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He was educated in Osijek and Bihać, and studied philosophy at the University of Zagreb, doctoring in it in 1927. He served as a gymnasium professor in Petrinja and several other places in Croatia, as well as in Leskovac, Serbia by punishment.
By 1941 he was the mayor of Bjelovar. Here he played an important role in the Bjelovar rebellion of 8 April that year. After the revolt by Croats in the Royal Yugoslavia army he declared the "resurrection of the Croatian state".
After the formation of the Ustaša government in the Independent State of Croatia he served as assistant in the Croatian army's Bilogora headquarters (based in Bjelovar). From 1942 he was the chief of spiritual upbringing in the Ustaša Youth. In March 1943 he was extraordinarily named professor of philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb. In the fall he became the Independent State of Croatia's Minister of National Education. He also wrote books in his field as well as contributing to various periodicals and newspapers.
By April 1945, the state was largely in control of the Yugoslav Partisans. Makanec was captured by British in Austria with a group of high-ranking Croatian delegates. He was later surrendered to Communist Yugoslavia. After a short trial on June 6 he was sentenced to death and his execution was carried out.