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The Leaders in History: The End Does not Justify the Means

A Phrase from Niccolo Machiavelli’s Book “The Prince” for The World Leaders

The end justifies the means is a phrase that is taken from Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince.” This phrase has been interpreted differently by various people. It implies that any method, however foul, cruel or illegal, used to achieve the targeted result is justifiable. Besides, the statement has elicited a multiplicity of reactions among people across the globe. Thus, some consider it to be correct while others strongly oppose it. Basically, the phrase is customarily used to underscore the principles and ethics of deeds. A deed itself might be disgraceful, but as the only key to achieving a target, it could be tolerable. This concept is mostly used by people who want to justify their choices by relativism, as a way to clear their conscience from their doings. Proponents of this statement in some cases use it as an excuse to wreak havoc and cause mayhem. In their opinion, it is fair to use deception and fraud as an implement of war. Those who are passionately convicted about their course often stop at nothing when obtaining results, which to them is the only plausible outcome. A number of individuals, in contrary, admit that there is no justification for any punitive measures taken in pursuit of achieving a goal. Machiavelli, however, was a strong believer in the importance of prosperity in all fronts – himself, his subjects and his state as a whole, and nothing would come before all that.

In Machiavelli’s eyes, the priority of a Prince upon ascension to power would be to preserve that power. His views depict his vehement intentions for doing anything that would lead to the fruition of any desired end. In a ruler’s context, the end could refer to anything that would impact the fortune and well-being of his subjects, as well as his position. In a smaller way, the end may be our success and satisfaction, and our contemporaries. For a leader, the means remain critical for legacy and reputation while the end is what really matters to the public. To maintain the power and preserve legitimacy, therefore, a leader should guarantee the gratification of the people. This is the basis of the election and re-election of some leaders – what they have achieved for the people or what they vouchsafe to for the electorate. People do several things with the greater good in consideration. Machiavelli, in his turn, argues that humans are naturally indecisive, capricious, and selfish. This is one of the least contended suggestions of all the postulates in “The Prince.” Hence, people try to get what they want, some with no regard to the cause. The outcome is more important than the steps taken to achieve it.

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The end does not justify the means. The means by which one endeavors to realize the ends are similarly as significant as the end itself. The methods used should be as honorable as the outcome. It is apparent that many leaders and people have failed to internalize this phrase. From their unfortunate viewpoint, it is insane to worry about what is right. The truth is, however, that this phrase is a summary of one of the chief principles of morality. It means that certain vital principles are essentially acceptable, and their violation cannot be justified by having a purported good in one’s mind. For instance, one cannot attain justice if they fail to abide by the ideals of justice. These principles should never be overlooked or obliterated since doing so cohesion and harmonious co-existence of humans is in danger. Fundamental ethics are not meant to cause any harm to individuals. We live in free world, and nobody has the freedom and right to impose their will on others. It is also a public obligation to be fair and just and to defend what is right despite the situation. In the absence of morals in the society, people would live in endless anxiety.

In as much as it is only the end that matters to people in most circumstances, it is not agreeable for one to show his/her emotions of his/her accord as if rules and ethics are non-existent. It is ethically unacceptable to use any necessary means. This is a principle that should forever be upheld by leaders. However, many leaders would presumably act in a manner advantageous to the people, but it should be known that these leaders have no absolute rights to make decisions for their constituents. In fact, those decisions made and actions taken by leaders have a great impact on the people. It is therefore of paramount importance that leaders remain ethical in their endeavors to protect the interests of their subjects.

This essay argues against Machiavelli’s phrase “The end justifies the means”. The argument is based on giving examples of the actions of leaders including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan

The United Arab Emirates federation was formed on the second day of December 1971. Following its formation, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the ruler of the Abu Dhabi emirate, served the emerging country as its president. It is difficult to comprehend the foundation and organization of the UAE without the input of Sheikh Zayed in the picture. His strongly held principles based on the religion of Islam, diligence and willpower propelled him towards building a prosperous nation from an underdeveloped one (Wilson, 2013). Sheikh Zayed was known for his big-heartedness both locally and internationally, and for his manner in which he dedicated his life to serving people and his sole desire to create a better world.

The actual date of birth of Sheikh Zayed is not clearly known. It is, however, recorded that he was born sometime in 1918 to His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan whose reign as the ruler of the Abu Dhabi emirate ran from 1922 to 1926. He was the youngest of his four brothers. The region was poorly developed at the time of Sheikh Zayed’s birth. The economy was largely dependent on fishing, pearl diving, and small-scale agriculture in the inland’s sparse oases (UAEinteract, n.d. b). As a young man, Sheikh Zayed traveled far and wide across his country and gained a profound understanding of the land and its inhabitants. When petroleum companies permeated the country to prospect for oil, he was assigned as a chaperone. As a result, he thus gained a firsthand exposure to the trade that would later revolutionize the development of his country. Admittedly, his insatiable hunger for knowledge led him to the desert together with the Bedouin tribesmen. Through this experience, he learned a great deal about the tribe’s way of life and their tactics of survival in the otherwise harsh conditions.

Sheikh Zayed was appointed as the Ruler’s Representative in Al Ain, a center that lies in the inland east of Abu Dhabi in 1946. In his new assignment, he embraced the consensus and open discussion, and his decisions were renowned for their astuteness, deep insight, and fairness. With the dismal revenue, Sheikh Zayed successfully advanced Al Ain. He organized a simple system of administration and facilitated the establishment of the first contemporary school in Abu Dhabi while encouraging those close to him to make contributions towards the local development schemes. The Sheikh reviewed the local rights to water ownership and made sure that the distribution was more reasonable and just than before (Wilson, 2013). Thus, this step has fast-tracked the development of agriculture and the center at large.

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In August 1966, Sheikh Zayed became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi with an ambition to hasten the improvement of the region. With the increasing oil revenues, he began the establishment of schools, hospitals, and proper housing in addition to road construction. The experience he had gained in Al Ain made him a proficient and visionary administrator. Moreover, the British who had initially been protecting the Trucial States announced their withdrawal from the area in 1968. Sheikh Zayed promptly actively started to build closer links with the other Emirates. He publically demanded the formation of a Federation that would be inclusive of the seven emirates that initially constituted the Trucial States together with Bahrain and Qatar (National Archives, n.d.). In due course, the seven Trucial states joined Sheikh Zayed in creating the UAE, which officially appeared on the international arena in December 1971.

The UAE emerged during a period that was marred with a political tumult in the region. Iran had got under control the islands of Tunb, a portion of Ras al-Khaimah, and had deployed troops to Abu Musa in Sharjah. Owing to the prevailing border disputes and major disparity among the seven emirates, projections made by foreign analysts pointed to the troubled survival of the UAE. Sheikh Zayed kept a positive mind and prove the predictions of those cynics to be merely speculative (UAEInteract, n.d. a). It is without a doubt evident that the peace, success, and growth that is patent to the UAE today is as a result of the focus and foundational role that was played by Sheikh Zayed. His gusto and fervor were crucial in propelling the UAE toward current prosperity and self-sustenance.
Sheikh Zayed became a darling man to his people and his fellow rulers. The manner in which he sought pacification and consensus won him a tremendous support. He was elected as the first president of the UAE. His proven track record saw him re-elected to the seat, a capacity in which he served until his demise. As a leader, one of the philosophies that he followed was that the country’s assets and revenues were to be used solely for the people’s benefit and gratification. In other words, he was a passionate proponent of justice and equality. His reign was characterized by the empowerment of women as he championed for the provision of education and employment opportunities to males and females alike. While at the helm of the nation’s leadership, Sheikh Zayed borrowed a lot from the Bedouin customs of unanimity and consensus. Traditionally, the principle had been enacted through the councils known as Majlis. In these councils, rulers would convene forums in which every member of the society was allowed to voice his/her concerns and make contributions towards the governance of the emirate (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 2015). This was a form of what is currently referred to as a direct democracy. With the country developing rapidly, it was necessary to formalize the process of consultation. The Federal National Council was therefore instituted by the Constitution of the UAE to bring the leaders of all the ethnic groups together. Nowadays, this body serves as the federation’s legislature.

Sheikh Zayed was an outstandingly strong adversary of punitive dogmas and bigotry. He openly condemned the acts of terror against humans and proclaimed that Islam was a religion of compassion and forbearance. The leader practiced his ideals of tolerance more extensively. The UAE was famed for enhancing harmony, mutual aid, and cooperation in the Arab world (UAEinteract, n.d. b). Sheikh Zayed inculcated a culture of peaceful conflict resolution through dialogue and finding a suitable middle ground for all the involved factions while averting any options that would involve the use of force.

Sheikh Zayed identified the potential that the UAE had in taking part in international pacification processes. He commissioned the UAE defense forces to participate in the Arab Deterrent Force whose aim was to bring the civil discord and strife in Lebanon to the end. In 1999, Sheikh Zayed expressed his support for the resolution by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to initiate its above ground operation to compel Serbia to stop its inhuman and unethical activities of genocide against Kosovo. While making sure that the UAE progressively adhered to international duties, Sheikh Zayed also clarified that the UAE’s purpose was centered on reintegration and liberation. The policy implemented by the UAE in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and other nations is a clear reflection of Sheikh Zayed’s aspiration that clearly reflects the desire of Sheikh Zayed to share the fortune of his state with those in lack. Through organizations established by Sheikh Zayed, the UAE appears at the center of providing relief and developmental across the globe (Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 2015). Upon his death in 2004, Sheikh Zayed left a legacy as the Father of the UAE. However, the principles and values that he introduced to the government remain central to the state and its policies till now.

Nelson Mandela

The former South African president and activist Nelson Mandela contributed immensely to the annihilation of the apartheid rule and was globally known for being an activist of human freedoms and rights. He led both non-violent and forceful crusades against the despotic regime by the whites in a racially striated South Africa during his time as a member of the African National Congress party (ANC). Because of his engagements he was imprisoned for twenty-seven years and became the symbol of the antiapartheid drive both in his country and in the world. He was released in 1990 and continued to press for a racially liberal South Africa. Nelson Mandela formed a government would guarantee the peaceful transition of the country from an oppressive apartheid rule (History, n.d.). Even after unassuming his political roles, Mandela stayed devoted to his advocacy for justice and harmony in South Africa and across the world until he died in 2013.

Nelson Mandela’s devotion to politics became more undivided after the election victory of the National Party which was dominated by Afrikaners. The party introduced apartheid, a system that barred non-whites from enjoying fundamental rights and freedoms not to mention participation in the government. The ANC developed and adopted a strategy to guarantee citizenship for all the South African people through non-violent boycotts and strikes. Mandela also involved himself in spearheading ANC’s defiance campaign against oppressive laws, traversing the country to mobilize rejection of unfair policies and to promote a charter of freedom. Together with his allies, they formulated the Freedom Charter which came to be approved in 1955 by the people’s congress (Nelson Mandela Foundation, n.d.). Further, Mandela also opened a law firm which provided pro bono legal services to victims of apartheid.

In 1956, Mandela and other anti-apartheid supporters were apprehended and tried for the treason. They were found innocent of the accusations and were acquitted. Meanwhile, pressure intensified within the ANC escalated. A radical faction became separated to found the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). A year afterward, the police killed non-violent black protesters in Sharpeville. Anxiety, resentment, and insurrections caused suffering and damage in the country after the massacre. The government then proscribed both the PAC and the ANC from operating. Mandela was forced to hibernate and led to a more violent approach. In 1961, he co-founded uMkhonto we Sizwe, (meaning Spear of the Nation), the armed section of the ANC (South African History Online, 2016). The group, also known as MK initiated a campaign to sabotage the government under the leadership of Mandela.

Mandela left the country illegally in 1962 to be present at a convention of African nationalists in Ethiopia. He also underwent the training in guerilla techniques in Algeria. Upon his return, he was arrested and imprisoned for five years having been charged with illegally traveling abroad and initiating a worker’s strike. In July the following year, the police entered an ANC haven and arrested a group of MK leaders who had come together to deliberate on the effectiveness of putting up a guerilla insurrection. As a result, the gathered evidence implicated Mandela and his associates. They were tried for treason, violent conspiracy, and sabotage.

Mandela and seven other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment after an eight-month trial which attracted the significant attention of international observers. Admitting to some of the charges facing him in defense of the actions taken by ANC, openly denounced the unfairness of the apartheid rule (History, n.d.). He emphasized his desire to have a democratic and liberal society in which every person co-exists harmoniously with the same opportunities for all. Mandela was even willing to die for the freedom he so much vehemently believed in.

During his time in prison, Nelson Mandela and other prisoners were mistreated. They were subjected to hard labor with cruel punishments being applied to them for the least of offenses. Despite these conditions, Mandela managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in law in the University of London. He also mentored his fellow inmates and encouraged them to advocate for better treatment without addressing to violent means. Notwithstanding his forced withdrawal from the public eye, Mandela continued to be the symbol of the antiapartheid drive. In 1980, a campaign to free Mandela made the name of the imprisoned leader a household term and intensified the international uproar against the racism in South Africa. Consequently, the government conceded before the mounting pressures. Mandela was offered liberty. In exchange, he was to make a number of compromises – a deal which he emphatically rejected. In 1988, Mandela was placed under house arrest. F. W. de Klerk, newly elected president, revoked the injunctions on the ANC (Ottaway, 1993). He fell out with the conformists in his party when he called for the end of apartheid and authorized the release of Mandela in February 1990.

The free Mandela led his party and many other South African political factions to negotiating with the ruling party for the termination of apartheid and the creation of an all-inclusive government. Although the talks were held amidst tension and political instability, they earned Mandela and de Klerk the Nobel Peace Prizes (The Nobel Foundation, n.d.). Millions of South Africans turned out to vote on April 26, 1994. This day marked the first multiracial elections in the history of the country. ANC won by a large margin and Mandela took an oath of office as South Arica’s first black president on May 10 the same year. In a bid to accelerate national healing, Mandela instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the acts committed against humanity by both opponents and proponents of apartheid. As a president, he also introduced a number of economic and social strategies for improving the people’s standard of living. In 1996 Mandela understood the deliverance of a new constitution that was rooted and emphasized on equality. The constitution instituted a strong government based on the rule by the majority and forbade prejudice against minorities, the whites included.

Enhancing a racial integration, encouraging blacks not to revenge against the whites and giving South Africa a facelift in the global arena were essential to Mandela’s plan for the country. To this effect, he constituted an all-inclusive government and declared the South Africa a “rainbow nation” which is in itself peaceful and at peace with the rest of the world. After his retirement, Nelson Mandela’s devotion to championing for social justice and harmony remained unwavering. He founded several organizations aimed at addressing and alleviating human problems. Moreover, Mandela became a promoter of AIDS awareness in an environment where the disease was masked with ignorance and stigma (Nelson Mandela Foundation, n.d.). In 2009, July 18 was declared “Nelson Mandela International Day” by the United Nations in acknowledgment of Mandela’s efforts to promote social equality, liberty, peace, and human rights worldwide.

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Mahatma Gandhi

In Mahatma Gandhi’s eyes, the importance of India’s movement for freedom was that proceeded without violence. He detested forcefulness not only because people without arms had slim chances of victory in a rebellion that involved weapons, but also because he considered violence an inept weapon which caused more problems rather than solving them. Violence in its wake would leave a trace of animosity and resentment with unpretentious reconciliation being virtually impossible. This vehemence on nonaggression, however, elicited different reactions from Gandhi’s critics in Britain and India alike. To the British, nonviolence was a tool of disguise, while to the Indian detractors it was an utter sentimentalism (Nanda, 2016). The extremist Indian politicians, who had borrowed a lot from the revolutions thought that force was pertinent to political liberation, and that it was absurd to compromise strategic gains for ethical rather than political reasons.

Gandhi’s absolute commitment to diplomacy generated a rift between him and Indian elite. This rift was only provisionally bridged at moments of intense political exhilaration. Even his closest associates were willing to adopt his dogma of nonviolence but only to its reasonable end. From their viewpoint, embracing peace in a world in which the use of force was the norm was rather foolish. Besides, Gandhi’s ideals on devolution were considered as a threat, as they would lead to the wilting of the state (Lal, 2012). Persons tasked with shaping the government of independent India considered the principle of nonviolence impractical in the political arena. They, however, did not contest the supremacy of this principle.

Gandhi presented the world with the conceptions of peaceful disobedience and nonviolence. Basically, he proved that political and social changes could be achieved through compassion and love, contrary to the universal belief in the effectiveness of fear and force (GandhiServe Foundation, 2012).He employed tactics such as boycotts and peaceful non-conformity to the rule of the colonial masters. The fact that Gandhi was not willing to compromise his ethical principles and standards made his actions morally legitimate. From his point of view, the means and the ends were inseparable. Furthermore, Gandhi found his principles in religious books and philosophical writers emerging as one of the earliest persons to apply such principles in a significant political campaign (Gandhi, 2009). As a result, these ideologies together with his persistence in pursuing religious tolerance, perpetual truth, and social justice elevated the awareness of many Indians.

The British colonialists in India went through a hard time and finally withdrew their rule over India. This is because Mahatma Gandhi would effectively initiate several protests against the authorities, but the peaceful nature of these protests complicated their neutralization. Gandhi, in his turn, encouraged his supporters to practice self-discipline in readiness for self-governance. He said that the people had to demonstrate that they were worthy of independence (Gandhi, 2009). Other leaders, however, opposed Gandhi’s sentiments and maintained that whether or not Indians would manage their affairs effectively, their right to independence was unquestionable. Gandhi also disagreed with factions that asked for the upheaval of the British rule by acting directly.

Gandhi beseeched the Indians to embrace non-violence and would terminate his campaigns if they demonstrate their violent intentions. In 1930, he led a legendary protest against the novel Salt Acts. Scores were apprehended, and Indian prisons became overpopulated with supporters of independence. However, at the peak of the campaign, some Indian activists killed a number of British neutrals. Consequently, Gandhi demanded the end of the march citing India’s unpreparedness for independence (Nanda, 2016). This move disappointed many Indians who were addicted to attaining a desirable freedom. Some radicals, however, continued with the push for independence.

Principally, Gandhi strived to identify to realize and overcome his own inadequacies in an attempt to transform himself. He aimed at treating all creatures and beings with utmost tried to meet all living beings and creations of nature with great reverence and meekness. He stood firm in defending his beliefs using peaceful means and to him, a compromise was never a difficult choice to take (GandhiServe Foundation, 2012). Thus, Gandhi liberated his country from the shackles of colonialism and steered his people to independence. Not only did he champion for political rights but also struggled for equality in the economic and social fronts.


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The end, certainly, does not justify the means. Looking at the lives of the above-discussed leaders and their resolution to remain ethical in their endeavors fortifies the legitimacy of this statement. Machiavelli’s concept gives a leeway for the justification of choices with relativism and contends the supremacy of morality and ethics in decision making. Radicals and extremists often take advantage of this principle to perpetuate inhumane acts that would otherwise be circumvented by the adoption of the gold standard approach – pacification. The adoption of Machiavelli’s principle in problem-solving in most cases leads to the worsening of already bad situations instead of solving them.

Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, took his guns when it came to matters principles. His strong belief in dialogue and consensus as the tools for conflict resolution has led to the stability and prosperity of the UAE. Despite hailing from a monarchial family, Sheikh Zayed protected the equal treatment of all and condemned all forms of prejudice. He provided equal opportunities to all his fellow countrymen, men, and women alike. With Islam teachings imbibed in him, Sheikh Zayed abhorred terrorism and proclaimed his religion as one of peace and love. His life and contribution to the transformation of a formerly underdeveloped country to one that is held in high regard internationally point to the benefits of upholding fundamental principles of ethics at all times.

South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, is yet another example of a leader who exemplified the advantages of upholding morality. He rose to liberate his fellow blacks and other oppressed factions during the punitive apartheid rule in his country. Despite the harsh treatments that Mandela and his supporters were subjected to, revenge and retaliation were not an option for him. He encouraged his fellow freedom fighters to proceed non-violently in the push for a multiracial South Africa. On his election as the president, Mandela proposed such measures that would promote reconciliation and healing in the country which had been thronged with resentment and animosity for a long time. He formed a multiracial government and protected the interests of the minorities. Mandela took no drastic actions against the whites who had oppressed him. Instead, he opted to forgive while coming out strongly against social injustices.

The principles of nonviolence and peaceful disobedience remained to the foundation of Mahatma Gandhi’s pursuit of India’s independence. To him, nonviolence was not merely abstaining from violence. In essence, he viewed it as an avenue to fighting oppression and bringing about transformation. Though faced with opposition, Gandhi did not waver in his stand. His peaceful methods disoriented the British who opposed to granting India independence. One can learn an important lesson from the examples set by these exemplary leaders.

In as much as success and the achievement of targets is desirable, it is very important that people opt for means that preserve human dignity. The election of such means should be done with significant consideration as those which are used to achieve an end have ramifications which can either be positive or disastrous.

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