top of page

Ethics in Diplomacy - Gandhi’s Legacy and its Relevance in Contemporary Times

Updated: Feb 11

Moral values, principles, and ethics are some of the most crucial characteristics of humans, as they are a reflection of a person’s mindset, personality, and behavior. Henceforth, moral values, principles, and ethics are pillars of our civilization, shaping a way of life for humans and unfolding cultural and moral consciousness.

Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha

   Illustration by The Geostrata

In a similar way, humans are also shaped by society's value systems; likewise, society’s values are also the benchmarks of human civilizations, as man is both a creator and a product of his culture and values.

We often see such parameters of life as just existing and sustaining the dynamics of human behavior, but what makes this worthwhile comes from one of the most profound leaders of the world, whose roots belong to the Indian soil, the Bharat, and who has left an extravagant influence of ethics and principles in the global arena: Mahatma Gandhi.


Mahatma Gandhi, standing alone, gave the global sphere a trusteeship of mutuality, new realism, and empathy, which is one of a kind and still happens to be as relevant as the contemporary philosophies of the globe. 

His arena was the moral universe, and his tools were truth and non-violence. Through his political philosophy, he aimed to make a better world for all, bifurcating the notions of truth and non-violence into various ethics and principles of human functioning.

In an analogous way, Henry David Thoreau, an American philosopher, emphasized the importance of gaining a broader perspective on life, hence the “overarching perspective”.

One of Thoreau's notable statements on overarching perspective can be found in his book "Walden," specifically in the chapter titled "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For."

In this chapter, Thoreau writes: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to face only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." 

This reflects Thoreau’s belief, in the need to step back from the busy chores of life and humans should seek deeper understanding of existence. By engaging oneself in nature and simplifying one's life, one can achieve the true essence of life. 

Further, through his political thoughts, Gandhi has given a comprehensive approach to tackling the issues of world affairs that still prevail in contemporary times. His passion for serving the purpose of global affairs created a vision through the universality of his thoughts, which were utilized back in those days, and still claim unquestionable significance in the 21st century. 

Subsequently, the political institutes of early times had lost all their significance which was established in society, and post that the ideas of Gandhi got a subtle amount of recognition, paving the lines of truth and non-violence, he believed that the idea of the institutions could be defeated through the shields of truth without creating any hurdles. He was a firm believer in the idea of a man as a whole, “oneness”, that despite any economic/social background, religion/cultural division, the human race mattered, and the oneness of all mattered. 

This also comes in the familiarity of the idea of utilitarianism, where Thomas Hobbes, states the idea of happiness and pleasure that gives society the liberty to seek happiness despite any obligation, escalating the nuances of an unhappy or sad life. The intellectual ideas of Indian and British philosophers have created a deep understanding of ethics and moral values, shaping new ways to resolve conflicts in diplomatic events, along with this the power of oneness can aid in preventing war-like situations.

The idea of “self-interest” never crossed Gandhi’s mind, rather he was more inclined toward the righteousness of having rights and liberties to all, as humans, as one global family. 

Contrary to this today's leaders are more bound by self-interest, they seek what’s serving their purpose and they turn their back on the public. 

For Gandhi, the highest form of morality is to actively promote good and prevent evil, even in conflict situations where it may be difficult to do so.

His principles of ethics are based on “altruism” and “self-sacrifice”. Furthermore, his belief is that happiness, religion, and wealth depend on sincerity to the self, an absence of malice towards others, and always acting in a pure mind.  


During his time in South Africa, Gandhi had an influence of various political and philosophical personalities, including ideas of Leo Tolstoy, a well-known Russian writer and philosopher. With this Tolstoy’s christian anarchism had a profound impact on Gandhi’s thinking. 

Tolstoy’s christian anarchism articulated a radical exposition of christianity that rejected the authority of state and promoted non-violent resistance to injustice. He believed in the principles of love, compassion, and non-resistance to evil. These ideas reverberated with Gandhi, who was already developing his own philosophy of “satyagraha” .

Gandhi correlated with the ideas of Tolstoy, and he reinforced upon such ideas and comprehended his commitment to non-violent resistance as a means of social and political change. And when he returned to India, he implemented these principles in the Indian independence movement. 

Despite some challenges posed by his ideas of ethics, Gandhi's ethical system offers a valuable model for living a good and meaningful life. It teaches us the importance of self-sacrifice, altruism, and compassion, it also teaches us to be active in the world and to work to make it a better place for everyone. 

The ideas conveyed through these concepts are also essential for a profound personal growth and to make a positive societal change through grassroots identity. This emphasizes, one’s worth and impact on the world aren’t solely fixated on materialistic possessions, but by the values and actions that guide their lives. 

Gandhi’s philosophy encourages individuals to recognise the unification of all people and to lay hands of kindness. Furthermore, this also promotes an active engagement in the world and it lives up to commitment of bettering it for everyone. Incorporating these ideas can help individuals become catalysts for positive change and coordinations of these together can address societal issues and promote a more equitable, inclusive, and just society.  


Satyagraha, as practiced by Gandhi, is rooted in truth. It is portrayed as a method to challenge prevailing untruths and injustices. Gandhi's approach is viewed as an essential tool for resistance against inequality, poverty, and ignorance. The global and historical context spans various countries, and the evidence is provided from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and West Asia, illustrating how non-violent movements have led to significant political changes. These underscore the global relevance of satyagraha as a means of protest.

Through the evolution of this concept, we also learn an idea of a secular nature, through the testaments of Tirukurral, the Tamil poet, who accumulated a concept of “secular nature”, that transcends religious boundaries, offering universal wisdom upon virtuous living, ethics and governance. It advocates people to resonate with all faiths, accentuating principles that promote harmony, justice and moral conduct in society, making it a flare of all embracing. 

The term 'passive resistance' does not fully capture the essence of satyagraha.

Civil disobedience is presented as a more accurate term. The concept is shown to have adapted and influenced movements worldwide, including those led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and contemporary movements in India related to environmental issues and workers rights.

Apart from this, various philosophical perspectives are presented, including the idea that truth is not monopolized by the powerful and that any discourse on truth must be based on reason, not power. This also sheds the importance of Gandhi's principles in education, indicating their relevance in shaping educational institutions and the empowerment of marginalized communities.

The diverse applications of satyagraha come from social movements like the Vaikom Satyagraha and the Chipko Movement to contemporary issues such as land reform, manual scavenging, and corporate exploitation. These examples demonstrate the adaptability and enduring relevance of satyagraha in addressing social injustices and advocating for change.

This also paved the way for Gandhi's influence on social movements, his emphasis on non-violent resistance, truth, and self-suffering served as guiding principles for movements like Chipko. The philosophical aspects of satyagraha emphasize its unique approach to handling antagonism and injustice. 

The contemporary relevance of satyagraha in the face of governance challenges, corporate exploitation, and the loss of natural resources. It advocates for the reinvention of Gandhian principles, such as trusteeship, to counter the exploitation of natural resources and to ensure social justice.

Despite this, Gandhi's insights on economic inequality and the influence of corporations on politics are influential. His critique of corporate interests dominating politics and the idea of the ‘principle of antagonism’ versus the ‘principle of reconciliation’ underscores the depth of his analysis. This perspective sheds light on Gandhi's views on justice, consent, and the role of law in an unjust society. 


Ethics play a crucial role in diplomacy, shaping the conduct of international relations and interaction between the states. This aids in building trust among the nations, in diplomacy, trust is the foundation of relationships. 

With trust comes credibility in ethical behavior in diplomatic situations, adhering to ethical standards which can lead to a more favorable reception of a nation’s positions and proposals.

When in conflict resolution, fair negotiations can be promoted through ethical diplomacy, when one or two nations trust each other they will act ethically and are more likely to engage in honest and open discussions, that might lead to peaceful negotiations. As effectively as possible ethical diplomats can mediate disputes. Their impartiality and adherence to ethical norms make them credible mediators, facilitating peaceful resolutions.

The protection of human rights is also advocated under ethical diplomacy. Diplomats can be instrumental in pressuring nations to adhere to international human rights standards, thereby fostering a more just global society. Further, it is also bound to prevent conflicts by addressing underlying issues and promoting understanding between nations. By focusing on ethical principles, diplomats can work towards preventing the escalation of disputes into full-blown wars.

In essence, Gandhi’s idea of truth and justice is deeply rooted in his understanding of the concept of “right to duty”, for him truth was not just a matter of verbal ethics but an inclusive dedication to moral and ethical principles in every sphere of life. And justice was associated with this pursuit of truth, he patronized that justice could be achieved when it's in harmony with truth. 





shaping the conduct of International relations


Ethics are the most important ethos in diplomacy and dialogue

bottom of page