Hegel distinguishes between universal will—which refers to the overall drive of Spirit, Reason, or the State, and subjective will—which refers to the multitude of individual wills of the people that comprise the State. In its strongest form, subjective will commands an "infinite right" to be fulfilled. If individuals are to follow a universal cause, that cause must encompass their own subjective will. It must address their own "sense of self." Subjective will is essentially arbitrary in the sense that it does not necessarily follow fixed, universal principles. Hegel also refers to subjective will as "caprice" to point out this fickle, arbitrary nature.

Subjective will can be linked very closely to universal will (though it need not be). The ultimate goal of a given State is to unite the subjective wills of its citizens with the universal will expressed in its abstract central principle (which is an expression of the will of Spirit). The State, Hegel argues, does not limit true freedom but only the most arbitrary, animal aspects of subjective will ("caprice").

Subjective will also becomes linked to the will of Spirit through world-historical individuals, whose own passions and goals stem partly from a recognition of the next step in the development of Spirit. Passion is Hegel's term for the subjective will as it occupies an individual completely. Someone's passion is their encompassing goal, the cause that defines them, and therefore a means to self-knowledge. The ideal for any State is to realize the union of these subjective passions with the universal principle on which the State is based.

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