thought is all that truly exists and that the act of thinking is what defines reality. Gentile’s system dismissed the possibility that anything could meaningfully exist which was apart from or unrelated to thought. As such, actual idealism presented reality as the product of the mind’s efforts to understand the world. At the same time, Gentile maintained that all human activity was, in effect, a form of thought. In short, therefore, action and thought were one and the same.
When he used actual idealism to analyze the state, Gentile concluded that the state is but the combined product of the workings of individual minds—the expression of the citizens’ collective thought and will. The state is genuinely ethical to the extent that it functions as a Spirit which fully merges individual and community and embodies the universal values and aspirations of the people. Ultimately, individual thought and will are subsumed within the state as an eternal that exists beyond the people. This key premise of actual idealism that individuality must be subsumed within and sacrificed to the shared interests of an all-encompassing corporatist state helps to explain Giovanni Gentile’s position as the “philosopher of fascism” who exerted long-enduring influences as Minister of Public Education in the government of Benito Mussolini.