The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

H.H. Chartrand

April 2002

AAP Homepage

Herbert H. Gowen

“The Indian Machiavelli” or Political Theory in India Two Thousand Years Ago

Political Science Quarterly

Volume 44, Issue 2 (Jun., 1929), 173-192.

HHC: special letters in Arabic,

Sanskrit and German words did not scan well.

 Care is advised in the use of their spelling.

MOST of the gaps in our text-books of political theory are gradually being filled by the labors of the experts, but one gulf still yawns so widely, and, thus far, with so little attempt to fill the void, that I hope I may be pardoned a very humble intrusion into an unfamiliar field when I ask attention to one of the most remarkable survivals from ancient Indian literature, the Arthašastra, or Text-book on Polity, ascribed to Kautilya, a Brahman of the 4th century B. C.

The omission of India from consideration by most writers on political science would probably be defended by the general statement that India is a land of philosophers rather than of practical politicians.’  It may be affirmed with some plausibility that throughout the long history of the peninsula (so far as that history is to be recovered, mainly by the contributions of foreigners) Realpolitik has generally been subordinated to mysticism; that the people who think in terms of kalpas instead of dynasties, whose ideal it has been to retire to the jungles and there, by a kind of self-hypnotism, sever the nexus between the visible world (conceived as maya) and the eternal soul, could not conceivably be interested in questions of political administration.

It should, however, hardly be necessary to say that this view of India - and in general of the Orient - that men are here so much less concerned with the material than in the Occident - is a mistake.  It is, of course, true that in India, as elsewhere in the tropics, a certain number of people find speculation more attractive than “the practic part of life “.  It is specifically true

1. Dr. W. W. Willoughby’s Political Theories of the Ancient World devotes only 10 pages to the Orient, in the course of which “India and China” are mentioned once, mainly for the sake of saying that political writings in these countries are confined to “short sentences and aphoristic sayings.”.

173 Index

that at a certain period of Indian history, possibly as early as B. C. 1000, there was a decided reaction of early Vedic religion and life in the direction of mysticism.  Karma-kanda (the religion of doing) did give place in various quarters to (F)*nana-kanda (the religion of knowing).  But of this two things may be said: first, that this retirement from the world of a certain number of people for a certain period of life was in itself productive of a reaction towards the material; and, secondly, that the philosophical movement did not interfere seriously with the trend of life on the part of India at large.  As J. J. Meyer puts it, the old Indian was “ein diesseitiger Mann”.  The Brahman, in particular, was never lured from practical considerations by any special tendency to speculation on the part of others.  His preoccupation with courtly life was based on the belief that Throne and Altar must stand together for mutual support.  His traditional interest in the meticulous ritual of post-Vedic times, while it made him “ein geborener Tifiler”— a hair-splitting dialectician—when it came to putting things into categories, yet retained his feet on the solid earth.  Hence it comes to pass that, in the exposition of political science, and in the actual work of administration, we find the Brahman always an outstanding and extremely practical figure.

Perhaps the matter is stated more fairly and comprehensively if it be said that the Indian ideal of life was a much more fully rounded one than may be accounted for merely by some theory of reaction or natural trend.  Indian writers insist continually on the importance of recognizing the trivarga, or threefold way of life.  This includes, first, dharrna, or religious duty; secondly, artha, or the cult of the useful; and, thirdly, kama, or the worship of the desirable.  Thus the literature which contains some of the profoundest religious writings the world knows, contains also, through devotion to kama, some of the most licentious, and in the case of the arthašastras, some of the most cold-bloodedly practical.  That these elements of a complete life were held in any nicely balanced way would not for a moment be maintained.  But, on the other hand, no one acquainted with Indian literature would maintain that devotion to artha, as emphasis on the secular, or “irdischie Vorteil “, has


ever been conspicuously lacking.  The Indian has at all times and in many various ways deified earthy good as well as spiritual reality.

The proof of this statement is to be found in a large selection of literature.  We find it, for example, in the great epic, the Mahabharata, of which the 12th book is itself what might be called an arthacastra, or text-book of political science.  We find it, again, in some of the dramas, particularly in such an one as the Mricchakatika, or Clay Cart.  More especially we find it in the fable collections, such as the Pancatantra and Hitopadeša, which really owe their preservation and their transmission to other lands mainly to their use as nitišastras, or manuals of polity, rather than to their popularity as literature of entertainment.

But the most important body of literature upon which we may base the claims of India for consideration in the field of political science is to be found in the books known as arthšastras, which may be accurately defined as dharmašastras (law books) concerned with the secular rather than with the religious side of life, and still more particularly with the science of kingcraft.  The author whose remarkable treatise it is the purpose of this paper to discuss mentions no less than ten predecessors in his chosen field, so it is plain that what has survived is but a small part of the political writing which had once its vogue.

There is, however, the less reason to lament our loss in the satisfaction aroused in the possession of one book which, recovered in the last twenty years, is now acknowledged by Indologists, whatever their views on authorship or date, as throwing more light on the actual details of old Indian life than any other in the whole extent of literature.  This is the Kautiliya, or Arthašastra of Kautilya, the text of which has been accessible since 1909, and of which we now have the excellent German translation completed by Johann Jacob Meyer in 1926.

But before discussing the book and its probable date, let us summarize what is known of the traditional author, Chanakya, or Vishnugupta, generally spoken of as Kautilya.  To this Chanakya is attributed in a number of writings (of which the

175 Index

Vishnu-purana is one) the successful revolution by which Chandragupta, an Indian camp-follower in the army of Alexander the Great, established the Mauryan dynasty on the ruins of the Nanda dominion.  Says the Purana: “The Brahman, Kautilya, shall root out the nine Nandas, inaugurating Chandragupta in his kingdom.”

The next step, of course, is to connect this Brahman kingmaker with the treatise which bears his name.  This tradition does unmistakably, declaring furthermore that the work was compiled in the evening of Kautilya’s days, when he desired to put into writing the principles which had been his guide as Chandragupta’s minister.  He also wanted to compare his system with that of his predecessors which seemed in many respects deserving of condemnation.  The traditional authorship is further attested by passages in the Arthašastra itself, by the statements of the Nitisara of Kamandaka, and by a passage in the Dašakumaracarita (Story of the Ten Princes) of Dandin.  In this latter it is expressly stated that “the science of dandiniti (politics) has been abridged into 6,000 šlokas by Acarya Vishnugupta for the benefit of the Maurya.”

The discovery of the Kautiliya and the publication of the Sanskrit text by Mr. Shamasastri in 1909, followed by the discovery of other manuscripts by Mr. Ganapati Sastri, has naturally aroused a vast amount of interest in India and Europe.  The work has been discussed from many different angles, and with varying conclusions.  Indian writers generally, such as Shamasastri, Naryan Chandra Bandyopadhyaya, Ganapati Sastri, and Narendranath Law, generally favor acceptance of the traditional authorship and date, though Ganapati Sastri prefers the name Kautalya to Kautilya.  Foreign scholars are less unanimous.  Jacobi and Meyer are inclined, with reservations, to the traditional view.  Hillebrandt favors authorship by “the school of” Kautilya, or assigns the authorship to Kautilya much as Bible scholars assign the Psalms to David and the Wisdom Books to Solomon.  Jolly, Winternitz and Keith are unprepared to admit a date earlier than the 3d century A. D.  The objections to the older date may be succinctly stated as follows:


1. No such person as Kautilya is mentioned by the Greek writer Megasthenes, who visited the court of Chandragupta.

2. The Arthašastra contains no concrete reference to the empire of Chandragupta or to his capital Pataliputra.

3. The conditions described in the treatise seem to suit small, independent states rather than a vast empire such as the Mauryan.  They certainly do not agree with what we know of the empire of Ašoka, Chandragupta’s grandson.

4. Terms are used which can hardly belong to so early a period as the 4th century B.C.  For example, we have a reference to the name China, earlier than the Ch’in dynasty which supposedly gave its name to the Middle Kingdom.  Also the reference to alchemy is regarded as an anachronism.

5. The language is not archaic enough for the period claimed as its date.

6. The name Kautilya (falsehood) is hardly one to be voluntarily assumed by one wishing to be regarded as a distinguished authority on political science.

To all these objections detailed answers have been given by Indian scholars and by Meyer.  It is not necessary to discuss these further than to say that a theoretical treatment of the subject may be explained through Kautilya’s desire to traverse the theories of his predecessors, and that the abounding pedantry is not unnatural to the Brahman.  It may be claimed also that reference to the overlordship of a great empire is not really as infrequent as some suppose.  Ganapati Sastri, as mentioned above, has contended for the form Kautalya, the proper designation of one belonging to the kutala gotra (tribe), but Dr. Meyer pertinently reminds us that the term Kautilya might not appear at all objectionable to the upholder of a system which regarded fraud as high policy of state.  Bible readers will recall that the patriarch Jacob bore for many years without apparent resentment a name – “ tripper up” - which signifies much the same as Kautilya.  Again, the argument from the silence of Megasthenes is by no means conclusive, since the Greek did not come to India till after Kautilya’s death and there was no particular reason for mentioning him.

On the whole, while doubts cannot be altogether excluded

177 Index

there appears to be no absolute bar to the acceptance of the Mauryan date, even if we feel, with Lippmann, that additions have been made to the kernel of the work.  Yet, even if we take the latest date which has been assigned to the work, say the 4th century A. D., the importance of the Arthašastra is not measurably diminished.

So we come to the book itself, a document whose interest, as already stated, is by no means confined to the history of Indian literature.  On the contrary, it must be regarded as the crown of all earlier Indian experiments in the exposition of political theory, and also the predecessor - crude, if you will - of our modern treatises on the subject.  It is, at any rate, an astoundingly frank and ruthless piece of writing, by one who is doubtless a pedant but a pedant who reveals himself, not only in his elaborate classifications, but as outside the boundaries of ordinary morality – “jenseit von Gut und Bose “.  It is for this reason that Kautilya has been termed “the Indian Machiavelli”, though there are, it is perhaps needless to say, very profound differences between the great Florentine, with his respect for history, and the Indian writer with his theoretical obsessions.  In spite, however, of these differences, one may with good warrant describe the system of the Arthašastra as “den Machiavellismus, die bedingungslose Verkundigung desWillens zur Macht’”.

From the general description of the book by some Indian writers we might gain but an imperfect conception of its real scope and significance.  Mr. Bandyopadhyaya, for example, says it was written “to procure peace at home and prestige abroad”, which sounds very well until we go into details of the process.  Mr. Ganapati Sastri is more explicit.  The book, he says, provides for “the protection of one’s own kingdom first and, when that is ensured, enterprise for the acquisition of enemies’ territories “, but his “first” is not necessarily a note of time.  He says further that the Arthašastra is “a method of government by which a king should rule for the welfare of his millions of subjects, cautious and dexterous in preventing treachery, watching over the conduct of subjects and officials”.  There is a world of meaning in the two concluding participial clauses.


It is needless now to say that the art of government, according to our author, is conceived largely as concerned with the prerogative of the king, who rules with or without the advice of his ministers.  The king’s authority is a matter of divine right, and no misgivings must be permitted to intrude themselves such as may weaken the exercise of the ruler’s will.  The king must have no scruples, even when expediency compels him to be cruel.  Indeed, “he who would be great must be cruel.”  Hesitancy, out of a feeling of humanity, is weakness.  As King Richard III expresses it in the play:

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use,

Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.”

Nevertheless, as under other despotic systems, kingship was considered as involving service.  The Indian monarch even, in some ways, anticipated the dictum of Frederick the Great that a sovereign is “the first subject of the state”.  In any case, the responsibility for the welfare of his people was a heavy one.  He must be personally mindful of this by an unceasing fight against the six enemies of a monarch: Lust, Avarice, Pride, Anger, Drunkenness, and Insolence; against the four special temptations: Hunting, Gambling, Drink and Women.  Government was to be regarded as literally nitišastra, that is, the science of “leading”, and this needed constant consideration for those who were to be led.

But the king was not the only element to be regarded.  A kingdom needed six things in addition to the king, namely, Ministers, People, Fortifications, Armies, Treasury and Allies, though of all these the king was the foundation and source.  He was the embodiment of all sovereign authority, both morally and legally.  “Gods and kings are alike” affirmed the law-books.  As all other footsteps vanish in the footprints of the elephant, so all other dharma (law) disappears in the raja-dharma (the royal law).  But, as already stated, the royal law is not mere caprice.  The king, as the protector of the people, may be punished (in certain cases thirty-fold) for neglect of the popular welfare.  To secure the general well-being it is necessary to lead a strenuous existence.  Each twenty-four

179 Index

hours is divided into sixteen parts by the water-clock, and each division has its inescapable duty.  Yet, at bottom, all this care for the people is but consideration for the royal prestige.  For the people is “the cow which gives the milk “, and if there is no cow there is no milk.  For all practical purposes, the Indian king, with as much assurance as Louis XIV, could declare:

“L’etat c’est moi.”

There were four objects of government, each of which involved obligations serious enough to prevent the king from being a “leather elephant”.  The first was to obtain the kingdom.  To this end war and conquest were among the primary duties, and in pursuit of territory right might easily become unright and unright right.  Kautilya would have thoroughly agreed with Mark Twain’s “Pudd’n-head Wilson”: “In statesmanship get the formalities right and never mind the moralities.”  Secondly, it was the object of government to preserve that which had been acquired.  Of the administrative measures necessitated by this I shall speak presently. It may be premised here that, by comparison with Kautilya (to quote Butler):

Nick Machiavel had ne’er a trick

Though he gave his name to our Old Nick.”

Thirdly, it was proper to increase what had been acquired, and this, of course, meant further conquest.  Kautilya anticipates the saying of Sir Francis Bacon: “The increase of any state must be upon the foreigner.”  Fourthly, there must be the proper enjoyment of what has been acquired.

For the carrying-out of these four objects there were - to adopt the pedantic classification of our writer - six kinds of policy, namely: Peace, War, Neutrality, Invasion, Alliance and “Doppelspiel” [HHC: “double speak.”].  All these are thoroughly, not to say laboriously, considered.  But the fourteen books of the Kautiliya concern themselves with so many branches of administration, and with so many details in each of these branches, that I cannot attempt more than a summary of a few of the more significant sections.  I should premise, however, that there is no part of the Arthašastra which the student of political science will not find interesting from the comparative point of view.


Naturally we begin with what concerns the royal establishment.  The protection of the king’s person from poisons was managed by an elaborate series of tests, in which certain animals, supposed to be extraordinarily sensitive to poison, such as the heron, cuckoo and partridge, were employed.  We have also comprehensive arrangements for the regulation of the harem, including such provision as was deemed necessary against palace intrigues.  The princes had, for the most part, to be kept away from temptation by being employed upon the frontiers, or anywhere away from the capital.  The proper method for the selection of ministers is given in detail, and the salaries of officials set forth, from the highest to the lowest, even to soothsayers, barbers and poison-mixers.  An important function of the king, such as comes under this head, was what is picturesquely described as “the eradication of thorns “, a phrase which implies the ridding of the court (by methods as drastic as they were unscrupulous) of any persons likely to prove troublesome.

An important section of the Arthašastra deals with the settlement of new districts and the building of new cities.  These required a multitude of regulations.  The land had to be graded according to its productiveness, and the wild lands, especially the elephant forests, rigorously preserved.  The sites of cities were chosen largely for strategic reasons, especially near the borders.  In building the greatest care was taken to have the streets and gates properly adapted for the different classes of traffic, with secret ways provided for rapid exit in case of emergency.

The raising of revenue was, of course, a matter of great importance.  Most things were taxed, though there were certain immunities in the case of Brahmans, and in the case of things imported for temples and for various festal occasions.  The customs service seems to have been extraordinarily efficient, and served for espionage among other things.  A great deal might be said of this, and of the financial side of administration as a whole, but further mention involves more detail than there is space for.  I may say, however, that great stress is laid upon the method as well as the matter of official reports.

181 Index

These must be well written, properly composed, with the use of known words.  The qualities of a good piece of writing are stated with true Brahmanic meticulousness.

The raising of revenue made necessary an extensive and comprehensive system of inspection.  Practically everything was under scrutiny, from the gold and jewels in the royal treasury downwards.  Men who had business in the government departments were most thoroughly searched on leaving, lest by any chance they should have had opportunity to conceal a diamond or two.  The rates of interest were regulated, generally amounting to about fifteen per cent.  Weights and measures were standardized and offenses against just measurement severely punished.  Provisions were inspected at the appointed markets and could be sold at these alone.  Meat had to be sold without the bones.  The products of spinning and weaving were inspected and the labors of the employees checked up, with a suitable penalty for the lazy.  The manufacture and sale of intoxicating drink was regulated, home-brew being regarded as legitimate.  The drink-houses had to be properly furnished, with garlands for the drinkers.  No spoiled liquor might be sold, though it might be given to slaves, or used as fodder for the swine.  In the light of the statement of modern theorists that the only form of government for which the philosopher can find no defense is a bureaucracy, this paternal despotism of ancient India was one to make us shudder.  Yet perhaps we see the system fairly well reflected to-day in the multitudinous government offices of Washington, D. C.  In India, in any case, everything that could be inspected was inspected.  There were Boards of Inspection for everything, from slaughter-houses to courtesans, from cattle-raising to sports.  In the case of these latter, prizefights, whether of men or animals, were considerately patronized, and gambling was made profitable to the government by appropriation of five per cent of the proceeds.  Hearing or seeing stealthily at any place of entertainment was punished with a fine.  Cattle were cared for, perhaps even better than the average citizen; medical attention was provided; and sacred animals were sedulously surrounded with reverence.


Elephants were particularly looked after, and an elephant-killer suffered the extreme penalty of death.

In matters of agriculture nothing was left unregulated, at least in theory.  The royal lands were under the care of a multitude of officials, down to the merest serpent-catcher.  Magical rites were performed at the proper seasons for the promotion of field fertility, and all other measures taken sufficient to ensure the three annual plowings.  As in the Code of Hammurabi, there were many laws respecting irrigation, and water-rights became the cause of much litigation as well as legislation.

The legal system of ancient India seems to have had few meshes large enough to permit the smallest matter to escape the juridical eye.  Legal processes were of four kinds, according as they dealt with sacred laws, customs, contracts and statutory (i.e. royal) enactments.  In the courts three ministers generally sat together and decided upon the questions brought before them, such as marriages, divorces, inheritance, dues, debts and the punishment of crimes.  Of these last there were as many varieties as in America to-day.  Some of them, indeed, strikingly resembled those which constitute the majority of cases in our own communities, such as driving too fast, blocking the streets, and the like.  It appears that “speeding” was as possible with a bullock-wagon as with a high-powered automobile.  Slander was an exceedingly common offense, and one could sin in this way merely by making an ironical remark, such as: “You have a pretty face “, or “You have a pretty walk “.  Punishments had a wide range and were generally drastic.  There were fourteen kinds of “common” torture and eighteen of a “superior” (and presumably more painful) sort.  Whippings, mutilations and executions were inflicted as well as fines and imprisonments.  “Cooking in a copper vessel” was a pleasant experience apparently reserved for one who had offended against the laws of the royal harem.

The oversight of trade was far-reaching.  The trade-routes were classified, from the Royal Road from the capital, Pataliputra, out to the Northwest, down to the humblest of trails.  Waterways, moreover, were similarly dealt with, and the eight

183 Index

classes of boats.  And, of course, plenty of attention was bestowed upon the long list of provisions and foodstuffs which had to be imported from abroad and inspected at the frontier posts.

Labor, again, was inspected, to an extent sufficient to arouse enthusiasm with the most jaded of bureaucrats.  Boards of Arbitration and Conciliation operated for the settling of strikes, and, it is cheering to note, not only repressed tyranny on the part of employers, but also compelled the employees to fulfill contracts upon which they had already entered.  Failure of many varieties was penalized.  Even the physician, as in the Code of Hammurabi, was punished for an unsuccessful operation.

In his role as protector of the people, the king was responsible for providing against the eight visitations which were regarded as “the act of God “, namely, Fire, Flood, Plague, Famine, Rats and Mice, Beasts of Prey, Snakes and Evil Spirits.  Generally speaking, too, the ascetics, the sick and the aged were assisted from the royal treasury.  But Kautilya was shrewd enough to see that a check was necessary upon would-be ascetics who used their vocation for the purpose of escaping liability for the support of relatives.  As, again, in the Code of Hammurabi, communities seem to have been held liable for losses incurred by individuals through banditry, and many ingenious measures - including the employment of carrier-pigeons - were devised to hinder the robbers from a too successful pursuit of their trade.

A very large part of the Arthašastra is concerned with the relations of a ruler to the neighboring states, which are significantly classed as stronger, weaker and equal in strength.  This classification determined the policy to be adopted towards each, and all sorts of academic questions are raised and discussed in this connection, such as the comparative value of a legitimate weak king and a strong illegitimate one, and the like.  Cold-blooded estimates also are made as to the respective value of friends, gold, ability, army and so on.  Of the elaborate spy system, of which ambassadors themselves were but a single link, I shall have something to say later, also of the various


methods of proceeding against an enemy stronger than oneself.  These included very detailed arrangements for the sowing of discord between allies, for assassination, the use of wizardry, and so on.

Open warfare was, of course, frequently resorted to, and on this subject nothing is left unnoticed.  The four arms were elephants, cavalry, chariotry and foot-soldiers.  Each of these is elaborately dealt with, and the proper method for employing them in battle.  There are also descriptions of the orthodox way of forming a camp, choosing the time and place of battle, laying siege to a fortress, storming a fortress, and the general strategy of attack.  It is interesting to note that the Indian army had something like the equivalent for a Red Cross organization, since a body of physicians attended the march, provided with medicines, oil, bandages and instruments.  There were also women who went from point to point with supplies of food and drink.

Following upon the discussion of the proper way to conquer a country, there is much debate as to how the conquered land should be treated.  It is deemed exceedingly important that the displaced dynasty should be covered with as much contempt and obloquy as possible, while the new order must be correspondingly glorified.

In all this a good deal has to be effected by the use of magic.  The repertoire of the weird sisters in Macbeth seems crude and limited by comparison with that of a poison-mixer in the old Indian court.  The variety and loathsomeness of the decoctions manufactured in the pursuit of some occult end are beyond description.  Some of the preparations were poisons pure and simple, but arranged under heads, so that some could be relied upon to kill on the spot, others in “half a month “, and others operating still more slowly.  Some decoctions, again, were devised to make a man mad, so that he could be guaranteed to bite ten men and make them mad also, these in turn continuing the endless chain as carriers of hydrophobia.  Others were magically potent, enabling men to change their shape, produce flames from their body and limbs, walk upon fire, see in the dark, attain invisibility, open doors, ride the air,

185 Index

cut the bowstrings of enemies, and other feats of the sort.  Magic devices for the harming of others seem to have been much more popular than magic remedies for the healing of human ills.  Of these latter, however, there were recipes for the curing of fatigue by the application of magic foot-salves, and for enabling men to fast for some weeks at a time.  Among therapeutic agencies we may note the use of music, and also the reliance upon the healing qualities of waving banners and uplifted standards. 1

It would be tedious further to particularize the methods catalogued by Kautilya for the protection and strengthening of kingcraft, but, before concluding, I would like to refer to two or three special aspects of the whole subject.  Of course, it is easy to spot barbarities which might be adduced as evidence of an inferior civilization.  The various mutilations and brandings to which criminals were subjected is evidence enough of this, though such continued long after in lands deemed more civilized than the India of pre-Christian times.  In India, too, the barbarity is tempered with some humor, since every man was branded with some symbol of his offense, the drunkard with the sign of the vintner’s flag, the thief with the picture of a dog, and so forth.  Nevertheless, the descriptions of execution by trampling, drowning, rack, stake and the like arouse nothing but sheer horror.

However, with all evidences of barbarity, we come across certain signs of advanced thought in legislation and administration which are worth our attention.  Among these we note the consideration given to animals, especially, of course, the cow, which was spared compulsory drawing of carts and similar indignities.  Village communities had a considerable degree of self-government and in fact constituted a number of little republics with whose administrative system there was the minimum of interference.  Sanitation was surprisingly advanced, and medical men were placed in all the chief centres of life.  Great pains were taken to prevent the spread of conflagrations, and at certain seasons of the year people were not allowed to

1. Cf. the story of the Brazen Serpent in the Old Testament.


light a fire in the house.  Relief was extended by the government to widows, orphans, the sick and the infirm.  Cornering in trade was severely repressed, as well as the adulteration of foodstuffs.  Foreign merchants had extended to them a kind of extraterritoriality, or at least “freedom from being tried in the common courts”.  Slavery, while not unlawful, was much ameliorated, and it was maintained as a principle that “no Arya could be a slave.”  Naturally the social status of the Brahmans was well looked after.  It was, as we learn from other codes, considerably overdone, as the Brahman lived practically tax-free and in the enjoyment of a variety of other privileges.

When we have taken all the above into consideration, the main impression left upon the mind of a student of the Arthašastra is still that of highly refined cunning employed in the interest of kingship, craft developed to the position of a fine art.  It is this aspect of the work I desire particularly to stress, both for its own intrinsic interest and because of the influence this type of diplomacy has had upon the history of political science in general.

An English secretary of state for foreign affairs once aroused some ire by rebuking a foreign statesman for his use of lying as “high policy of state”.  It is clear that Kautilya would in no way have been abashed by such an indictment.  “An honest politician,” says the Arthašastra, “is a no-thing.”  It is by cleverness, divorced from all morals, that kingship is to be vindicated.  To quote Kautilya again: “He who shoots an arrow kills but one at best, but he who uses clever thoughts kills even the babe within its mother’s body.”

Hence a considerable part of this remarkable treatise is engaged in describing the “clever” ways in which a king may be expected to secure peace at home and prestige abroad.  The tortoise, which at the least sign of danger withdraws its head into the shell, is to be the model for true statecraft.  No one is to be trusted, not even wife or child.  One might even say, particularly wife and child.  The harem must be filled with spies and agents provocateurs, to get wind of the intrigues which it was expected would mature in this superheated atmosphere.  As for sons, it is cynically affirmed that it is the

187 Index

nature of princes, as of crabs, to devour their parents.  Therefore these, too, must be kept under surveillance and deprived as far as possible of opportunity for insurrection.  Ministers, too, and all officials from the highest to the lowest, must be used as instruments for espionage, if they would not become its victims.  Every public servant was subjected to tests such as only the most diabolical ingenuity could invent.  He was tempted by love, by fear, by greed, by ambition, even by the obligations of his religion.  If he did not succumb he must have been endowed either with more than human fidelity - or with superhuman cunning.  All the affairs of the kingdom were transacted in a poisonous cloud of espionage.  Disguised spies were to be found on every hand - ascetics, begging nuns, traders, foresters, peasants, prostitutes, cooks, bed-makers, jesters, dwarfs, tumblers.  Even the ambassadors were spies - the most highly trained and least scrupulous of all.  Nor were these spies mere observers and informers.  It was theirs, by every means that could be devised, to plot and consummate the end of anyone suspected.  False charges appear to have been but a commonplace method.  To invent some picturesque appointment with some supposed holy man and thereupon create the occasion for employing blade or poison, was much worthier of their undoubted talents in this direction.  Even the device of causing a heavy stone to fall on the intended victim’s head, or to arrange for the collapse of a convenient wall, had its allurements and was worth describing in detail.

The king personally was surrounded with a choice assortment of means for the disposal of “thorns “.  Poisons of strange potency were always at hand, and, through the use of mantrayuddha and the entire Geheimlehre of a superstitious court, terrible revenge could be exacted at short notice and on the slightest of grounds.  All kinds of trickery were practised in order to make men believe that the king was omniscient and that he worked continually in partnership with the gods.

Of course, when a war was in progress, there was still less restraint in the use of treachery.  Incredible pains were taken to separate allies by the use of false witness, to stir up insurrection in the enemy’s rear, and to win over the hostile corn-


manders by bribes.  The handsome present of 100,000 pieces of money was offered for the slaying of a king, while even the slayer of a single foot-soldier might expect to be rewarded with twenty.  The acme of political success was achieved when a king could boast that he was able “to bind the princes with fetters of cleverness and play with them at his pleasure.”

And now, what is the historical importance, to which I have more than once alluded, of these revelations?  Chiefly this, that the Arthašastra is not only related to conditions in India, but that the niti of the old Indian rulers, as embodied in such treatises, became in course of time a system coveted and adopted by foreign potentates.  It was exported chiefly in the form of the Beast Fables which, after the decline of Buddhism, became the manuals par excellence of statecraft for lands outside as well as within the bounds of the peninsula.

The Beast Fables had already had an exceedingly interesting history.  Originally they were illustrations of genuine human delight in the dispositions and habits of animals, with whom companionship in the jungle was easy and familiar.  It was natural, too, at this stage, that interest in the instincts of animals for their own preservation (such as finds illustration, for example, in the Book of Proverbs) should be taken as the basis for much primitive morality.  In the preaching of the Buddha, however, another role was assigned to the beast stories.  Gautama used them (much as Christ used the parables) for religious ends, especially for the purpose of linking his mission with experiences in earlier incarnations.  Then, again, as Buddhism waned, the collections became nitišastras, instead of fatakas, and such books as the Pancatantra and the Hitopadeša were compiled not as sutras, or as literature of entertainment, but for the instruction of princes in the way they should go.  Such instruction was bound to take the form of inculcating craft and shrewdness rather than the higher human virtues.  A policy of divide et impera was the inevitable corollary to such stories as that of the two jackals who broke up the friendship between the lion and the bull. 1  It seemed perfectly

1. See the Pancatantra.

189 Index

natural for a Brahman, like Vishnusharman, when called upon to instruct the sons of King Sudarsana in the principles of polity, to start in with the story:

“Sans way or wealth, wise friends their purpose gain

The Mouse, Crow, Deer and Tortoise make this plain.”

So it came to pass that lands outside of India began to covet so effective an instrument for controlling a realm.  As an illustration we may take the case of the great Sassanid ruler Khosru Nushirwan, whose ambassador in India, unable to get possession of the whole treatise in any normal way, conceived the plan of learning it tale by tale, and so transmitted to Persia what was regarded as the very quintessence of political wisdom.  That, after this, the Persian collection, known as Qalila and Dimnah, passed to Arabia and thence, along the highway of a conquering Islam, to North Africa, Spain and Provence, is simply a chapter in the fascinating story of the migration of fables.

The fable literature of Europe, it is true, became popular for its qualities as entertainment, yet the original purpose of the collections was never lost sight of, and almost unconsciously proceeded to color the methods of European statecraft.  Kings and ministers, with few exceptions, still regulated their relations with their subjects and with foreign states by relying upon the slyness and shrewdness of the animal world instead of taking counsel with the higher qualities of civilized men.  Thus weak kings learned by the example of Br’er Rabbit or Reineke Fuchs how to capitalize fraud and sow the seeds of dissension among physically stronger foes.

Perhaps it is not altogether fair, as in the implication of my title, to take Machiavelli and II Principe as an isolatedly outstanding example of this method.  It must be remembered that the great Florentine wrote much else beside The Prince.  Moreover, even within the bound of Europe, we may trace Machiavelli’s indebtedness to other schools, such as that of Aragon, and earlier antecedents reaching back to Livy.  But Machiavelli does indeed bring the method I am describing out into the open.  His idea of “giving to politics an assured and


scientific basis, treating them as having a proper and distinct value of their own, entirely apart from their moral value” is certainly in the spirit of Kautilya.  The following quotation from Il Principe might almost have been abstracted from the Arthašastra:

It must be evident to everyone that it is more praiseworthy for a prince always to maintain good faith, and practise integrity rather than craft and deceit.  And yet the experience of our own times has shown that those princes have achieved great things who made small account of good faith and who understood by cunning to circumvent the intelligence of others; and that in the end they got the better of those whose actions were dictated by loyalty and good faith.  You must know, therefore, that there are two ways of carrying on a contest: the one by law, and the other by force.  The first is practiced by men, and the other by animals; and as the first is often insufficient, it becomes necessary to resort to the second.  A prince, then, should know how to employ the nature of man and that of the beast as well. … A prince should be a fox, to know the traps and snares; and a lion to be able to frighten the wolves: for those who simply hold to the nature of the lion do not understand their business.  A sagacious prince, then, cannot and should not fulfil his pledges when their observance is contrary to his interest, and when the causes that induced him to pledge his faith no longer exist.  If men were all good, then indeed this precept would be bad; but, as men are naturally bad, and will not observe their faith toward you, you must in the same way not observe yours toward them; and no prince ever yet lacked legitimate reasons with which to color his want of good faith.

Nor, of course, was Machiavelli doing anything more than to express - after the manner of “honest Iago” - the frank belief of the time.  Nearly a century later than the time of the Florentine, Sir Henry Wotton wrote in the album of Mr. Christopher Fleckamore the oft-quoted epigram: “Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicae causa.”  That statecraft remained “morally suspect” long after this needs no proving by voluminous quotation.  It is sufficient to remind the reader of Dryden, with his:

191 Index

“We never valued right or wrong

But as they serve our cause,”

or his:

“Art thou a statesman,

And canst not be a hypocrite?  Impossible.”

Or of Pope, with his:

Statesman, yet friend to truth I”

to illustrate the general drift.

Later still, Metternich, whom some have called the last representative of the old haute diplomatie, spoke of the “new diplomacy “, with its tendency to rely upon public opinion, as “a malevolent meteor hurled by divine providence upon Europe”.  Yet, however portentous the signs of the times to the Austrian statesman, diplomacy might still be described, far beyond the limits of the eighteenth century, as a game of wits, “a process of exalted haggling, conducted with an utter disregard of the ordinary standards of morality.”

To what more recent times this age-long preference for the method of the beast rather than that of a moralized humanity, in matters of statecraft, may have lingered, our own experience may suggest.  Chicane is by no means dead; the slogan, “Open covenants openly arrived at” is still very much of a phrase, perhaps even an illusion.  “Open diplomacy” must necessarily be more or less impracticable, so long as the details of a precarious negotiation are at the mercy of an unscrupulous and partisan press.

Nevertheless, with the gradual extension of an international mind, and the coincident acquisition of an international conscience, the “old Adam” in political theory and procedure must in time be overcome and expelled.  When that day dawns, we shall not have to consider the Arthašastra as bearing with it the reproach of an immoral ideal, too long associated with “the dismal science “, but shall rather, perhaps with some amusement, treasure it as the curious survival of a long discredited and discarded method.



AAP Homepage