How does Kautilya’s Arthashastra compare to the modern canon of economics and political science?
Arthasastra is more like a manual for the administrator than a theoretical work on polity or administration.
Here is the synopsis of the Arthasastra –
1. It presents the idea of a government that has respect for religion and customs.
2.The welfare of the people should be the priority of the policies laid down by the government.
3.The main aim of the government is to maintain law and order, punish the wicked and protect the peaceable citizens.
4.Kautilya emphasises on the role of an able and energetic monarch for the proper functioning of the government (in present times, the President or Prime Minister or King).
5.The happiness of the citizens lies above the personal comfort of the King. The King’s happiness should reside in the happiness of his subjects.
6.Skill in intrigue is a better qualification for kingship than either power or enthusiasm. (NaMo vs RG?)
7.The king should avoid injuring women and property of others and should shun falsehood and haughtiness.
1.The king should rule with help of state officials and consult his ministers.
2.Kautilya emphasised on the need of civil services – “Sovereignty can be carried on only with assistance.”
3.The size of the Council of Ministers should depend on the circumstances and requirements of the country (recently, a similar change has been brought forth by Modi).
4.The king should personally attend to the needs of the minors, the aged, the afflicted, the helpless and women.
5.Espionage and intelligence departments have been stressed upon. Kautilya also advocates the use of torture for extorting confessions. (CIA?)
1.Kautilya refers to 18 departments of administration – a few being revenue, mint, exchequer, excise, commerce, etc.
2.He pays special attention upon finance and then treasury.
3.The supritendent of agriculture was required to assess land at rates varying according to the different methods of irrigation thus protecting every farmer’s interest.
4.The wealthy should give gold (in present day, pay more taxes) to the king. This is the policy of thinning the rich by exacting exessive revenue from their accumulated wealth (present day tax brackets).
Thus, it can be seen that the methods of administration advocated in the Arthasastra holds relevance even in today’s modern times.
In short, If you take the time to read it or atleast skim through – you will find that it corresponds well to most management and humanitarian laws being promoted now. Everything management of people (Efficient clean governance) to fair justice (Everyone is the same under the eyes of the Law) to proper treatment of prisoners and female captives (preventing violence against civilians and POW rights) to taking care of the land (Environmentalism). It also deals with how to behave in Diplomacy, Cunningness, etc. Most people in Government have to read this – Machiavelli has gotten out of favor due to Arthashastra.
What is relevance of Kautilya’s Arthashastra in 21st century?
Arthashashtra is a great historical document. How relevant is it in today’s time?
Well, not very much. Arthashashtra describes the functioning of an extremely centralist monarchy. The ideas and systems it describes are not really suitable for a working democracy. A dictator can however get a few pointers, though. Most of the things that are written in Arthashashtra are known to people today. However, one must remember that they were pioneering ideas when they were written.