Velle Non Discitur? The Impact of Will in Politics

  • Michele Chiaruzzi
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan History of International Thought book series (PMHIT)


Not everything is possible in politics. Here, Seneca’s maxim, “will cannot be learned,” is transformed into the final and decisive answer of the book.1 In fact, if “Fortune’s Banter” traces an analytical framework intended to examine the aspects we discussed, Wight, however, does not ignore the human alternatives, constantly open to the possible, in a stream perpetually overwhelmed by the untamable impetus of historical forces. Human beings, however, may oppose those historical forces with their values and capacities, whatever these may be. It is true that, in politics, agents stand in front of an inescapable fate, constantly directed toward points of crisis to massive disruptions affecting the social coexistence. But this is politics, a recurrence of points of crisis. Nonetheless, after all, krisis implies, indeed, “choice, decision.” And this does not annihilate will and it does not occlude the human capacity for self-determination and success, together with the possibility to reverse, albeit tentatively, the imminent adversity.


Political Action Historical Force Alternative Question Decisive Answer Propitious Moment 
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  1. 1.
    Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Moral Epistles, trans. Richard M. Gummere (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1917–25), 10.81.13. The statement is directed against those who assign the capacity to act virtuously only to the wise men: “Scientia illi potius quam voluntas desit: velle non discitur.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “Similmente interviene della fortuna, la quale dimostra la sua potenza dove non è ordinata virtù a resisterle”; Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, ed. Arthur Burd (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1891), chapter 25, p. 358, emphasis added. “Virtuosity” is Wight’s translation of “virtù” in his International Theory, p. 248.Google Scholar
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  • Michele Chiaruzzi

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