Kautilya’s political theory fuses the allegedly conflicting rational/prudential and abstract/ideal concerns in politics, thereby outdoing the prescriptions of Eurocentric realpolitik.
Deepshikha Shahi, Associate Professor, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
This chapter presents the seminal work of Kautilya—Arthaśāstra. The Arthaśāstra (literally meaning ‘the science of material gain’) has been unanimously accepted not only as one of the most precious works of Sanskrit literature, but also as an ancient Indian compendium of principles and policies related to political science. The historiography of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra has provoked a fierce debate.
In addition to the unsolved controversies around its chronological origins and authorship, various scholars have differently interpreted Kautilya’s writings on the role of political morality. Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra is increasingly recognized as a valuable textual resource in today’s globalized world. This chapter draws insights from the English translations of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra to foreground its political theory.
The chapter develops in three sections. Section 4.2 unfolds the ‘philosophical foundation’ of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. A systematic study of this foundation clarifies the moral footing of Kautilya’s political theory. Section 4.3 unpacks the structural and functional outlook of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra.
A meticulous analysis of this outlook makes obvious how Kautilya’s political theory is eclectic, as it fuses the allegedly conflicting rational/prudential and abstract/ideal concerns in politics, thereby outdoing the prescriptions of Eurocentric realpolitik. Finally, Section 4.4 inspects the position of gender and caste in Kautilya’s political theory. In so doing, it probes the gaps between Kautilya’s theoretical plan and its practical performance.
Published in: Rethinking political thinkers. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 57-74.
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