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Arthashastra by Kautilya: Book Review

Arthashastra by Kautilya Book Review: Arthashastra by Kautilya stands as a timeless masterpiece in the archives of ancient history. This comprehensive treatise, often dubbed “The Science of Politics,” offers readers an
unparalleled journey into the intricacies of statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy. The book delves deep into state functionality and how a state’s economy, politics, military strategy, and diplomacy should work. It was written by Kautilya in 300 BCE for the king of the region, however, it was lost at that time and was discovered by Rudrapatna Shamasastry in 1905 CE. He was a Sanskrit scholar. He published it in 1909 and was translated into English in 1915.

The Arthashastra is one of the earliest works of political realism to have been written, along with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, and is perhaps the most elaborate of these. Elaborate is a fitting description, given that the treatise describes all sorts of weird and wonderful ways in which rebellious ministers can be identified, and enemies can be toppled and weakened. Many of these involve some quite inventive uses of spies.

Key Ideas

There is a lot to learn from this highly influential book. In its breadth and scope, it deals with both Economics as well as politics. Chanakya’s work provides a guide to governance, addressing the multiple challenges faced by rulers of his era. The book opens with insights into the duties of a king and the intricate web of administration. From the qualifications of ministers to the organization of government, Chanakya weaves a narrative that remains relevant through the ages.

By far the most prominent feature of the book is the guidelines regarding foreign policy. Arthashastra is abundant in wisdom regarding foreign policy. Diplomacy, treaties, and strategies for dealing with neighboring states and potential threats are dissected with precision, offering a blueprint for effective statecraft.” your neighbor is your natural enemy, and your neighbor neighbor is your friend”. Kuatilaya states that no matter how good your ally is he is only useful until he is of owns own needs. Whether one goes to war or remains at peace depends entirely upon the self-interest of or advantage to, one’s kingdom Economics takes center stage in the Arthashastra, where policies related to agriculture, trade, taxation, and resource management are meticulously outlined. The treatise goes beyond theoretical principles, offering practical advice for ensuring the economic prosperity of the state.

The legal and justice system is another cornerstone of Chanakya’s work. Diving into the intricacies of legal frameworks, the Arthashastra explores the administration of justice, prescribing punishments for crimes and emphasizing the need for a just legal order.

In the realm of military strategy, Chanakya’s insights are nothing short of strategic brilliance. From the organization and training of the army to tactics in warfare and the use of spies for intelligence gathering, the Arthashastra remains a manual for military commanders and scholars alike. Kautilya believes that the fundamental objective to make the state safer, and stronger and to expand territorial conquest is the necessary political function of every monarch and that anything can be done for the welfare of the state as nothing is superior to the state.

Modern-day Implications

Some also see elements of Kautilyan political strategy being deployed by the Republic of India even today; friendships with Afghanistan and Japan are cultivated, as they are seen as allies against Pakistan and China respectively. In other domains, India maintains its famed stance of ‘non-alignment’, in keeping with Kautilya’s advocacy of “neutrality” in certain circumstances. Meanwhile, Kautilya does not advocate for the Mauryan Empire of which he was part to expand out of South Asia. Again, this is in keeping with an India that has rarely expanded beyond its frontiers.


Arthashastra remains one of the most useful handbooks on political theory ever written. It gives us a lot to ponder over at many levels. It is not only a historical artifact but a testament to the political wisdom present during that era. The principles and processes that bind the volume remain as relevant today as they were in the 4th century BC. Rulers will do well to remind themselves of the central tenet of the Arthashastra: “In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness; in their welfare his welfare [1.19.34].”

It is true that the book is not completely applicable in the modern era, however, one cannot ignore its relevance. In the present day, knowingly or unknowingly, Kautilya dominates in regional and international relations. His warfare technique and Mandal theories are actually applicable in the present.

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