Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra: A Philosophical Reconstruction

  • Deepshikha Shahi
Part of the Global Political Thinkers book series (GPT)


Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra is a source of inspiration for scholars who are interested in conceptualizing Indian IR and/or Global IR. However, when the ‘formulaic principles’ of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra are used to study specific case-studies in IR, no intellectual attempt is made to ‘qualify’ these formulaic principles by bringing in the insights drawn from the philosophical substructures of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra—namely, Sāṃkhya, Yoga and Lokāyata (literally meaning ‘numbers’, ‘aggregate’, and ‘worldly ones’ respectively). Due to the neglect of Sāṃkhya, Yoga and Lokāyata as the philosophical foundation of Arthaśāstra (which definitely bears an extra-Political Realist stance), Kautilya is habitually considered as comparable to those Western scholars who are sympathetic to ‘Political Realism as realpolitik’. Against this orthodox trend, this chapter aims to systematically expose the extra-Political Realist elements in the philosophical underpinnings of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra, thereby reconstructing this classical text as a document of ‘Political Realism between realpolitik and moralpolitik’.


Political realist Extra-political realist Realpolitik Moralpolitik 


  1. Acharya, A. (2011). Dialogue and Discovery. In Search of International Relations Theories Beyond the West. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 39(30), 619–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acharya, A. (2014). Global International Relations (IR) and Regional Worlds: A New Agenda for International Studies. International Studies Quarterly, 58(4), 647–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Altekar, A. S. (1958). State and Government in Ancient India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  4. Aron, R. (1966). Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (R. Howard & A. B. Fox, Trans.). New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  5. Baldwin, D. A. (1979). Power Analysis and World Politics: New Trends Versus Old Tendencies. World Politics, 31(2), 161–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baldwin, D. A. (2002). Power and International Relations. In W. Carlsnaes, T. Risse-Kappen, & B. A. Simmons (Eds.), Handbook of International Relations. London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Bandyopadhyaya, J. (1993). A General Theory of International Relations. New Delhi: Allied Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Basel, P. C. (2012). The Samkhya System of the Bhagavata Purana. M.A. thesis, University of Iowa. Available at Accessed 17 May 2018.
  9. Bell, D. (Ed.). (2008). Political Thought in International Relations: Variations on a Realist Theme. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bell, D. (2017). Political Realism and International Relations. Philosophy Compass, 12(2), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bhargava, P. L. (1996). Chandragupta Maurya: A Gem of Indian History. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld Ltd.Google Scholar
  12. Bhattacharya, R. (2011). Studies on the Carvaka/Lokayata. London: Anthem Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bilimoria, P. (2003). What Is the “Subaltern” of the Comparative Philosophy of Religion? Philosophy East and West, 53(3), 340–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Boesche, R. (2002). Moderate Machiavelli? Contrasting the Prince with the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Critical Horizons, 3(2), 253–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Boesche, R. (2003). The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  16. Bronkhorst, J. (1983). God in Sāṃkhya. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Sü-dasiens, 27(6), 149–164.Google Scholar
  17. Burley, M. (2007). Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Capan, Z. G. (2017). Decolonising International Relations? Third World Quarterly, 38(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Carr, E. H. (2001). The Twenty Years’ Crisis: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  20. Chamola, S. D. (2007). Kautilya Arthashastra and the Science of Management: Relevance for the Contemporary Society. Gurgaon: Hope India Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Chande, M. B. (1998). Kautilyan Arthasastra. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.Google Scholar
  22. Chattopadhyaya, D. (1959). Lokāyata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House.Google Scholar
  23. Cole, D. (2014). Just War and the Ethics of Espionage. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Cox, R. W. (1981). Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10(2), 126–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dasgupta, S. (1922). A History of Indian Philosophy (Vol. 1). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  26. Dickstein, J. (2015). Īśvara as He Is: Devotional Theism in the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra. M.A. thesis, University of Colorado. Available at Accessed 18 May 2018.
  27. Donnelly, J. (2000). Realism and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Drekmeier, C. (1962). Kingship and Community in Early India. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Eisikovits, N. (2016). A Theory of Truces. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  30. Frei, C. (2001). Frustration and Fulfillment. Hans J. Morgenthau: An Intellectual Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Gautam, P. K. (2016). Understanding Dharma and Artha in Statecraft Through Kautilya’s Arthashastra. IDSA Monograph Series, No. 53. Available at Accessed 26 May 2018.
  32. Ghoshal, U. N. (1959). A History of Indian Political Ideas: The Ancient Period and the Period of Transition to the Middle Ages. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Goswami, K. P. (1998). Kāmākhyā Temple: Past and Present. New Delhi: APH Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Gray, S. (2014). Reexamining Kautilya and Machiavelli: Flexibility and the Problem of Legitimacy in Brahmanical and Secular Realism. Political Theory, 42(6), 635–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grovogui, S. (2006). Beyond Eurocentrism and Anarchy: Memories of International Order and Institutions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hobson, J. M. (2012). The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760–2010. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hoffmann, S. (1977). An American Social Science: International Relations. Daedalus, 106(3), 41–60.Google Scholar
  38. Hollis, M., & Smith, S. (1990). Explaining and Understanding International Relations. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  39. Iyer, S. (2000). Religion and Economics of Fertility in South India. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge. Available at Accessed 25 May 2018.
  40. Jackson, P. T. (2008). Foregrounding Ontology: Dualism, Monism, and IR Theory. Review of International Studies, 34(1), 129–153.Google Scholar
  41. Jacobsen, K. A. (2008). Kapila: Founder of Sāṃkhya and Avatāra of Viṣṇu. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Jai, H. (1999). Lokasamgraha in Kautilya. In K. P. Jog (Ed.), Perceptions on Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra: In Commemoration of Prof. R.P. Kangle’s Birth Centenary. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.Google Scholar
  43. Jakubczak, M. (2008). The Sense of Ego-Maker in Classical Sāṃkhya and Yoga: Reconsideration of Ahaṃkāra with Reference to the Mind-Body Problem. Cracow Indological Studies, 10, 235–253.Google Scholar
  44. Jayatilleke, K. N. (1998). Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  45. Jolly, J. (1913). Arthashastra und Dharmashastra. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlän Dischen Gesellschaft, LXVII, 49–69.Google Scholar
  46. Jones, B. G. (Ed.). (2006). Decolonizing International Relations. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  47. Joshi, R. V. (1987). Lokāyata in Ancient India and China. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 68(1/4), 393–405.Google Scholar
  48. Kamal, M. M. (1998). The Epistemology of the Cārvāka Philosophy. Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 46(2), 13–16.Google Scholar
  49. Kangle, R. P. (1997). The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra: A Study (Vol. 3). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  50. Karpowicz, K., & Julian, W. (2018). Political Realism in International Relations. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at Accessed 20 May 2018.
  51. Karsh, E. (1986). Geographical Determinism: Finnish Neutrality Revisited. Cooperation and Conflict, 21(1), 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kayaoglu, T. (2010). Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory. International Studies Review, 12(2), 193–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Keith, A. B. (1956). A History of Sanskrit Literature. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Kosambi, D. D. (1994). The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.Google Scholar
  55. Larson, G. J. (1969). Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  56. Legro, J. W., & Moravcsik, A. (1999). Is Anybody Still a Realist? International Security, 24(2), 5–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Liebig, M., & Mishra, S. (2017). The Arthàstra in a Transcultural Perspective: Comparing Kauäilya with Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli. New Delhi: Pentagon Press.Google Scholar
  58. Lundborg, T. (2018). The Ethics of Neorealism: Waltz and the Time of International Life. European Journal of International Relations. Available at Accessed 21 May 2018.
  59. Luoma-Aho, M. (2012). God and International Relations: Christian Theology and World Politics. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  60. Mahbubani, K. (2008). The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  61. Mahbubani, K. (2009). Can Asians Think? Singapore: Times Book International.Google Scholar
  62. McClish, M. (2009). Political Brahmanism and the State: A Compositional History of the Arthaśāstra. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin.Google Scholar
  63. McClish, M., & Olivelle, P. (Ed.). (2012). The Arthasastra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.Google Scholar
  64. Mearsheimer, J. J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
  65. Mehta, P. B. (2009). Foreword. In M. Alagappa (Ed.), Report of the Workshop on International Studies in India. Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.Google Scholar
  66. Michael, A. (2013). India’s Foreign Policy and Regional Multilateralism. Basingstoke, Hampshire, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Mishra, S. (2017). Rājadharma, Legitimacy and Sovereignty in the Arthaśāstra. In M. Leibig & S. Mishra (Eds.), The Arthaśāstra in a Transcultural Perspective: Comparing Kautilya with Sun-Zi, Nizam al-Mulk, Barani and Machiavelli. New Delhi: Pentagon Press.Google Scholar
  68. Mitra, S. K., & Liebig, M. (2016). Kautilya’s Arthashastra: An Intellectual Portrait: The Classical Roots of Modern Politics in India. New Delhi: Rupa Publications.Google Scholar
  69. Modelski, G. (1964). Kautilya: Foreign Policy and International System in the Ancient Hindu World. The American Political Science Review, 58(3), 549–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Morgenthau, H. J. (1986). Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (6th ed., revised by K. W. Thompson). New York: A. A. Knopf (Originally published in 1948).Google Scholar
  71. Morkevičius, V. (2018). Realist Ethics: Just War Traditions as Power Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Nardin, T. (2017). The New Realism and the Old. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 20(3), 314–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Niles, D. P. (2017). Is God Christian? Christian Identity in Public Theology—An Asian Contribution. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Olivelle, P. (1998). The Early Upanisads: Annotated Text and Translation. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Olivelle, P. (2013). King, Governance, and Law in Ancient India: Kautilya’s Arthasastra. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Orend, B. (2001). A Just-War Critique of Realism and Pacifism. Journal of Philosophical Research, 26, 435–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Paul, T. V. (2009). Integrating International Relations Studies in India to Global Scholarship. International Studies, 46(1/2), 129–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Perrett, R. W. (1998). Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  79. Perrett, R. W. (2007). Sāmkhya-Yoga Ethics. In P. Bilimoria, J. Prabhu, & R. M. Sharma (Eds.), Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges (Vol. 1). Hampshire and Burlington: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  80. Poddar, P. (2016). The Differential Uses of Kautilya’s Arthaśāstra. Akademisk Kvarter, 14, 96–109. Available at Accessed 12 May 2018.
  81. Radhakrishnan, S., & Moore, C. A. (1967). A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Rangarajan, L. N. (1992). The Arthashastra. New Delhi: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  83. Rathbun, B. (2008). A Rose by any Other Name: Neoclassical Realism as the Logical and Necessary Extension of Structural Realism. Security Studies, 17, 294–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Read, J. H. (2012). Is Power Zero-Sum or Variable-Sum? Old Arguments and New Beginnings. Journal of Political Power, 5, 5–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Rösch, F. (2015). Power, Knowledge, and Dissent in Morgenthau’s Worldview. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Roy, K. (2007). Just and Unjust War in Hindu Philosophy. Journal of Military Ethics, 6(3), 232–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sarkar, B. K. (1919). The Hindu Theory of International Relations. The American Political Science Review, 13(3), 400–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Sarkar, B. K. (1985). The Positive Background of Hindu Sociology: Introduction to Hindu Positivism. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  89. Scheuerman, W. E. (2009). Hans Morgenthau: Realism and Beyond. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  90. Scheuerman, W. E. (2011). The Realist Case for Global Reform. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  91. Schmidt, B. C. (2014). A Realist View of the Eurocentric Conception of World Politics. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 42(2), 464–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Sedlmeier, P., & Srinivas, K. (2016). How Do Theories of Cognition and Consciousness in Ancient Indian Thought Systems Relate to Current Western Theorizing and Research? Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 343. Available at Accessed 17 May 2018.
  93. Sen, A. (1988). On Ethics and Economics. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  94. Shahi, D. (2018). Advaita as a Global International Relations Theory. London and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Shamasastry, R. (1915). Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Bangalore: Government Press.Google Scholar
  96. Sharma, C. (2000). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  97. Singh, M. P. (2011). Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers. New Delhi: Pearson.Google Scholar
  98. Singh, H. (2016). Evolution of Strategic Culture Based on Sun Tzu and Kautilya: A Civilisational Connect. New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers.Google Scholar
  99. Singh, U. (2017). Political Violence in Ancient India. London: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Slater, M., & Yudell, Z. (2017). Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Smith, V. A. (1957). The Early History of India. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  102. Spegele, R. D. (1987). Three Forms of Political Realism. Political Studies, 35(2), 189–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Thakkar, U. (1999). Morality in Kautilya’s Theory of Diplomacy. In K. P. Jog (Ed.), Perceptions on Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra: In Commemoration of Prof. R.P. Kangle’s Birth Centenary. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.Google Scholar
  104. Tisdell, C. A. (2003). A Western Perspective on Kautilya’s ‘Arthasastra’: Does It Provide a Basis for Economic Science? Available at Accessed 15 Mar 2018.
  105. Trautmann, T. R. (1971). Kauṭilya and the Arthaśāstra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text. Leiden: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
  106. Voina-Motoc, I. (1999). Moral-Rule and Rule of Law in International Politics: Common Sense, Political Realism, Skepticism. In ‘A Decade of Transformation’, IWM Junior Visiting Fellows Conferences (Vol. 8). Vienna. Available at Accessed 20 May 2018.
  107. Wæver, O. (1998). The Sociology of a Not so International Discipline: American and European Developments in International Relations. International Organization, 52(4), 687–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Walt, S. M. (2018). US Grand Strategy After the Cold War: Can Realism Explain It? Should Realism Guide It? International Relations, 32(1), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Waltz, K. (1979). Theory of International Politics. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  110. Weber, M. (1919 [1978]). Politics as a Vocation. A Speech Delivered at Munich University. In W. Runciman (Ed.), Max Weber: Selections in Translation (E. Matthews, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  111. Wendt, A. (1999). Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Williams, M. (2005). The Realist Tradition and the Limits of International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Winternitz, M. (1923). Kautilya and the Art of Politics in Ancient India. Vishva Bharati Quarterly, 1(3), 265. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deepshikha Shahi
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DelhiNew DelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations