POLITICAL PRAGMATISM AND ETHICS IN KAUTYLA’S ARTHASHASTRA: CONTRADICTION OR COMPLEMENTARITY

  • Shreya Bhattacharya Student of MPhil in International Relations, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
  • Kankana Saikia Student, M.A. Political Science, University of Delhi, India

Abstract

Is there always an inherent contradiction between political pragmatism
and ethics? This paper explores this through the classical Indian realist political
treatise, the Arthashastra, written by Kautilya. He was the key advisor to Emperor
Chandragupta Maurya (c. 317-293 B.C.E), credited with first consolidating the
Indian subcontinent into an empire under centralized control. Kautilya is widely
agreed to be a pioneer in developing a ‘science of politics’- a great departure from
the hitherto existing moralistic, spiritual, ascetic preoccupations and, religious
speculations of Indian political philosophy. Kautilya blurred the distinction
between morality and political utility. Much of political theory tradition remains
oblivious to Kautilya’s contribution to morality in realpolitik and his continuing
influence in non-Western societies. His treatise is a significant point of entry into
exploring the dilemmas attached to active pursuance of ethical goals while also
balancing the imperatives underpinning political pragmatism- a concern which
has carried on to this day.

Published
2019-05-03
Section
LYING AND HYPOCRISY IN POLITICS AND MORALITY, WITH RUTH GRANT