The Pathos of Politics (13-5) Chanakya


Do not be very upright in your dealings, for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing. ~ Chanakya

Aristotle’s erstwhile pupil, Alexander the Great, conquered his way from Greece to northwest India, where he encountered the Mauryan Empire (322–185 bce) and went no further east.

Chandragupta Maurya (340–298 bce) founded the empire: the first to unify most of India into a single state. His chief advisor, the mastermind behind the throne, was Chanakya.

Governance is possible only with assistance. A single wheel does not move. ~ Chanakya

Indian political scientist, economist, jurist, and royal advisor Chanakya (350–275 bce) wrote Arthashastra, a meticulous treatise on statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy. Its focus was how to effectively manage an autocracy. In tone like Machiavelli a millennium later, Arthashastra was a practical and amoral analysis of the business of politics.

The wise man should restrain his senses like the crane and accomplish his purpose with due knowledge of his place, time, and ability. ~ Chanakya


Neither Plato nor Aristotle looked at polity beyond sovereign city-states. Both philosophers took the poleis of their age for granted, much as 20th century political philosophers contemplate the tribal-based state as the integral political unit.

The overtone of political thought in ancient Greece was of communal relations. This became inadequate in the new age of empire, as the social distance between a man and the governance he was subject to scaled into abstraction.

Loss of community spirit meant men were on their own. Sense of communalism dissolved, replaced by a bifurcated focus on the meaning of individuality and universality in light of what constituted good governance. This ambiguous conceptual framework led to the notion of natural law.