Artha-śāstra

▪ work by Kautilya
      (Sanskrit: “Handbook of [the King's] Profit”), singularly important Indian manual on the art of politics, attributed to Kauṭilya (also known as Viṣṇugupta or Cāṇakya), who reportedly was chief minister to King Candragupta (c. 300 BC), the founder of the Maurya dynasty. Although it is unlikely that all of the text dates to such an early period, several parts have been traced back to the Mauryas.

      The author of the Artha-śāstra is concerned with central control by the king of a realm of fairly limited size, and he speaks of the way the state's economy is organized, how ministers should be chosen and war conducted, and how taxation should be arranged and distributed. Great emphasis is placed on the importance of a network of runners, informers, and spies, which, in the absence of a ministry of public information and a police force, functioned as a surveillance corps for the king, focusing particularly on any external threats and internal dissidence.

      Entirely practical in purpose, the Artha-śāstra presents no overt philosophy. But implicit is a complete skepticism, if not cynicism, concerning human nature and its corruptibility and the ways in which the king—and his trusted servant—can take advantage of such human weakness.

      Unstated but apparent is the paradox that a king has to have complete confidence in the minister who is ruling his state. This paradox was dramatized by the playwright Viśākhadatta (c. 5th century AD), who was probably at the court of the Guptas, in his Sanskrit play Mudrārākṣasa (“Minister Rākṣasa and His Signet Ring”).

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Universalium. 2010.

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