The History of the Arthaśāstra

The History of the Arthaśāstra

Mark McClish









The Arthaśāstra is the foundational text of Indic political thought and ancient India's most important treatise on statecraft and governance. It is traditionally believed that politics in ancient India was ruled by religion; that kings strove to fulfil their sacred duty; and that sovereignty was circumscribed by the sacred law of dharma. Mark McClish's systematic and thorough evaluation of the Arthaśāstra's early history shows that these ideas only came to prominence in the statecraft tradition late in the classical period. With a thorough chronological exploration, he demonstrates that the text originally espoused a political philosophy characterized by empiricism and pragmatism, ignoring the mandate of dharma altogether. The political theology of dharma was incorporated when the text was redacted in the late classical period, which obscured the existence of an independent political tradition in ancient India altogether and reinforced the erroneous notion that ancient India was ruled by religion, not politics.

Proposes a new theory of the composition of the Arthaśāstra

Demonstrates the onset of a new kind of political theology in the late classical period

Offers a concrete historical argument about the development of political thought in ancient India, particularly charting out the rise of Brāhmaṇism as a political force

Mark McClish, Northwestern University, Illinois

Mark McClish is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University, Illinois. He has published a number of works on the Arthaśāstra and ancient Indian law, politics, and religion including the book The Arthaśāstra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft (with Patrick Olivelle, 2012) and numerous art...

1. Introduction
2. Arthaśāstra historiography
3. The resegmentation of the Arthaśāstra
4. Citation and attribution
5. The deep structure of the text