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Machiavellism - Ancient India

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmMachiavellism - Small-scale Societies And Kingdoms, Ancient China, Ancient India, Europe, Machiavellian Rule

Ancient India

Violence and treachery make a frequent appearance in the great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, in which the ideal is that of a righteous king with obedient people. In the most usual Indian view, the king is related to the gods and should be revered as such. A wise man in the Mahabharata asks what a state without the protection of a king would be like and imagines robbers at work, women abducted, and the strong roasting the weak like fishes on a spit. The self-evident moral of such a fear is that to have no king is worse than to have to have the worst king.

The Indian science that deals explicitly with politics is Arthashastra, literally "the science that deals with artha, the means of subsistence." This definition turns out to be equivalent to "the science of politics." The oldest, most developed of the books dealing with the subject is the Kautilya Arthashastra. Its author, whose name or pseudonym, Kautilya, means "craftiness," is usually identified with Chanakya, the crafty adviser of Candragupta, who about 321 B.C.E. defeated the Nandas and created the first great Indian empire.

The Kautilya Arthashastra is a dryly written manual of government from the standpoint of a king's adviser. It urges the king to care for the welfare and loyalty of the farmers and of the Brahmans and priests. Religions should be respected, Kautilya says, but used for political purposes. For a successful king, he thinks, warfare is the most natural activity. Running through every subject treated in the Arthashastra is a concern with the safety of the king. Everyone is under suspicion, from the queen and the crown prince to the king's ministers and citizens.

To translate a pervading suspiciousness into administrative terms, Kautilya recommends an extraordinarily detailed system of domestic and foreign spying and subversion. Each agent is given a cover story, carries out the required spying, including spying on high officials, and reports back to a special station, where the report is put into code. Only a report confirmed by three spies is accepted. Spies who make mistakes are done away with quietly.

Indian literature reflects the attitudes both of Arthashastra and, more often, of those who oppose it for moral reasons. The Arthashastra's cynical wisdom was exported from India by the stories of the Panchatantra (The five books), probably compiled by about 500 C.E. and translated into some sixty languages. By means of the Panchatantra, Kautilya's point of view took on the imagination and humor of folktales and taught the world at large what it implicitly always knew.

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