History is a source of knowledge. It is an exceptional chance to learn from someone’s experience, which is especially important when in to comes to studying leadership. World-famous intellectuals, like Galileo, Machiavelli, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx are the quintessence of unconditional leadership, as their innovative contributions to science, politics and economics made a significant impact on the course of history.
Niccolo Machiavelli, a 16th century Italian diplomat and political thinker, wrote a revolutionary “The Prince” political treatise. Between the years 1498 and 1512 he served as a political analyst and a diplomat in Florence. That period is remarkable for the overthrow of Medici political dynasty, and Machiavelli was a supporter of the new power. When Medici retook the power, Machiavelli was falsely accused of taking part in the anti-Medici conspiracy campaign. In 1513, he was ruthlessly tortured and sent to prison; that year, Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” (BBC Documentary, 2013).
The “Prince” intended to be a guide for politically ambitious leaders; it is all about how to achieve power and how to keep it. According to Machiavellian doctrine, when it comes to power, there is no place left for moral values or high ideals, as it is better to be feared than loved. Machiavelli wrote that humans by nature are deceitful, sold-out and rotten-hearted, therefore, they a need an authoritative leader, capable to keep on them on a short leash (BBC Documentary, 2013).
Machiavelli suggests leaders to always choose cruelty instead of mercifulness, in order to be on a safe side. Fear is the source of evil, but it is also the source of power. An ideal, Machiavellian leader is always determinate, manipulative, persuasive, and, to a certain degree, ruthless. These characteristics are pillars of a successful leadership (BBC Documentary, 2013).
While the traditional understanding of politics implies the idea of being generous and altruistic towards people, Machiavelli decides to leave aside all the conventional beliefs, and looks at the power as it is. He was the first to come up with the concept of a pure strategy. Machiavelli’s provocative ideas were revolutionary then, and they are actually no less revolutionary now (BBC Documentary, 2013).
Galileo Galilei, the father of the modern science, lived in the times of discord in the Christian world. In the 16- 17th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was threatened by the Protestant Reformation. In order to keep the power, the violent inquisition was enforced. This restless and dangerous era was definitely not the best time for scientific innovations, which countered and even questioned the ideals dictated by the vigorously influential religious leaders (NOVA, 2002).
Inspired by the Copernican theory, Galileo was brave enough to develop it further. In 1609 he built his first telescope, which enabled him to explore the night sky. Galileo outlined the results of his research in “The Starry Messenger” treatise, which made him quite famous in Italy (NOVA, 2002).
Galileo, being a person of sharp mind, realized that his intentions required the support of power holders. Therefore, with a stroke of diplomacy, he offered Cosimo II de Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, to name Jupiter’s moons in his honor, “The Medician Stars”. Galileo’s attempt to get in good with the duke was crowned with success, as he was appointed a philosopher and mathematician to the Medician (NOVA, 2002).
In 1616, the Catholic Church banned the Copernicus’ argument for a sun-centered universe. Pope Paul V informed Galileo that he was no longer allowed to support the Copernican theory; however, Galileo did not obey, and 1632 he published the “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, which represented arguments for and against the heliocentric theory. In 1633, the Roman Inquisition accused Galileo of supporting heliocentrism. He was convicted to lifetime imprisonment, and was forced to publicly reject the heliocentric theory (NOVA, 2002).
Galileo’s life is a vivid example to show that one should know the difference when it is time to stand the ground, and when it is better to yield and retract. Galileo’s acceptance of the Catholic Church ideology rescued not only his life, but also the legacy he left behind.
Charles Darwin, an English naturalist, is another example of indirect leader. After making a five-year voyage around the world, Darwin started developing his legendary evolution theory, which would be something unacceptable and immoral in the eyes of Victorian England. According to Darwin’s doctrine, humans and animals share the same ancestor ("Darwin Online", n.d.).
This innovative approach undermined the Christian belief that human is a creature of God. His wife, Emma, was a faithful believer, and Darwin acknowledged that his findings would hurt her. Charles reached the point, where he had to decide whether his personal life or scientific career would be put on the first place ("Darwin Online", n.d.).
In November 1859, after twenty years of inner struggle and additional research, at the age of fifty, Darwin finally published “The Origin of Species”. Surprisingly, the book created a furor immediately, as the first small edition was sold out just on the day of publication. By the year 1876, “The Origin of Species” had been sold in sixteen thousand copies, and translated into many European languages ("Darwin Online", n.d.). Charles Darwin dared to confront the tough issue of religion, which was a highly important pillar of social life in England. There is no denying the fact that Darwin’s work had an irreversible impact on further development of science.
Karl Marx, a German philosopher and social activist, was another extremely influential figure of the 19th century. Being a vigorous rival of capitalism, he developed a concept of international communism, which was supposed to benefit the lower classes. His theory, in a nutshell, denied the existence of social classes, meaning that people had to be free from financial constraints on focus on any other activities, which would bring joy and happiness. Marx believed the biggest evil of capitalism was the ideology that required people to be always anxious, competitive and politically ignorant. According to Marx, capitalism generated so called ‘commodity fetishism’, where the importance of economic relationships fully replaced the social relationships among people (Facts, n.d.).
Although Marx was not popular in his day, the ideas of communism became the keystone of the most significant movements of the 20th century. Marxist beliefs were well-regarded in Latin America, Asia and Russia. Karl Marx, whether intentionally or not, made a good choice focusing on working class. He offered them not just a wage increase, but an absolutely different life, where no one would have to consider job as a life important matter. Marx was not just a persuasive and self-confident leader, he was also good in presenting his ideas, in a clear and easy to understand manner. In his “The Communist Manifesto”, Marx managed to convey his ideas using plain categories and a simple language, providing direct examples how people could succeed in a communist society (Facts, n.d.).
The stories of the leaders discussed prove that any radical new view cannot avoid confrontation. While Machiavelli teaches us that ends justify the means, the history shows the contrary. Muammar Gadaffi, Adolf Hitler and other overthrown dictators were followers of “The Prince” (BBC Documentary, 2013).
Becoming an influential leader, is a more complicated path than getting rough and cruel. One needs to have a sharp mind and the ability to think several steps ahead. Another important thing is readiness to make sacrifices, proactivity and being result-oriented. The legacy of Machiavelli, Galileo, Darwin and Marx confirm that these qualities are essential for our current leaders.
Darwin Online. Darwin-online.org.uk. Retrieved 23 July 2016, from http://darwin-online.org.uk/
NOVA,. (2002). Galileo's Battle for the Heavens. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnEH9rbrIkk
Facts, K. Karl Marx. HISTORY.com. Retrieved 23 July 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/karl-marx
BBC Documentary,. (2013). Who is afraid of Machiavelli?