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Political Philosophy of Kautilya

Political Philosophy of Kautilya
The Arthashastra and After

  • Rajvir Sharma - former professor of Political Science, University of Delhi, and a former Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla

May 2022 | 320 pages | SAGE India
Political Philosophy of Kautilya: The Arthashastra and After offers a critical analysis of ideas and institutions as described in the ancient political economy text Arthashastra. It discusses the contributions of pre-Kautilyan, Kautilyan and post-Kautilyan political thought to the evolution and development of political theory, in general, and the impact and influence of Kautilya’s contributions, in particular. The book examines Kautilya’s theory of state, power, law and justice, administration, security, society and social well-being.

This book examines the nature of the Kautilyan state and argues that it followed the principles of a ‘welfare state’, a concept coined much later. It talks about the relationship between moralism and realism in the treatment of international relations. It highlights Kautilyan strategies in dealing with a hostile environment in the neighbourhood and beyond, which will be particularly interesting to scholars of contemporary international relations.

State and Governance in Pre-Kautilyan Indian Political Thought
The Theory of State in the Arthashastra
Legal Theory of Kautilya: A Modernist Philosophy?
Mandala/Rajamandala Theory and the Theory of Interstate Relations
Women in the Arthashastra
Post-Kautilyan Political Science

How should one place the past in the context of the present? In contemporary India, the sheer asking of this question makes it disappear, and reappear in the form of an interminable, infructuous debate between revivalists seeking to restore an imagined past to its pristine glory, and liberal modernists who would rather junk the past in its entirety, and build the future on the premises of the European Renaissance. The timely contribution of Rajvir Sharma’s book to this conundrum consists in postulating a third way in the form of ‘critical traditionalism’. Sharma draws his inspiration from India’s indgenous political knowledge and its relevance to contemporary politics. His analysis of Kautilyan thought and post-Kautilyan praxis shows how to conflate strategically selected elements of indigenous political thought with concepts drawn from general politial theory, to create a coherent, authentic and legitimate whole. His comprehensive discussion of the core elements of Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the world’s oldest comprehensive treatise on the science of statecraft, gains further traction with his incisive analysis of its mutations, as evidenced in the elaborate structure of politics and the ‘rule of rigtheousness’ under Ashoka.

Sharma’s erudite text, with its superb juxtaposition of vernacular concepts and general political theory is a challenge and inspiration to students of Indian and comparative politics to fill in the gap of our knowledge of the evolution of the Indian state during the long interval between Ashoka and Nehru.

Subrata Mitra
Emeritus Professor of Political Science, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany

Indian classic Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, wrote his master work Arthashastra on economics and political science about 2500 years ago. His contribution is still often ignored in presenting the intellectual history of social sciences. In the literature introducing Kautilya’s social philosophy, Professor Rajvir Sharma’s study on Kautilya’s political philosophy is a welcome contribution. Sharma concentrates on four aspects in Kautilya’s Arthashastra: theory of state, legal theory, inter-state relations and women in society.

Professor Sharma knows well Kautilya’s thinking and presents it in the context of pre-Kautilyan Indian social philosophy as well as Kautilya’s impact on post-Kautilyan political philosophy, especially in the great king Ashoka’s thinking. However, Sharma’s ambitions go beyond that. In fact, an interesting aspect in his study is how he compares Kautilya’s theorizing to some ancient Greek and later European classics. In doing this, Sharma demonstrates how the Indian classic was much ahead of European classics in his theorizing.

The other interesting aspect in Sharma’s study is briefly discussing, in Kautilyan context, some modern political phenomena and events in international politics. In doing this, Sharma demonstrates the universal character of Kautilya’s theorizing in the Arthashastra. Where Professor Balbir Singh Sihag’s study on Kautilya’s economic theory presents Kautilya as a founder of economics, Professor Rajvir Sharma’s study presents Kautilya as a founder of political science, although Sharma does not say that directly.

Jyrki Käkönen
Professor Emeritus, School of Management, Tampere University, Finland

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