MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




The Will is a person's conscious determination to carry out some action. The Will involves the internal condition of a person (their needs, interests and their knowledge) and objective conditions which provide the stimulus and means and set limits on a person's actions.

The problem of whether the Will can be free has long been a central issue in Western philosophy. In Spinoza's system for example, free will was explained as an expression of the Will of God, which he identified with Nature.

Hegel's Philosophy of Right is an elaboration of the dialectic of the Will: “The territory of right is in general the spiritual, and its more definite place and origin is the will, which is free”. In Hegel's system, Will originates in Subjective Spirit, which develops from Theoretical Spirit to Practrical Spirit, and thereby becomes Objective Spirit. For Hegel, rather than the State being a restraint on the Will of individuals, it is the highest expression of that will, but can become so only by the mediation of conflicting wills and their sublation into a higher determination. Hegel's social and political views and his concept of history, involve understanding how the various institutions and social formations develop, in terms of the dialectics of the Will. However, Will and Concept (knowledge), are inseparable from one another, and mediate one another.

Schopenhauer built his epistemology around the Will, holding that the Ego perceived something only when it frustrated the Will. The aim of life was to overcome and transcend the Will. The Will subsequently played a central role in the philosophy of Nietzsche and is the central concept of Voluntarism.

Marx recognises the importance of Will when, for example, he defines labour “in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and Nature”. The role of Will in Marx's thinking is limited however, for the concept of Will emphasises the power of subjective consciousness in determining human actions. While the Will is indeed an essential component of the human condition, it is the historically developed social relations which determine both what a person desires in the first place and the outcome of the “conflict of many wills”. As Engels says in Ludwig Feuerbach:

People make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows their own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions and of their manifold effects upon the outer world that constitutes history. Thus it is also a question of what they many individuals desire. The will is determined by passion or deliberation. But the levers which immediately determine passion or deliberation are of very different kinds.

Further Reading: Hegel: Philosophy of Right and Subjective Spirit, and Objective Spirit.


Wilson's Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson, President of the US 1912-1920, offered to mediate between the Allies and Germany during the First World War, proposing the negotiation of a peace without annexations or reparations. At the end of the war he hawked a 14-point document round Europe with the same end in view, putting forward the League of Nations as the body through which observance of these points was to be secured. The points were a complete fraud, and failed to draw the teeth of American imperialism's European rivals, witness the vicious policies that Lloyd George and Clemenceau laid down in the Versailles settlement.