State and Statecraft in Kautilya’s Arthasastra


Republican form of governments were well established in ancient India. At the time of the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia (4th century B.C.), there existed a large number of independent Ganas (republics) like Agrasrenies in the Indus valley, Kamboj in the west, Panchals in the north etc . Kautilya, the author of Arthasastra, was a product of this era. He played the main role in defeating the forces of Alexander. Kautilya believed that the Alexander’s successful conquest of (a part of) India was due to the absence of a strong centralized Indian empire. He was determined not to let history repeat itself. Hence the Mauryan empire, which he was instrumental in founding, was (relatively) centralized and very different from the then prevailing republican systems. His treatise – Arthasastra, therefore, deals only with the governance in a monarchical state.

Many Occidental scholars have argued that the Hindu philosophy is anti-thetical to the concept of a state. Max Muller  has observed that ” the Hindus were a nation of philosophers. Their struggles were the struggles of thought, their past, the problem of creation, their future, the problem of existence It might therefore be justly said that India has no place in the political history of the world “. Prof. Bloomfield has also argued in the same vein : ” from the beginning of India’s history, religious institutions controlled the character and development of its people to an extent unknown elsewhere … there is no provision in such a scheme for the interests of the state and the development of the race “.

Max Weber saw an absence of ‘rational practical ethic’ in Hinduism. He believed that the rational natural science could not develop in India since the Hindu civilization devalued the empirical world. Vedic philosophy gives emphasis to both the material and the spiritual aspects of the human being. The path of pravriti (enjoyment) and that of nivriti (renunciation) are seen to complement each other (Ghoshal, 1923:7). ‘Rational sciences’ such as Mathematics were well developed in ancient India – the concept of ‘shunya’ (zero) and the decimal system were invented by the ‘buddhijivi (those who make a living from the use of brain power – intellectuals) of the Vedic civilization.

The rationality ethic is the basis of many ancient dharmic texts. Treatise like the Arthasastra advocate the application of reason to statecraft to such an extent that many Occidental scholars have called Kautilya as the “Machiavelli of India”.