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Friday, July 29, 2011

Compare and Contrast Essay on Gandhi and Machiavelli - Leadership Styles of Gandhi

This essay seeks to compare and contrast the ideas of two great philosophers and thinkers of their generation – Mohandas Gandhi and Niccolo Machiavelli.  Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of the Indian nationalist movement which fought for India’s liberation against British rule, was known more for his charisma and compassion.  Niccolo Machiavelli was a famous philosopher who authored “The Prince” an instruction book and guide for rulers and who was famous for his ruthlessness and cunningness. 

On Leadership
In the discussion about leadership, the first thing that comes to mind is the leaders.  The leaders are the people who hold power and lead the people.  They are the presidents or the prime ministers or the military generals.  One of the most recognized leaders in world history is Mohandas Gandhi.  What makes him great is that he did not consider himself as a leader.  The views he espoused about leadership are also unlike the leaders of today.  He was a different leader because he had no political title nor was he elected by the people.  He also did not command a legion of army and soldiers nor did he have wealth.  Yet he was one of the greatest and most influential figures in history.  He argued that leaders have no business enslaving and oppressing the people.  He likewise opposed use of hatred and violence by the leaders against the people.  For Gandhi, the best leader is someone who avoids all hatred, violence and oppression.  (Eric Weiner 2)  Moreover, Gandhi was an effective leader because he used his charisma and charm in leading the people.  He used his gift of tongue and articulateness to convince the Indian society to unite and seek independence.  Further, unlike the other leaders, Gandhi did not act and behave as leader but as a follower who made a lot of sacrifices for the people. 

In stark contrast to Mohandas Gandhi is Niccolo Machiavelli.  He argued that leaders should govern by force.  He thought the essence of a great leader is strength and cunningness.  A great leader must possess the strength of a lion and the cunning of a fox.  Unlike Gandhi who talked about compassion, Machiavelli, In “The Prince”, talked about ruthlessness and its necessity to dispose of the leader’s enemy, to maintain power and to rule effectively. 

On Morality
Gandhi was a famous moralist who advocated compassion, chastity, temperance, restraint and modesty.  He thought that leaders should always be guided by morality in their actions and political decision.  The end goal should not be used to justify the means in reaching the end.  Thus, for him use of violence is not justifiable under any circumstances. 

On the other hand, Machiavelli can be considered an immoral leader.  He declared that leaders should set aside morality in making political decisions and should concentrate only in ensuring that they retain their power over the people and their enemies.  According to Machiavelli, political leaders should not have second thoughts especially when there is a need to employ violence and cruelty.   It must however be stressed that Niccolo Machiavelli was not a sadist leader who wanted to employ violence for its own sake.  In ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli explained that: “Well used are those cruelties...that are carried out in a single stroke, done out of necessity to protect oneself, and are not continued but are instead converted into the greatest possible benefits for the subjects. Badly used are those cruelties which, although being few at the outset, grow with the passing time instead of disappearing.  Those who follow the first method can remedy their condition with God and with men...the others cannot possibly survive.”  This means that use of violence is allowed provided it will redound to the benefit of the greater number of people. 

On Violence
For Gandhi, the imposition of violence and passage of unjust laws are not acceptable.  If leaders commit violence against the people or pass unjust laws, it becomes the duty and moral obligation of every citizen not to support the ruler and to disobey the unjust law.  For Gandhi, it will be the height of injustice for a person to continuously obey an unjust law or to continuously pay his taxes with full knowledge that the same will be used to implement the unjust law.  He did not however support any act of violence or revolution to resist the unjust law.  He advocated that people should engage in civil disobedience and refuse to comply with unjust laws.  He also did not support resort to violence by the Indians in their fight for freedom.  Moreover, Gandhi thought that unjust laws are not always necessary and the society may continue to exist even without laws. 

On the other hand, Machiavelli thought that violence and unjust laws are necessary evil in order for a leader to become effective in governing the people and in fighting the enemy.  Violence is part and parcel of governance which must be imposed in view of its necessity to maintain order within the society.      

Based on the comparison between Gandhi and Machiavelli on the issue of leadership, morality and violence, it can be said that the two great thinkers have substantial differences in their philosophies.  Their views are in stark contrast with each other.  Gandhi was calmer, just, benevolent, kind, compassionate leader.  He taught that the main task of a leader is to lead by example.  He was also against any form of violence and treachery.  He thought that goals and objectives no matter how noble do not justify the use of violent means to achieve it.  On the other hand, Machiavelli is stricter, tyrannical, despotic, and violent leader who was ruthless in his approach to leadership.  He stressed the importance of use of violence to maintain control over the people and to destroy the enemy.  While he thought that violence was part and parcel of great leadership, he however was not in favor of arbitrariness in imposing violence.  For him, violence was allowed so long as it is imposed as a means to an end which is the protection of the welfare of the people. 

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